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Malawi, 23 August 2016: A second chance for girls struggling in class

By Rebecca Phwitiko

© UNICEF Malawi/2016
Dorothy, 13, back on the school playground after dropping out for 3 months.

DEDZA, 23 August 2016 – Dorothy, 13, is back in school after dropping out for 3 months. Ironically, the reason she dropped out was because she was falling behind in class. She simply gave up.

“I couldn’t read,” she says, adding, “the teacher would make us do reading exercises in class and it was very embarrassing for me to read out loud because I didn’t know most of the words.”

So rather than face what she felt was an embarrassing ordeal daily, Dorothy stopped going to school. A couple of weeks later her teacher followed her home at Chafwala Village in Dedza to find out why she was not in school. The teacher managed to convince her parents to send her to a second chance education center for remedial classes.

These centers set up through a partnership between Government of Malawi and the United Nations through the UN Joint Programme on Girls Education (UNJPGE) are funded by the Norwegian Government. The UNJPGE draws on the experience of three UN agencies: UNFPA, UNICEF and WFP.

The second chance education centers aim to provide functional literacy and numeracy skills to both in and out of school girls. Second chance learning is a nine months course and is designed to support girls who have fallen behind or have dropped out of school.

In addition to providing literacy and numeracy skills, the UNJPGE also ensures that girls and boys in the 79 targeted schools are well nourished through provision of porridge and other nutritious foods to ensure they stay in school. The program also informs and empowers girls to participate and take part in leadership while also empowering communities on the need to value quality education for all children, especially girls.

The UNJPGE provides a whole school approach that eliminates multiple threats to girls’ schooling which includes poor food and nutrition, inadequate protection, poor quality schooling, cultural practices that perpetuate gender inequalities and violation of girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights among others.

The program specifically targets adolescent girls from standard five to eight as this group has been particularly identified to be at greater risk of dropping out of school. The programme also benefits girls in other primary schools classes as well as boys and out of school youth in the targeted districts.

Dorothy who is now in standard three at Makankhula Primary School in Dedza has improved in her reading. “Being able to read has helped me because I can read letters and signposts. I want to be a doctor one day,” she says with a smile.

The UNJPGE is being implemented in three districts of Salima, Dedza and Mangochi and to date, 3175 learners have graduated from the literacy program. The girls are then assessed to determine the level at which they can be enrolled back into regular school.

Unlike conventional interventions to promote girls’ education that target girls exclusively, the UNJPGE also targets boys. Within the UNJPGE, boys are also empowered to question existing power relationships between girls and boys and adopt progressive attitudes that foster mutual respect. Boys are also benefitting from various interventions such as the provision of diversified and nutritious meals using the Home Grown School Feeding model.

UNICEF’s Chief of Education Charles Nabongo says the Joint Programme on Girls' Education is based on the gender analysis that girls are more disadvantaged than boys.

“In that analysis, it is clear that a primary focus on boys may not necessarily benefit girls while the focus on girls in many respects automatically benefits boys,” says Nabongo.

He adds, “Boys are at the center of the discrimination or deprivations that girls face such as GBV [gender based violence] hence the need to recruit them as allies or at the minimum ensure their awareness and understanding. Leaving them out just perpetuates the situation.”



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