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Child-friendly village schools support education for all in Mali

© UNICEF Mali/2011
Children and teachers at the UNICEF-supported school in Dougouba village, located in Mali’s Segou Region.

By Kelly Lynch and Heidi Good

DOUGOUBA, Mali, 15 June 2011 – Just 15 years ago, there were no primary schools in the village of Dougouba. In fact, some members of this community, located in Mali’s Segou Region, had resisted the idea of formal education for decades.

Not everyone agreed. “Some of us really wanted a school,” says village chief Bourahima Fofana, “but the older generation preferred Koranic education.”

Today, the village’s old school – a community-built, one-room wooden structure that housed a single teacher and 15 students – is part of Dougouba’s history. In its place, the village now has a formal primary school.

The school has six teachers and 409 students, including 204 girls and 205 boys. It also has an early childhood development (ECD) centre for pre-school children, along with a non-formal education centre to support basic education and life-skills training for adolescents who never attended school or have fallen behind.

At all levels, the village school has adopted UNICEF’s ‘child-friendly/girl-friendly’ approach to education. This approach provides children – and girls, in particular – with a safe, nurturing and gender-sensitive learning environment.

An inclusive approach

In Dougouba – as in any community – children of different ages and backgrounds have a variety of educational needs. A single primary school cannot meet them all. That’s why UNICEF Mali, in partnership the Ministry of Education and teachers’ academies, has developed an inclusive model for the country’s schools.

© UNICEF Mali/2011
A Malian student learns to write in the village of Dougouba. Just 15 years ago, there was no formal school in the village.

Now in place in 80 communities in Mali, the model provides a strong foundation for continued education.

“UNICEF’s ‘three-in-one’ schools work very well,” says Ministry of Education Regional Inspector Zakaré Kamaté. “In the last few years, they have really taken off. Communities are asking for them. They don’t like the idea that so many of their older children are just hanging around … and they want their young children to attend an ECD centre.”

‘Safe and secure’

Dougouba’s ECD programme is especially popular. Though only 50 children are officially enrolled, on any given day at least 60 girls and boys, and as many as 100, may be in attendance.

Kadidia Djiré, matron at the early childhood centre, explains its popularity with mothers.

“In this village, people are farmers,” she says. “Previously, when they went to work in the fields, they had no alternative but to leave their kids at home alone, with siblings or with the old people in the village. But this was risky. The presence of the ECD centre means mothers now have a safe and secure place to leave their children.”

Circle of education

The ECD centre is also popular with teachers, because it prepares children to attend primary school.

“Those who started out in the ECD centre are more sociable, active and alert,” says Ms. Djiré. “They have already developed good school habits, so it is easy for them to adapt to school. This means they get better results and are more likely to stay in school.”

The circle of education is further widened when the children share what they learn at school with their families. “We have learned to wash our hands with soap and water before eating and after using the latrine,” says Sarata Traoré, a mother of five in Dougouba. “These are good practices the family now follows at home.”

Opportunities for women and girls

By offering functional literacy classes for women and girls over the age of 16, UNICEF and its partners in Mali also address high rates of female illiteracy. At the same time, they help women learn skills for income-generating activities. These activities allow the women to better provide for their families and – in conjunction with the school’s Mothers’ Association—to help support the school.

But their greatest joy comes with the sense of pride and accomplishment in all they have learned.

Now, for the first time in their lives, these women can read and write, count the money they earn and follow their children’s vaccinations schedules. They can help their children with school work and, as one woman explains, “Some of us are even taking what we learn home to teach our husbands.”

Today in Dougouba, there is great enthusiasm for education. Innovative, UNICEF-supported approaches are helping to provide education for all of Mali’s children, one village at a time.

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