UNICEF’s non-formal education programme helps girls return to school
The GATE programme aims to provide basic numeracy and literacy education and life skills to out-of-school adolescent girls.
Saptari, Nepal – Surji Mandal wants to be a teacher when she grows up.
The seventh grader at Shree Mahaveer Higher Secondary School in Saptari, a district in southern plains of Nepal says her favourite subjects are Nepali and social studies.
A few years ago, Surji’s dream of becoming a teacher was near impossible to achieve. She had dropped out of school in second grade due to her family’s financial limitations. But today she is well on her path to achieving the dream, thanks to a UNICEF-supported non-formal education programme for girls.
Surji completed the nine-month Girls’ Access to Education (GATE) Programme two years ago. The programme helped her make up for the lost school years.
I always wanted to study, but I never had the confidence to return after being out of school for so long,” she said. “The GATE programme gave me the required motivation to enter the actual gate of this school.
Surji’s school has seen a steep rise in enrolment of new students, especially adolescent girls between the ages of 10 to 15. Just this year, around 20 girls who graduated from the GATE programme returned to school in various grades ranging from two to eight.
Aasma Khatun is one of them.
Although government has mandated free and compulsory education up to grade eight, Aasma had to drop out. “My parents couldn’t afford to buy stationeries for me,” the sixth grader said. “I had to quit school and help my family at home.”
I love coming to school,” she said. “I enjoy reading and writing.
Aasma still has to support her family but for now she is happy that she is back in school.
In addition to enabling the girls to go back to school, the GATE programme has also helped change mindsets. Aasma’s parents have realized the importance of education and now encourage her to complete her secondary education.
Similarly, Surji’s parents are sending both of their girls to school regularly now.
The GATE programme aims to provide basic numeracy and literacy education and life skills to out-of-school adolescent girls. Most of the girls in the programme have either never been to school before or have dropped out after a couple of years due to poverty and lack of awareness among their families. Many are forced to work as child labourers, especially in the fields during harvesting season, to support their families.
After graduating from the nine-month programme, the girls are ready to go back to school. Around 80 GATE centres are operational in Saptari, benefiting about 1,800 girls.
One of these centres is in Chinnamasta Gaunpalika, where 25 girls belonging to the Muslim community attend two-hour classes every morning from 8 to 10. Dadiya Yadav, a passionate facilitator has been running these classes for the past three years. She teaches life skills and basic reading, writing and mathematics to the girls in a fun manner using music, games and dramas. The girls also receive knowledge on reproductive health, water and sanitation, domestic violence, child marriage and many more.
The programme just doesn’t make these girls literate, it also helps them to tackle social issues like child marriage, violence against women, gender and caste-based discrimination
She also said that the communities are usually hesitant to send their daughters to GATE programme in the beginning. A door-to-door campaigning on the importance of education is needed to convince them. However, the community has started to appreciate the programme after seeing remarkable changes in their girls. Monthly meetings are held with the parents to discuss the girls’ progress.
“The girls are generally shy and nervous in the beginning and their confidence is really low,” she said. “But over the course of time, you can notice a total change in them. They are empowered and confident.”
However, for Surji and Aasma, having a chance to be back in the school is more than enough for now. Two years ago, they were out of school and now they are determined to complete their high school first and then pursue higher education.