“Some girls are not lucky enough to go to school because they have to collect firewood all day and help indoors” says 15-year-old Fatuma.
She’s just one of the 125, 930 under 18-year-olds living in Bokomayo, one of Dolo Ado’s refugee camps. She’s been here for three years.
Today, Save the Children’s the education team is speaking to groups of girls and boys both in and out of school to find out their views on education.
We will be starting up alternative basic education (ABE) in the camps, and we want to make sure both girls and boys benefit from this opportunity.
Education for a brighter future
Walking through the camps at any time of the day, you cannot fail to notice the huge number of children, predominantly girls, carrying firewood and collecting water.
As 60 Million Girls reports, babies born to mothers who have been to primary school are twice as likely to live beyond five years of age.
Rates of malnutrition and HIV/AIDS are much lower where girls are more able to go to school, and economic growth can increase where equal numbers of girls and boys receive education.
Why are so many girls out of school?
I ask a group of 12 girls who are currently enrolled in school why they think so many girls are out of education. Only two of the girls attended school in their home country before finding refuge in Ethiopia.
Fardowsa, 13 years, answers “Mothers do not allow it.” Shukri, age 10 and in Grade 1, thinks that “they prefer to sell firewood and do not see the benefit of education,” whilst Deko, 12 years old and in Grade 2, states “Girls do housework”.
Saadia, 14 years old and in Grade 5, thinks that “if we have separate classes we would feel confident and comfortable. In mixed classes we feel shy and not so comfortable”.
A complex picture
Several of the girls nod in agreement. Fatuma adds “The teachers asks both boys and girls questions. We are happy but we feel shy in case the answer is wrong the boys will laugh at us.”
Talking to these children, I get the impression that there are multiple reasons behind the low enrolment of girls in school, including cultural and socio-economic factors, as well as and community perceptions of the value of formal education.
Addressing barriers to education
Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) can also have a positive impact on girls’ enrolment in school.
Currently, more than 7,000 children aged 3-6 years attend Save the Children’s ECCD centres, and by getting children and parents on board early, reports show that more children will successfully transition to primary schools and beyond.
Enabling children to access safe learning environments in a refugee context is vital. If children are not attending or are dropping out of school we need to be asking them why, because education is a durable solution for both the present and the future.
Building children’s views into programme design
Accountability matters in emergencies, and by using techniques outlined in Save the Children’s Kit of Tools for working with children and young people, humanitarians can ensure that programmes really listen to children and their communities.
In this way, we can keep more children in education, and make sure that schools are safe spaces for both girls’ and boys’ development.
By listening to children and communities, and incorporating their opinions into project design and implementation, we ensure that our projects are accountable, empowering and have a long-lasting impact far beyond the emergency context.