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Back to school in Polman

© UNICEF/Indonesia/2012/CBEIS

After her father had passed away three years ago and her mother had to go to another island to earn a living for the family, Ernia, a 13-year old girl who lives in the village of Batetangnga in Polman District in the Province of West Sulawesi, was forced to drop out of school and take care of her younger sister and three brothers all by herself.

After having spent three years raising her siblings, she missed the playful childhood she used to have. “I really wanted to play and go to school again,” she says.Although their meals often consist only of rice, Ernia’s brothers and sister never complain, because they understand the circumstances. “They are so patient and will eat anything that I give them, even if it is only rice,” says Ernia who is very proud of her sister and brothers.

Two of her brothers, Asri and Asrul, who are in second and fourth grade of elementary school, often have to work, especially during school holidays, to help the family survive. They collect stones from the river and sell them, earning about 10,000 IDR (approximately 1.10 USD) per week.

Although the Government of Indonesia strives to provide basic education for all boys and girls, Ernia is not the only child who has dropped out of school. The Out-Of-School Children Study on the magnitude, gaps, barriers and bottlenecks and relevant policies and programmes regarding out-of-school children, which was supported by UNICEF, highlights that 2.5 million children aged 7-15 were out of school in 2009, with most dropping out during the transition from primary to junior secondary school.

One main factor hampering the achievement of the Government’s target for universal basic education is the poor quality of data which can be used to identify children that do not have access or do not complete basic education. Currently, data used by the Government is being collected from the school level, which can only provide information about children in school, missing out any information that may be useful regarding those that are not attending school. Considering this, accurate and updated data on the day-to-day educational experience of children and constraints faced at the household or community level is critical for supporting children’s improved access to quality education. Such an effort can also help decentralized governments conduct better and more accurate planning exercises for improving access to quality basic education for all children.

To this end, UNICEF has developed the Community Based Education Information System (CBEIS) in collaboration with the Center of Education Data and Statistics. The CBEIS tool addresses data gaps on children’s education status at the community level, identifying out-of-school children and reasons for their non-participation. The Basic Education and Gender Equality Thematic Fund support allowed for the CBEIS data on school drop-out to be updated in Polman District.

As a result, 271 children from poor families out of 530 identified as having dropped out were subsequently able to return to formal and informal schools. Ernia is one of these 271 children. Thanks to the CBEIS she was identified and assisted to return to school. She received a scholarship from the district government to cover her school fees and a foundation in the district adopted Ernia and her younger sister and three brothers as foster children, enabling her to go back to school.

During the Back to School Ceremony organized by the district government in cooperation with UNICEF, Ernia told her story. The vice head of district and other high officials were deeply touched and truly impressed by her strong will and passion for returning to school. To make sure all out-of-school children get the opportunity to continue their education, the local government is currently exploring possibilities to allocate more funding to update the CBEIS in other districts of West Sulawesi province and to develop demand-driven transition programmes.

Ernia’s story has also sparked the interest of a journalist from national television who broadcast it nationwide, raising awareness of how important it is to support children who have dropped out to return to school. But even more important for Ernia and her brothers and sister is that the broadcast has also reached their mother, who decided to return to Polman to take care of her five children.



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