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Child-friendly schools help young Rwandans rediscover childhood

© UNICEF/2008
Children sing and dance at the Rubingo School, one of the many child-friendly schools established in Rwanda by UNICEF and its partners.

By Stephanie Wang-Breal

NEW YORK, USA, 8 July 2008 – In Rwanda, which is still recovering from its 1994 genocide and now faces the spread of HIV, UNICEF and its partners have established child-friendly schools to help young students rediscover what childhood is all about.

These schools reach out to both boys and girls, giving them an improved teaching and learning environment, as well as psychosocial support services such as mentoring and counselling.

Following the genocide, a UNICEF study found that 96 per cent of Rwandan children had witnessed the massacres and 80 per cent had lost at least one family member. The effects of the genocide combines with HIV/AIDS have left hundreds of thousands orphaned.

Choosing between work and school
One Rwandan girl, Mukarimba, dropped out of school because her mother needed her to work on the family farm. After her teachers went to her house to talk to her mother, Mukarimba was allowed to return to school.

“My advice to children is that they should not underestimate themselves because of poverty and be discouraged from going to school. I tell them they should study,” said Mukarimba.

Although Rwanda has one of the highest net primary-school enrolment rates in Africa, challenges remain – including high dropout and repetition rates. Gender bias also plays a large role in the number of student drop-outs. Today, fewer than half of Rwandan girls graduate from primary school.

While nearly all girls enrol initially, they drop out in high numbers and are less likely than boys to pass national examinations. This is because when the family budget is tight, parents send sons, not daughters to schools. 

‘Let’s speak out’
At the child-friendly schools, students are educated about the importance of gender equality.

© UNICEF/2008
Students respond to a teacher’s question about HIV/AIDS, which has orphaned hundreds of thousands of children in Rwanda.

Groups called Tuseme Clubs are a key feature of every child-friendly school, explicitly targeting gender bias and giving boys and girls the skills and space to speak their minds. Tuseme means ‘Let’s speak out’ in Swahili.

As one boy at a Tuseme Club said: “Before, the girls swept the classroom alone. Now, we all sweep together.”

The success of the child-friendly programme has inspired the Rwandan Government to expand it to 400 schools, as well as to make child-friendly standards the quality norms for all schools nationwide.





June 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Stephanie Wang-Breal reports on children learning about HIV and AIDS at the Rubingo School in Rwanda.
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