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School kids teach it forward in Tigray

By Elshadai Negash

Student facilitator Senait Berhane (3rd from right) with her five students (©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Negash)

Like any other 14-year old girl in rural Ethiopia, Senait Berhane is inspired to work hard in school and curve a different future to her parents who toil the semi-fertile lands each day in Atsebi district of the Tigray region about 840kms from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. She dreams of becoming a doctor when she grows up and enjoys physics and chemistry lessons in school. 

But that is where the similarity ends. While 14-year olds in other parts of the world eagerly await the schools breaks in July and August to take leave from school, play with their friends, and spend time with their family, Senait and other children in the Atsebi Elementary School go door to door in villages to teach 4-5 year olds letters, numbers, and tell them childhood stories using music and play. 

“I enjoy doing this because it really helps them when they are joining [formal] school,” says Berhane, who just completed seventh grade at the school. “It also means a lot to me to help the community since there are many children who don’t go to school because of they are villages far away.”

Senait Berhane, student facilitator
For nearly two weeks during her summer break, Senait has taken Millennium Mulu (5), her younger sister Arsema Berhan (4), Yordanos Berhe (5), Merawit Kindeya (5), and Michael Aregay (4) under her wings patiently and playfully giving them an introduction into the world of education that awaits them. Together, they seat around home and do their ABCs; learn how to count in their mother tongue Tigrigna, and also identify objects in Amharic, Ethiopia’s national language, and English.  

This Child to Child (CtC) programme  is part of an equity-focused, gender responsive and cost effective strategy introduced and piloted by UNICEF in 2008. Cluster Resource Centre Schools (SCRCS) were the entry points to introduce the programme and play a vital role in coordination & coaching. School teachers mentor young boys and girls in grades 5-7 and above to become facilitators for their young siblings and neighbours. The Ctc not only runs during summer breaks, but also throughout the school year where student facilitators use weekends and non-class shifts.   

Senait and her 'students' sing a song about mothers in their native Tigrigna

In the school year 2010-2011, the child to child approach was implemented in six regions, where 32,937 students in grades 5 and 6 were trained as young facilitators, and 4,208 teachers from 1,421 schools were involved. As a result, 161,375 children participated in the CtC programme in all six regions. In Tigray Region in the 2011/12 academic year, over 133,746 children has registered for the CtC programme. In Atsebi Womberta  woreda (district) over 4,474 (2,180 female) are enrolled in CtC education, while 894 young facilitators and 48 teachers were trained.

A total of 894 student facilitators, of whom 492 are girls like Berhane, teach around 4474 kids aged 4-6 with no previously access to education. They are provided bags and books using locally-available teaching materials.   

“This scheme has really helped increase in primary schools by 50% in the woreda,” Tsegaye Nega, planning expert with the Atsebi Woreda Education office. “We also see an increase of the quality of students who enter formal school through the CtC approach. Unlike students, who were not part of the scheme, students who come through CtC are not afraid of the school environment and are less of a burden to teachers when they introduce them basic reading and writing.” 

The simple, but cost-effective approach (costs about USD 5 per child) to introduce the children to letters and numbers using music and plays a big part too. Berhane, for examples, gather her ‘students’ around a circle and shows them how to count with games using small stones. She sings songs to them about the love of parents and country and teaches how to count in their native language, Tigrigna. They enjoy themselves getting to play like regular kids, but also pick up the numbers and letters.  

“It helps the confidence of the children to introduce them to school using play,” says Nega. “Many of the parents acknowledge the difference between children who have gone through CtC and those who have not. Parents are accepting of it as well.” 



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