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Long-term plans to improve education in post-tsunami Tamil Nadu

© UNICEF/HQ06-1899/Pietrasik
Children in Tamil Nadu are benefiting from a UNICEF-sponsored education plan which gives them more participation in the classroom.

By Pramila Manoharan

TAMIL NADU, India, December 2007 – Education is the central focus of UNICEF’s work to rebuild the lives of children in Tamil Nadu.

The tsunami that struck three years ago had a devastating effect on schools, disrupting the lives of nearly 300,000 students in this region.

UNICEF raced to meet immediate needs, helping to get most children back in school within three weeks of the disaster and supplying essential supplies such as textbooks and uniforms. It also launched a long-term effort – through the ‘building back better’ tsunami recovery initiative – to make education more engaging for Tamil Nadu children.

Success with teachers and students
The Quality Education Package implemented here aims to improve children’s learning by making lessons more interactive, keeping teacher training up to date, ensuring that classrooms have appropriate furniture and bathroom facilities, and encouraging community involvement in schools.

The programme, which includes a special focus on girls, has been launched in 330 primary schools in Tamil Nadu, reaching 141,400 children.

“They gave us all the school stationery and books. They gave us a midday meal too. They taught us many games and stories. I regained my interest in studies, “ said Anandi, 13, who has recently graduated to Standard Eight.

© UNICEF/HQ06-1894/Pietrasik
Two children pack their bags to get ready for school in Tamil Nadu, where UNICEF’s Quality Education Package includes a special focus on girls.

Activity-based learning
One of the success stories of the post-tsunami effort, and an important aspect of the education package, is activity-based learning (ABL). This approach is not new to Tamil Nadu, but since the tsunami it has been applied in a comprehensive manner. ABL is a child-based, creative system of learning that has been introduced in all government schools in the tsunami-affected areas.

Malavika, 8, who stays with her grandparents so that she can attend school while her parents go off to work, is already seeing the benefits.

“I like to read and write,” she says. “They teach us songs and games. I have a portion of the blackboard to myself. I use it to practice the lessons. So I like coming to school.”

Support for students doesn’t just stop at the classroom. Children are given books that might not be on the curriculum but help them widen their learning horizons. And the specific needs of teenage girls are met with improved, separate toilet facilities and more information about HIV/AIDS prevention.

Communities seeing the benefits
The ‘building back better’ initiative is making a measurable difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in Tamil Nadu. ABL is backed up by the teaching of life skills – ranging from the prevention of abuse to personal hygiene. Children are encouraged to take an active role in seeing these new standards upheld.

Because of the immediate and ongoing support provided by UNICEF, schools are seeing children enthusiastic about learning; with less absenteeism and fewer dropouts.

“The start they gave us was the initial impetus we needed,” said the Headmaster of Akkarappti Primary School, R. Balu. “Today, the school is among the best in the district. The village children continue to study here.”




December 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on how children’s education is being improved in Tamil Nadu, India, in the aftermath of the tsunami.
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