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At a glance: Niger

Adult literacy classes in Niger emphasize the importance of family education

UNICEF Image: Niger, Maradi, adult literacy
© UNICEF Niger/2009/ Bisin
A parental education session for women in Saran Maradi village in the Maradi region of Niger.

By Sandra Bisin

Global Action Week 2009, from 20 to 26 April, is focusing on life-long learning to raise awareness about the worldwide literacy challenge. Here is a related story from Niger, where UNICEF supports adult literacy as part of its broader education programme.

MARADI, Niger, 20 April 2009 – In a little hut in the village of Saran Maradi, about 15 women are eagerly copying an adult literacy lesson into their notebooks. Some of the women are mothers nursing their babies while they learn. It is barely 11 in the morning, but the temperature is already scorching. Niger's hot season has begun.

Despite the heat, 40-year-old Aminatou Issoufou is concentrating on the letters written on the blackboard. She is the next student who will read aloud, and she wants to show her peers how much her reading skills have improved.

“Z-A-K-I,” she spells out when the teacher turns towards her. She then repeats the word ‘zaki’ with a big smile. The word means ‘lion’ in Hausa, the local language.

“I have been attending the literacy classes twice a week every week for the past month,” says Ms. Issoufou. “I have never been to school. Thanks to these courses, I will know how to read and write. Two of my children are enrolled in primary school. I want to be able to support them.”

Parental education

Ms. Issoufou is one of some 10,000 adult students (half of them women) who have been attending parental education courses at one of 400 UNICEF-supported adult literacy centres in rural Niger. The centres have been set up as part of the 'Child and Girl-Friendly School Initiative' that was launched last year.

© UNICEF Niger/2009/ Bisin
Rahamou Lawali (left) and Aminatou Issoufou, who both attend parental education sessions in the village of Saran Maradi, say these courses have provided additional incentive for parents to send their children to school.

Studies show that educated parents are more likely to send their children to school. In Niger, only 30 per cent of adults are literate.

The Child and Girl-Friendly School Initiative aims to create a nurturing environment for children within schools as well as within their communities. It looks at providing quality education for all children.

“Parental education is key to child attendance and active participation at school,” said the head of UNICEF Niger’s education programme, Dominique Taller-Brasseur. “During these sessions run at the literacy centres, parents are not only taught about how to read and write, they are also sensitized to their children’s needs. Getting some knowledge of their own is an additional incentive for parents to send their children to school.”

Parents receive information on reproductive health, nutrition and HIV/AIDS, as well as on family practices that are essential to the survival and healthy development of their children – such as the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.

Getting and keeping girls in school

In Niger, challenges can be enormous in terms of girls’ education. While one in two girls goes to primary school, only 1 in 10 attends secondary school and a mere 1 in 50 attends high school.

Ms. Issoufou is also a member of a mothers’ education group, which ensures that all girls in the village are going to school. The group keeps a close watch on girls’ attendance at school.

“Every morning, our duty is to go through each class and check that all registered children, especially girls, are in school. If we do not find a girl, we immediately report to her parents and we check why she is not at school,” said Ms. Issoufou. “Students are aware that they can no longer easily drop out of school.”

The primary school enrolment rate in Niger jumped from 54 for per cent for boys and 39 percent for girls in 2005-06 to 58 per cent and 43 percent, respectively, in 2006-07. With help from the government and other partners, UNICEF aims to bring primary school admission rates in Niger up to 100 per cent by 2013. Meanwhile, UNICEF plans to open an additional 200 parental education centres in 2010.

“This has given new sense to our lives,” said Ms. Issoufou. “We have a new status within our community.”




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