Education for All?
According to UNESCO there are still 75 million children out of school ( more than half of these being girls) and millions more leave school, early, without acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills. Who are these unreached that do not have access to quality schooling and learning opportunities?
They are the most disadvantaged and excluded, such as learners from remote and rural communities; learners from religious, linguistic and ethnic minorities/indigenous peoples; girls and women; children from migrant/nomadic families; learners with disabilities; street children; working children,orphans; children and young people affected (and discriminated against ) through contracting HIV / AIDS.
Even these figures may be an understatement of the real situation as there are a number of children/young people who start school, find it difficult to attend school regularly, repeat grades and finally drop out. We may know the official number enrolled but not the number who just don’t /can’t turn up to school regularly and therefore do not complete even the most basic education program.
I will focus on just a few countries where I have been working – Chad, Guyana, Mauritius, Madagascar and Azerbaijan, to consider what can be done to ‘teach the unreached’ . I have already looked at Timor Leste and Vietnam1 and Vietnam 2.
Let’s continue with Chad.
Chad (French: Tchad, Arabic: تشاد Tshād), officially known as the Republic of Chad, is a landlocked country in central Africa. It is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, and Niger to the west.
Chad is home to over 200 different ethnic and linguistic groups. Arabic and French are the official languages. Islam and Christianity are the most widely practiced religions.
The country is one of the poorest countries in the world; most Chadians live in poverty as subsistence herders and farmers. Since 2003 crude oil has become the country’s primary source of export earnings, superseding the traditional cotton industry.
I started working with UNICEF Chad helping to establish a small project to provide some form of quality education of children from Nomadic and semi nomadic families. The representative, Daniele Brady, worked with enthusiasm and vision to make things happen under very difficult conditions.
Unfortunately, recent changes in the politics of the region,particularly the situation in Darfur, Sudan , has destabilised the country , encouraged two coups and left the country dealing with thousands of refugees. UNICEF has had to change from providing support to the government for long term education provision for all , to shorter term emergency support for children’s health, education and most importantly, safety. For emergency education services UNICEF has provided
- In addition to erecting 350 school tents, UNICEF and its partners have financed construction of 250 semi-permanent classrooms. Each classroom can handle 80 children and will withstand eastern Chad’s harsh climate.
- More than 600 school-in-a-box kits allowed 45,000 Sudanese refugee children to attend school, some for the very first time.
- Thirty child-friendly areas in the refugee camps have given 27,000 children an opportunity to play, learn, and recover from their physical and psychological scars.
Although UNICEF is used to working on emergencies, the recent refugee influx from Darfur, has taken resources away from longer term goals for those Chadian children who do not have access to education.
I was working with UNICEF on the education of children from nomadic families.
There are thought to be over a quarter of a million nomads in the east of Chad. During the dry season the nomads are in the south of the country, the cattle herders generally going further south than the camel herders, and then during the rainy season they move north, again the camel herders going further north than the cattle.
Nomads survive because of their:
Mobility Because nomads live in areas of climatic extremes they’ve had to be flexible and opportunistic. Mobility allows them to profit from widely-dispersed resources, such as water, whose availability varies from year to year.
Mixed Economies Pastoral nomads raise several kinds of animals: usually one large prestigious species,such as cattle or camels and several smaller animals like goats and sheep. Disease or drought affects each species differently, thus increasing the nomads’ chances of survival.
Tribal Sharing Most nomadic peoples are organized into tribes or clans which have a customary claim over a specific territory and can support each other.
Nomadic peoples face many threats today, but the most serious is the attempt to stop them moving around (‘sedenterization’)
Nomads don’t fit neatly into national boundaries and they tend to look and behave differently from majority populations,.
They need to be brought together for their ‘own good’, government officials claim – so they can be educated, taxed and given proper health care, electricity and roads.
State planners claim that wandering pastoralists are inefficient and that they are ignorant of modern animal husbandry.
