Getting children back to learning
After massive learning loss, more children are returning to learning in South Sulawesi
Early on a weekday morning, Rahman Katinting, age 11, and his three older siblings, arrive at the gate of a primary school in Balong village, Bulukumba district, South Sulawesi Province. Instead of entering the school yard where students are chatting and playing, they walk across the road towards a learning centre in the village chief’s office.
Since they were born, Rahman and his siblings have never been engaged in formal education. The family’s economic hardships drove Rahman’s parents to move around districts and cities in search of jobs with better income.
Thanks to fortunate timing, when they decided to return to Balong village in 2022, the village government was recording out-of-school children as part of a UNICEF-supported effort to bring them back to learning – either to formal or non-formal education.
Over the past months, Rahman and his siblings have been participating in a series of ‘Adolescent Circle’ activities at the Nadya Community Learning Centre, to help prepare them for returning to learning.
The activities are designed to equip them with life skills, including 21-century skills that are necessary to help build their confidence and effective communication, encourage critical thinking and creativity, and manage their lives in a healthy and productive manner.
The Adolescent Circles also provide a safe space for them to form and voice their views and opinions on issues affecting them.
“Once I had a dream to open a vehicle repair shop so that I wouldn’t have to ask my parents for money,” Rahman says. “But now, my only wish is to study because frankly, I enjoy studying more than I thought I would.”
“Once I had a dream to open a vehicle repair shop so that I wouldn’t have to ask my parents for money. But now, my only wish is to study because frankly, I enjoy studying more than I thought I would.”
UNICEF and partners have been supporting the government with this initiative to reduce the number of out-of-school children in South Sulawesi Province since 2019, when there were close to 179,000 children (7 - 18 years of age)1 in the province who were not involved in any form of education. Causes include lack of family support, child marriage and economic challenges faced by families, made worse by the pandemic.
“Initially, we were optimistic that the number of out-of-school children in our village would only be approximately five or 10 maximum,” admits M. Aidil Akbar, the village secretary of Kanie in Sidenreng Rappang, one of the other intervention districts located approximately five hours away from the capital of South Sulawesi. “When the new data was revealed, I could hardly believe that there are in fact dozens.”
As of 2022, the programme has been implemented in 17 out of 24 districts and municipalities in South Sulawesi and identified over 5,000 out-of-school children and 47,000 children at risk of dropping out, who have been facilitated to continue learning by local governments. These efforts include the provision of scholarships, school equipment and transportation.
The programme also builds the capacity of provincial, district, and village stakeholders to gather data about out-of-school children, using the innovative Community Based Development Information System; and supports the monitoring and evaluation of current Provincial and District Action Plans to ensure strategies are included to directly assist out-of-school children.
Thanks to the interventions, the number of out-of-school children in South Sulawesi has dropped to 158,9772 – a decrease of some 20,000 compared to 2019. The local governments are now committed to reaching other children in more sub-districts and villages, including Bulukumba and Sidenreng Rappang districts.
Local educators in non-formal education institutions are also highly committed. “Bringing out-of-school children back to learning was difficult, but keeping them learning is much harder,” a mentor at Al Irsyad Community Learning Centre in Kanie Village, Sidenreng Rappang district, Muh Femi says.
“I hope that this programme will be continued and that more child-friendly educational institutions are introduced, so that all these returning students will stay, and maybe even inspire their friends to join them.”
1 UNICEF’s estimation based on Susenas 2019
2 UNICEF’s estimation based on Susenas 2022