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In Burundi, inclusive learning builds a path to achievement

By Felicite Hatungimana and Eliane Luthi

For returned refugee children and other vulnerable groups in Burundi, creating safe, healthy and protective learning environments is helping to ensure that every child can attain a quality education. 

BURURI PROVINCE, Burundi, 28 April 2015 – Joyce Maniratanga, 9 years old, recently returned to Burundi with her family after living many years in Tanzania as a refugee. Now she is a second-grade student at the Gakora primary school, in Rumonge Commune, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

© UNICEF Burundi/2015/Hatungimana
Joyce Maniratanga, 9, at the Gakora primary school, in Rumonge Commune, Burundi, where she now attends second grade afer returning with her family from Tanzania.

Going to a new school can be daunting for any child, but for children like Joyce, it can be especially challenging. Many returnee children have faced difficulties reintegrating into the Burundian school system after years in refugee camps in neighboring countries, often learning in a different language.

Luckily for Joyce, Gakora primary school uses the Child-Friendly School approach. Joyce has found that group work and mutual support – key elements of Child-Friendly Schools – have helped her overcome her initial shyness.

"If I don’t understand an exercise, other members of my group help me,” she says. “I remember the first day where I led a working group. It was very difficult. I started to cry. I almost left the classroom, but my teacher and my classmates encouraged me. Now I'm no longer afraid!”

Putting children at the heart of learning

In Burundi, the sudden return in recent years of high numbers of refugees has put considerable strain on an already overburdened education system. There is an average of 72 children per primary school classroom, and a lack of basic school materials such as textbooks. Ensuring quality education for all children in these conditions means providing sufficient classroom space and school materials, as well as well-trained teachers who can support social inclusion and equal learning opportunities for returnees and other vulnerable children.

© UNICEF Burundi/2015/Hatungimana
Abdon Havyarimana, principal of the Gakora primary school, says that the Child-Friendly Schools approach has made a big difference in children's school performance.

To tackle these challenges and to see that children’s rights are at the heart of the learning experience, UNICEF has been supporting the extension of the Child-Friendly School model throughout the country.

"We adopted the Child-Friendly School approach in 2012, and we’ve noticed a big difference in school performance,” says Abdon Havyarimana, principal of the Gakora primary school. “Our average on the national exam went from 64 per cent to 78 per cent in two years. Even in secondary school, the children that have benefited from the approach perform better in school than the others.”

The local community has taken notice. Some parents have even taken their children from other schools and bring them to Gakora Primary School, because they have heard good things about the school performance of the children.

One of them is Kevin, a fifth grader who left his former school for the Gakora primary school because his parents heard that children were treated well there. 

Where I was, some students, especially girls, were traumatized by corporal punishment and preferred to drop out of school,” Kevin says. “But here, if a student does something wrong, his teacher talks to him first. If it happens again, the principal calls the child’s parents to find a solution together.” 

A healthy, safe environment

Sophie Achilleas, Chief of Education at UNICEF Burundi, says that implementing the Child-Friendly Schools model, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education, is one of the key strategies to ensure that all Burundian children complete quality primary education.

© UNICEF Burundi/2015/Fernandez
Children wash their hands at the school's water point. Hygiene promotion helps ensure a healthy, safe school environment.

“The Child-Friendly Schools approach has a dual purpose of improving access to education by creating a safe, healthy and friendly environment for children and by building capacity of teachers,” Ms. Achilleas explains. “In Burundi, three pillars of this model are taken into account: the application of active and participatory pedagogy, the introduction of good governance in schools, and fostering community participation.”

In addition, she points out, the construction of well-ventilated classrooms and latrines and water points, combined with hygiene promotion to reduce the risk of diarrheal disease, also ensures a healthy, safe school environment for children.

Ms. Achilleas notes that most of the basic concepts in the Child-Friendly Schools model are already integrated into the national training program, and the next step is to integrate conflict-sensitive approaches to promote a peaceful climate for learning and improve social cohesion and inclusion. 

Child-friendly schools, girl-friendly schools

Creating inclusive environments for learning also means taking into account gender dynamics to ensure the integration and development of girls.

"Girls used to hide themselves behind boys in classroom,” remembers Augustin Ndabunganire, Chairman of the Management Committee of the Gakora Primary School. “But thanks to the new approach, things are changing. The girls sit in front and work in groups with the boys."

© UNICEF Burundi/2015/Nijimbere
A smiling group of children in the schoolyard at Gorkana primary school.

While ensuring good hygiene and sanitation is important for creating safe and healthy environments for children, it is also key to keeping girls in schools. In Gakora Primary School, the latrines are separated by gender and kept clean, and children routinely wash their hands with soap at the water points outside the latrines. Community members here appreciate the fact that the children are inspired by what they have learned in school and apply it at home, especially with respect to hygiene.

“I know a family who built a latrine because their child had told them about the benefit of having a clean latrine,” Mr. Ndabunganire says.

Meanwhile, Joyce’s newfound self-confidence has been extending to her school performance.

“In the first quarter of the year, I was 36th of the class,” she says. “But this quarter I already know that I am going to improve!”



UNICEF Photography: Educating girls

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