Major constraints to their participation in formal education are:
i) their constant migrations/movements in search of water and pasture in the case of the nomadic pastoralists;
ii) the centrality of child labour in their production system, thus making it extremely difficult to allow their children to participate in formal schooling,if in a fixed school;
ii) the irrelevance of the school curriculum which is tailored to meet the needs of sedentary groups and thus ignores the educational needs of nomadic peoples;
iv) their physical isolation, since they operate in largely inaccessible physical environments; and
v) a land-tenure system that makes it difficult for the nomads to acquire land and settle in one place.
Of course the main difficulty in providing education to children of nomadic families is that the children move and schools tend to be static. One solution, started in the 1970’s was to use an extra camel to carry the extra equipment (chalkboard and tent) for a mobile school.
Civil war disrupted this system and nomadic children have had little access to education since. Other reasons include the mistrust of the ‘French’ system of education which nomads feel does not respect their culture/language/way of life. So for Chadian Arabic speakers only Koranic schools provided some sort of education.
Some NGOs have been able to build some schools for ‘semi-nomadic’ communities where children and old people stay in one place and teenage boys and parents move with the animals.
When parents were asked ‘What do you want from education?” They answered that their children needed to know how to look after their animals, and they needed to know their rights. Police and military often tried to extort money from them because of some infringements that they could not understand, due to their lack of French language. So as an education consultant you were faced with re-thinking education completely – taking away a static school and all its teaching resources. The needs of the families unfortunately seemed a long way from the objectives from the national education system, which was still rooted in the French colonial era.
How often do we find in different countries that a ‘classical’ approach to education exported with colonial rule does not meet the present day needs of many families. Even in Western countries life saving and life enhancing knowledge about our own health is relegated to a slot on a Friday afternoon and taught by a teacher who is not well trained in the demands of an active and participatory approach to health education. These nomadic families were saying that the health of their animals would be the only thing that helped them survive – without that knowledge education would be worthless.
We started by talking with representatives of nomadic families. What do they need and how to cooperate together to reach such objectives?
The nomadic communities offered one community member to be trained as a teacher by UNICEF as they had had earlier experience of urban teachers being sent to teach the children who had no understanding of nomadic life and culture. Providing the teacher was a sacrifice for the community as young people in the community would normally be needed for looking after the animals.
The second aspect was the curriculum and learning materials. It was decided that UNICEF and the Ministry of Education would start by developing some themes around animal and child health. It was also decided to utilise the idea of self learning materials so that students of different ages could learn together. Escuala Nueva based in Colombia, have had a lot of experience of developing ‘self -learning’ guides and it was this model that was used as a basis for developing the learning materials for the themes.
Workshops were held with writers, teachers, animal and child health experts as well as an artist who would cooperate together to produce learning guides which were trialed with students in nearby schools, to gauge the readability and understanding of the materials.
The self learning guide includes all the instructions that a teacher might normally give as well as basic information , activities and research, extending the use and understanding of that information as well as formative assessment activities. Students are encouraged to work together to solve problems and increase their mastery by interaction in pairs and small groups .
In this new understanding of what education could offer children of nomadic families, girls were particularly needing and wanting education.
On a Saturday morning I went to visit a school,hoping to talk to the teacher. I could not find the teacher and the school was locked but a group of girls were patiently waiting outside in the vain hope that the teacher may turn up. In the mean time they were educating themselves and doing a good job of it.
In other makeshift classrooms in semi nomadic communities children and their mothers were eager students ready to explore a hitherto unknown world of open education.
The situation shown below illustrates something about the traditional view of ‘French’ education. In the village everyone lives in round houses and sits on mats on the floor. However, when they wanted a site for the school they used the model of the school that has been presented to them -a square concrete box with desks and benches – colonialisation of the mind!
When you send your daughter to school you have to find ways of making up for the lost labour source otherwise the family cannot cook and eat because they have no water or firewood. UNICEF and women’s organizations helped to ease this situation by supporting families with energy efficient stoves, tools and donkeys so that girls did not have to spend so long on their tasks and could go to school.
Unfortunately, even with all this hard work and progress there are setbacks. Children thought that civil war was over and they would benefit from the new oil revenues :
But with the instability caused by the situation in Darfur and the increased hostility against nomadic peoples due to the competition for water and grazing land then the future for these children is far from rosy…..