Education and Gender Equality


Child-friendly education (for all)

Girls' education and gender equality

Early childhood development (ECD)

Education in emergencies


UNICEF in action: Strategy & priorities

© UNICEF/UGDA2010-00062/Hyun
Children return to school after their education was interrupted by the armed conflict in nothern Uganda.

Over the past years, governments throughout Eastern and Southern Africa, with support from UNICEF and other development partners, have addressed the many challenges in the education sector. Basic quality education has been prioritised through the development of national education policies and plans, and many governments have increased their education budgets accordingly. Most countries now have budget lines for programmes that before were not considered priorities, such as girls’ education, non-formal education, special needs education and early childhood development.

One key intervention that significantly bolstered primary education in the region is the School Fee Abolition Initiative (SFAI), launched by UNICEF and the World Bank in 2005. Aiming to support countries in accelerating progress towards universal primary education, the initiative helped bring millions of children into school. Countries that abolished school fees achieved startling results in enrolment expansion. In Kenya, for example, an additional one million students poured into the country’s schools in a matter of weeks.

Thanks to such progress of the 20 countries in ESA, an estimated 14 are very likely to, or could potentially achieve MDG 2, which aims to ensure that by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, are able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

On average, the region seems also to be on track for achieving at least part of MDG 3, which – among other targets - calls for eliminating gender disparity in all levels of education by 2015. The regional average of the gender parity index (GPI) for the net enrolment ration is 1.00, indicating apparent equal proportions of girls and boys comparative to their respective school-age populations in primary schools. However, the regional average masks gender gaps at country and sub-national level. In Angola, Comoros, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Mozambique for instance, the enrolment of girls is lower, while in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, and Rwanda, less boys than girls go to school. Gender parity in secondary education remains to be a challenge, with more boys than girls enrolled in most countries.

UNICEF supports governments and other education stakeholders in the region to eliminate barriers to school enrolment and achievement. A key focus area is to ‘include the excluded children’ and to bridge the inequities that are hampering progress towards the MDGs and Education for All goals.

The strategy focuses on increasing access to quality and relevant education for children who are most at risk, such as those from remote and rural areas or poor households, orphans and other vulnerable children, including those living with HIV/AIDS or affected by the pandemic. It also reaches out to children who have to work, children with disabilities and special education needs, children from ethnic minority groups or nomadic pastoralist communities, and those who have been displaced by armed conflict, natural disasters or other emergencies.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-0443/Pirozzi
Children write their lessons in the dirt in an outdoor classroom at a settlement for displaced people, Zimbabwe.

In many countries, UNICEF participates in sector-wide approaches (SWAps) and other efforts to concentrate resources on the most critical problems of the education sector and the most excluded children.

Key programmes in ESAR include:

  • Early childhood development (ECD)
    To ensure that children are ready and well-prepared for school, UNICEF supports governments in the region with programmes that stimulate their brain and mental development. This includes strengthening polices and systems for early childhood development and helps to improve the quality of, and access to early childhood stimulation and learning programmes at household, community and institutional level. Advocacy to include early childhood development in national education plans and budgets is also a key activity.
  • Child-friendly schools (CFS)
    UNICEF promotes a flexible model of child-friendly schooling, suited for local adaptation, which combines a healthy and protective environment with quality basic education. Support is provided to institutionalising the framework within national policies, plans and programmes and to the rollout in countries. Evidence-based equitable planning is another key area of UNICEF support, as well as the setting of minimum academic standards for all children, and the development of strategies at country level to enhance inclusive education.
    In a select number of countries in the region, the child-friendly schooling approach is further supported through a multi-donor partnership called ‘Schools for Africa’ that involves UNICEF National Committees and other partners, helping to improve the physical and learning environments in schools.
  • Girls’ Education
    UNICEF works with partners to assess the situation of girls in schools and their specific needs. Support is provided to address the different barriers to girls’ education to generate a knowledge base on gender and education as well as broader issues of inclusion.
  • Education in emergencies
    In emergency situations, such as natural disasters, conflicts or epidemics - keeping schools functioning plays a key role in providing children with a sense of stability and in helping them recover from traumatic experiences. UNICEF works towards ensuring that children in such situations continue to have access to education. Increasing emphasis is given to prevention and mitigation by enhancing countries’ capacity to plan for and respond to emergencies and work on disaster risk reduction.



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