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Making education more enjoyable for children affected by quake

© UNICEF/PAKA001/Delaney
Parveen and Tariq are both class 9 students at the Matta Nili Shang school

By Hugh Delaney

Battagram, 26 August, 2006: Eight year old, Parveen is getting used once again to life in her new tented classroom, following the end of the summer holidays. When the earthquake that affected so much of northern Pakistan struck back in October 2005, her old school building was totally destroyed, and the teachers were forced to suspend classes, with no other shelter available. Working through local partners, UNICEF has been supporting the school, providing tents as well as essential school materials, to ensure that the education of the local children continues.
Though Matta Nili Shang school is officially for boys, Parveen is one of many girls among the 125 students enrolled, as the nearest girls' primary school is over 5 kilometres away, much too far for the children to walk every day.
Parveen is in third grade, and she studies Urdu, Maths, English, Science, and Religious Studies. "Urdu is my favourite", she says, "I like coming to school to learn how to read". Sitting beside Parveen in the classroom, is Muhamad Tariq (9), equally enthusiastic about learning: "I'm learning how to read properly and I want to be a teacher", he says with a broad grin.
The focus on children enjoying education and wanting to come to school is something that UNICEF is working on with teachers and the local community, according to Fawad Ali Shah, Education Officer with UNICEF Battagram. "If we can create an environment where learning is fun and where children feel safe and happy, then we have a much better chance of reducing drop out rates, and of seeing children through to the end of the school cycle", says Fawad.

© UNICEF/PAKA002/Delaney
Few of the 125 students enroled in the Matta Nili Shang school

This is the essence of UNICEF's 'Child Friendly' approach to schooling, the concept which has guided activities in the earthquake-affected region of northern Pakistan over the last 11 months. It covers all aspects of the education programme, from ensuring that tents and the school grounds are safe places, conducive to learning, that the school's environment is a healthy one where children learn about good hygiene practices, and where teachers are properly trained to deal with and support children who have suffered the shock of losing everything becuase of the earthquake. 
"Many of the children were traumatised by what they witnessed when the earthquake hit", says Dr. Francois Kampundu, UNICEF Head of Office in Battagram. "They need special attention and the teachers should be aware of that and need to be given the skills to support and encourage the children to express themselves in the classroom. Focusing on child-centred learning, involving real participation by the children can make school much more enjoyable and can also help with the children's development," Dr. Kampundu adds.
In the earthquake zone, UNICEF has helped re-establish over 4,000 government primary schools which were destroyed or badly damaged, ensuring that as many as 375,000 children can continue their schooling. In Battagram, which is one of the least developed districts in Pakistan, over two thirds of all government primary schools were totally destroyed by the earthquake and many more were damaged.
In the re-established Matta Nili Shang school the teachers and local community continue to encourage all the students to remain in school while promoting the enrolment of out-of-school children in the locality. Their efforts have been rewarded with an increase in enrolment numbers since the earthquake. It is this approach which will hopefully see students such as Parveen make it successfully through the primary cycle.



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