Child friendly schools inspiration to learners

When a team of UN agencies came together to support the improvement of girls education through a joint programme, little did they expect that such an intervention would just in a year start to bear fruits in both enhancing access to and ensuring delivery of quality education.

Charles Chitsamba, a teacher at Ngolowindo
Charles Chitsamba, a teacher at Ngolowindo

It is not surprising, therefore, that just one year down the line as observed during a recent review meeting held at Machinga Teachers Training College (TTC) that each one of the stakeholders spoke highly of the impact the initiative has registered in only a year of its implementation.

The United Nations Joint Programme on Girl Child Education (JPGE) receives financial support from the United Nations Children Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the World Food Programme. The Norwegian Government also contributes resources to the initiative.

The three year programme being spearheaded by the Machinga TTC in three districts of Dedza, Mangochi and Salima, targeting a total of 81 schools with a minimum of 14 institutions in each cluster of the two selected primary education zones of a particular district, aims at improving access to and ensuring quality delivery of education for girls in Malawi.

The genesis of the concept is premised on the fact that girls in Malawi have been and continue to face a number of interrelated challenges in attaining quality education ranging from social, economic to protective and health.

A thorough analysis established that contextual factors such as cultural practices and gender inequalities, attitudes and behaviours of people in the community in general contribute to low achievement levels among girls in the country.

Yet it has always been argued that when you educate a boy child you have educated an individual while when you educate a girl child you have educated the whole nation.

In this respect, cluster leader for Ngolowindo Model primary school in Salima, Charles Chitsamba said the JPGE has been a stepping stone in improving education standards not only in the cluster but even in other neighbouring schools which are indirectly benefitting from the interventions through continued professional development (CPD) interactions.

“Through the teacher resource centres, learners can respond to questions because the objects are explaining abstract concepts in a manner that is easy to comprehend,” Chitsamba told Malawi News Agency (Mana) on the sidelines of the review meeting.

Chitsamba who is also Ngolowindo Primary School head teacher said there have been some developments which were not there before the introduction of TRCs, admitting that teachers have now acquired skills in mobilizing communities to come up with resources for teaching.

“Previously, the community thought that the work of ensuring access and quality of education was for teachers alone–but that perception has changed, they can now bring forth teaching and learning resources to the school,” Chitsamba added.

Chitsamba disclosed that within the elements of TRC, there is also an aspect of child protection whereby participating schools have established child protection committees comprising learners, community members and teachers alike.

He said benefits of TRC include high and sustained enrolment and that the creation of a child friendly school in the cluster has seen three girls who dropped out of school being readmitted.

Concurring with Chitsamba, Machinga Teachers Training College JPGE Coordinator, Holmes Chirwa said the initiative’s goal is to improve access and quality of education in Malawi particularly in the three districts of Dedza, Mangochi and Salima.

He said Machinga TTC in liaison with Voluntary Services Organisation strives at contributing to the programme’s outcome of improving attitudes and skills of teachers towards girls to effectively deliver life skills and gender related methodologies.

“Over and above, we are also trying to create what we call friendly schools environment to enhance the making and utilization of teacher resource centres.

“In the first year, the programme has trained teacher instructors, teachers in college and also trained in-service primary school teachers,” he said.

He said community groups such as school management committees, mother support groups and parent and teacher associations as well as the community at large have been engaged to solicit their support towards TRC but also child friendly schools.

In this regard, Chirwa hailed the initiative for registering remarkable achievements, indicating that out of the 40 schools in the initial year 34 have had TRCs constructed where teachers, learners and community members mobilize resources to promote the teaching and learning exercise.

“In addition, the communities and teachers are able to create child friendly schools on their own by providing sanitary facilities and other things.

“Another success is that teachers are able to integrate responsive methodologies which are an important approach because they make learners participate actively in class,” he pointed out.

To this effect, Chirwa said Machinga TTC is heavily indebted to government and the development partners such as UNICEF, UNDP, WFP and UNFPA without whose support and efforts girls could not be readmitted into school.

He said girls were also being given leadership positions which gives them confidence and in the process helps them stay positive and focused until they complete the primary school cycle.

Correspondingly, acting director for the department of teacher education, Mary Chirwa indicated that the concept of child friendly schools whereby teachers including the community are encouraged to provide an amiable learning environment particularly for the girl child was a catalyst to achieving quality education if it were implemented to the fullest.

“As you may be aware, the education sector has numerous challenges and with the resources provided by donor agencies the districts have managed to come up with TRCs where teaching and learning materials are produced to assist in the teaching and learning process,”

“The materials are produced by both teachers and learners in some cases, communities are also involved,” she said.

The acting director further said to consolidate the gains in child friendly efforts, life skills was also promoted for sustainable development as a means to ensuring that learners are able to fend for themselves, citing an example of Machinga TTC rearing chickens as an income generating activity to aid it in raising funds to pay fees for needy teacher trainees.

“The same is encouraged that schools should be innovative enough to come up with some initiative to generate financial resources for the day to day operations of their school,” she emphasised.

For example, several policy documents including the 2011 education management information system (EMIS) indicates that 53 percent of boys completed full cycle of primary education while girls had 47 percent. Therefore, putting emphasis on girl child education does not completely mean leaving out boys, according to the EMIS.

In this connection, Chirwa said the education sector was putting much emphasis on championing inclusive education in light of the fact that some classrooms may have children with disabilities while others may be coming from poor families, thereby making it difficult for such learners especially girls to learn effectively.

“At present we are training teachers to make sure they have the approach or methodology that would help them handle children with different needs to attain quality education, necessary skills and knowledge when coming out of college,” she noted.

Chirwa, however, observed that while attention was being shifted from Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the sector’s role would be to champion inclusive quality education for sustainable development.

On a larger scale, the programme has seven primary outcomes which include, but not limited to, ensuring girls and boys in targeted schools are well nourished and remain in school, increase access to second chance education for both in and out of school girls and quality integrated youth friendly services, among others.

Machinga TTC is contributing to outcome 5 of the programme which attempts to enhance teacher attitudes and skills to effectively deliver life skills based and gender responsive methodologies.

Speaking in an interview with Mana, Machinga TTC Principal, Macauden Msakatiza said the programme has registered a number of successes in the first year, citing training of teachers in participating clusters to mobilize and manage teaching resources in the established TRCs.

“The monitoring exercise that was conducted revealed that there is a shift in the way things are being done in the participating schools of the three districts,” Msakatiza said, admitting that challenges were inevitable in the course of programme implementation.

“One of the major problems we encountered in the first year was during the establishment of TRCs. Most schools did not have adequate space for TRCs which require a special room for keeping teaching and learning materials where both teachers and learners can appreciate whatever is going on in the resource centre,” he said.

Msakatiza, therefore, disclosed that the project would in the second year of implementation construct 35 TRCs in the three beneficiary districts which would act as models for other schools within the cluster to draw inspiration from.

It is quite obvious, therefore, that child friendly schools cannot be discussed in isolation of vibrant school – community linkages coupled with excellent TRCs which are readily available for teachers to use as Chitsamba summed it up during the review meeting.

Chitsamba concluded: “With TRC we are able to keep resources for the next lessons because previously such resources could not be traced after use.”

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