Education and Gender Equality


Child-friendly education (for all)

Girls' education and gender equality

Early childhood development (ECD)

Education in emergencies


Learning Think Pieces


Child-friendly education (for all)

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1630/Pirozzi
Students listen to a lecture on lifeskills, which encourage the development of self-esteem, problem-solving skills, and awareness of HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it in Eritrea.

The concept behind Child-Friendly Education (CFE) is simple at heart: schools should operate in the best interests of the child. They should be designed and run in a way that ensures that all children can learn in a safe, healthy, secure, stimulating and protected environment. 

The CFE approach focusses on the total needs of the child as a learner so that the student can develop his or her full potential. The goal throughout is to promote child-centred education with teachers who are trained accordingly, and supported by adequate resources and appropriate physical, emotional and social conditions for learning. It integrates many other areas including health, nutrition, water and sanitation, as well as protection.  CFE is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model though, and the way child-friendly schools are built and operate may differ from country to country. 

© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-0428/Pirozzi
Studies show that the availability of separate sanitation facilities for girls encourages enrolment and sustained attendance. School children go to latrines in Zimbabwe.

UNICEF in action

UNICEF works with the governments in Eastern and Southern Africa to help them develop school systems that are child-friendly to all children, especially the most disadvantaged. CFE principles are reflected in the development of national policies, plans and standards, and have the following characteristics:

Rights-based and inclusive 
No child should be excluded from education because of his or her gender, race, culture, language, ability or social status. However, investments in education often miss their mark. Recent research, including Out-of-School Children’s Initiative (OOSCI) studies, carried out by UNICEF and UNESCO suggest that efforts are often skewed in favour of children from better-off families and those who live in urban centres. Children with disabilities, for example, remain invisible in many countries and belong to one of the most marginalized groups. 

A core principle of CFE is to make sure that both girls and boys learn in an environment that is free from gender bias and other forms of stereotyping. Education systems and schools should strive to provide gender-sensitive facilities, curricula and textbooks, and address issues such as gender-based violence and gender equality.

Safe and protective
CFE is supported by strong violence prevention policies and innovative mechanisms that allow pupils to safely report abuse. This is particularly important when assisting children affected by natural and manmade emergencies. 

Effectiveness, transparency and accountability in schools are enhanced by strong partnerships between parents, teachers and children. 

Academically effective
Teachers are the single most important resource in children’s education. CFE promotes purposeful teaching and learning, including interactive, child-centred and gender-sensitive teaching methods. Despite this, studies suggest that most children in ESA are taught through highly didactic methods, and that teacher absenteeism and lack of training are also critical issues. 

Health promoting
Children cannot learn properly if they are sick, hungry or stressed. To bolster children’s capacity to learn, schools need to provide nutritional and health support, including health checks, immunization, de-worming and vitamin A supplements. Access to water and sanitation is also a critical contributing factor to children’s well-being.

Results for Children

  • Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania established minimum standards and indicators for quality education based on CFE principles. Angola also mainstreamed the participatory CFE framework into the education sector.

  • Many countries are using the CFE framework to develop teaching materials, manuals and other tools for improving, assessing and assuring the quality of education. Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda applied CFE principles to quality assurance and national teacher training systems.

  • In Madagascar, UNICEF supported the design of eco-friendly school, using compressed earth as construction material to reduce the impact on deforestation.

  • In Rwanda, teacher resource centres were supported to help teachers respond more effectively to the needs of their students. Extracurricular clubs called Tuseme (means “speak out”) were created to strengthen HIV prevention. UNICEF is also a major partner supporting school construction in the country.


With many governments struggling to allocate sufficient budget to ensure quality education for all, partnerships are critical. A key intervention in promoting CFE over the past years has been the Schools for Africa initiative. Launched in 2004, this multi-country, multi-donor partnership is led by UNICEF and its National Committees, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and the Hamburg Society, newly renamed to Peter Krämer Stiftung, for the Promotion of Democracy and International Law. 

To date, the initiative has contributed more than US$164 million, fulfilling the dreams of an education for 21 million children across 11 countries including those in ESA - Angola, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe. With its extraordinary success, the SFA initiative has been expanded to West and Central Africa and Asia.



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