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Real lives

From drab to dynamic: child-friendly schools in Vanuatu

© UNICEF/Vanuatu
Students from 71 primary schools are benefiting from the creation of child-friendly schools.

The school enrolment and retention rate was low in the Tafea Province on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific Ocean. Children did not want to attend. Parents saw little value in sending them. But today, the struggle is to get the children to leave once the school day is over.

The formerly drab, sterile school buildings have been turned into brightly coloured, dynamic classrooms filled with books, activity stations and enchanting pictures. And students are having the time of their lives.

This incredible change has occurred because of a pilot project initiated in February 2002 by UNICEF Pacifica and the Vanuatu Ministry of Education. Students from 71 primary schools are benefiting from the creation of child-friendly schools.

The Vanuatu pilot is part of a global effort by UNICEF to help countries establish schools that are child-focused, stimulating and welcoming.

“This is one way of attracting children into schools, making sure that once they come in they enjoy being there,” explains Davila Toganivalu, the UNICEF Pacific Education Officer. “The teachers are caring and friendly and it’s a fun place where children want to stay.”

Stay indeed. Now the children must be coaxed to leave after school because they want to stick around and help their teachers put up pictures or create interesting subject corners.

Training Teachers

These changes, of course, did not happen overnight. The planning began in November 2000. The project, designed to enhance the quality of education for the children of Tafea Province, focused on teacher training. Teachers learned about child-centred learning under the framework of Child Friendly Schools Quality Education or ‘Gud Fella Frenly Skul’ in their native language Bislama.

The emphasis was on teacher training because teachers are key to making school a rich place for learning. Building on what teachers were already doing well, the education workshops helped them to learn other ways of making schools interesting and exciting.

“Teachers are examining their own ways of teaching,” says Ms. Toganivalu, “revisiting how children learn, and seeing how else they can improve their performance.”
In addition to improving school quality, the pilot is encouraging parent and community involvement. Parents and community leaders are crucial to creating child-friendly schools.

The Tafea child-friendly schools pilot will be evaluated formally this year. But the project so far is getting rave reviews. The schools are stable environments where children can learn. Education has become an integral part of the children’s lives. So much so that children are staying at school long after their classes are over.



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