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At a glance: Yemen

‘Child-to-Child’ programme breaks cycle of school exclusion in Yemen

© UNICEF/2009/Yeo
Young Facilitator Saeeda, 17, captures the attention of younger children with a story about a family of mice, a favourite among many participants in Yemen's 'Getting Ready for School' initiative.

By Sonia Yeo

TAIZ GOVERNATE, Yemen, 15 April 2009 – Saeeda Salam, 17, is a Young Facilitator at Al Yarmouk school in the Taiz Governorate of Yemen. She should be finishing high school, but she is still in grade seven. Saeeda started school late because of poverty and is now working hard to break the cycle of exclusion and late enrolment in school, which particularly affects girls in Yemen.

As a Young Facilitator, Saeeda volunteered to be part of ‘Getting Ready for School: A Child-to-Child Approach’, a pilot initiative that aims to bring early learning opportunities to children who do not have access to, or cannot afford, pre-primary education.

“I joined the programme to help young children prepare for school,” said Saeeda. “I enjoy being part of this programme, because I learn how to deal with younger children.”

Breaking the cycle

In a country where few preschool-age children have access to preschools or early learning, this initiative offers a cost-effective alternative to delivering early learning opportunities to a population who would otherwise be excluded. It also offers countries the chance to break the vicious cycle of late enrolment, dropping out and poor performance in school.

Gender equality in education is a major issue in Yemen, with only 41 per cent of school-age girls attending primary school, compared to 68 per cent of boys. Opportunities worsen as they progress through the system, with only 13 per cent of girls and 35 per cent of boys attending secondary school.

© UNICEF/2009/Yeo
A Young Facilitator tells 'Getting Ready for School' stories to two boys.

Building on the natural phenomenon of younger children interacting with and learning from older children, the child-to-child approach seeks to get preschool-age children ready to start school on time and be better prepared to learn as they enter school.

Community support

Although in its early stages, parents and teachers report that the programme is already gaining momentum in remote communities where children have yet to be reached with early learning opportunities.

“I can already see the difference in Labib,” said Halah Nagi, about her four-year-old son, who is benefiting from the programme. “He is now singing and is able to identify animals,” which, according to Nagi, was not the case for his siblings when they were his age. A mother of five children, Nagi never went to school herself. 

“I don’t want my children to become like me,” she said. “I want them to be successful in life, to be doctors, lawyers, so I’ll be sending all my children to school. Although it may sometimes be a burden to bring Labib to school, I want my son to get the benefit of the programme.”

Other pilot initiatives

Teachers are also supportive of the initiative.

“The programme is encouraging the Young Facilitators to become braver, and teaches them to deal with other children more effectively,” said Frial Magdi, an English teacher at Al-Saeed School and a supervisor of two Young Facilitators. “Some younger children were crying the first time they came to school. Now they love it and don’t want to leave.”

In addition to Yemen, the Getting Ready for School initiative is being piloted in five other countries: Bangladesh, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Tajikistan. Based on the results of the pilot project, the initiative will be scaled up and replicated for other interested countries.



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