Challenges to provide education
As one of the world’s poorest countries Mozambique is struggling to provide adequate education for its children. Frequent natural disasters, such as drought, cyclones and floods, and HIV/AIDS, together with a government with few resources to deliver basic services have severely impacted the country’s development. The country’s population is rapidly increasing and around 45% are aged under 15.
Building child-friendly schools
UNICEF is working with the Mozambique Government and other international agencies to develop national plans to address poverty. Its child-friendly schools program creates safe and inclusive learning environments for all students, with a particular focus on girls. Its integrated approach centres on education, health, water and sanitation, protection, and community participation. The program is currently operating in 750 schools in seven districts across the country.
Rapidly increasing numbers of children and shortages of classrooms and teachers had meant that many teachers were teaching classes of up to 74 children and working double or even triple shifts. The child-friendly schools program provides quality learning. Teachers are now receiving formal training, some for the first time, and are being provided with teaching materials. They are learning ways to encourage participation from all students through group work and engaging with the local environment to learn science. New school buildings have now been built and are equipped with desks and chairs.
Water, sanitation and hygiene
Under the child-friendly schools program reliable water supplies and toilets have been installed, including separate girls’ and boys’ facilities. Prior to this, many schools did not have clean water and toilets, meaning that students, especially girls, had to collect their own water from local rivers or go home when they needed a drink or to wash their hands. Cases of diarrhoea, cholera and bilharziasis (a parasitic disease) were common and many children missed school due to illness. With improved hygiene and better health, school attendance has increased significantly.
Additionally, for a small fee, neighbouring residents can also collect their water from the school.
Sanitation committees, made up of students and parents, promote good hygiene. These committees are responsible for the management and cleanliness of facilities, and educating the community about good practice, such as washing hands and keeping the latrines clean.
Over 40% of children in Mozambique are chronically malnourished and two-thirds of children aged six months to five years are Vitamin A deficient, making them more susceptible to disease. To combat this, school gardens have been established to ensure all students are served at least one meal a day. The school sells any surplus food to raise money for building maintenance.
Immunisation programs and regular health checkups are also improving health. Education on preventing the spread of disease, particularly HIV and AIDS, focuses on empowering girls with valuable lifelong knowledge and the confidence to make good decisions.
Many children, particularly girls, drop out of school when they are needed to earn an income or care for younger children or sick parents. Orphans and children living with HIV are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and are more likely to be malnourished and undereducated. In 2005, the average primary school completion rate was only 34% (28% of girls, 40% of boys) while in 2010 it was 61% (55% of girls, and 66% boys).
The child-friendly schools program works to ensure that the rights of children to have their basic needs met, as well as access to education and health are protected. Vulnerable children are provided with extra support and school materials, as well as clothes and soap to ensure they stay healthy and in school.
Dedicated people help children in need. For example, 14-year-old Esperanca visits her classmates and provides them with peer support and encouragement to keep studying. As the eldest child of a single-parent family, Esperanca has many responsibilities at home but understands the importance of school. By staying in school she serves as a role model for other girls like her: ‘One of my visits is to my fellow pupil who is pregnant. She is 16 and in fifth grade. I tell her she must carry on studying like me.’
The success of child-friendly schools relies on strong ties between the school and the community. School councils are made up of students, parents and community leaders, who manage and maintain the school. Council members receive practical and leadership training and work to develop strategies to improve student attendance.
While there is still a long way to go in Mozambique, the future is looking much brighter for its young population. The education and community support they are receiving will equip them with essential life skills, strengthen community ties and work to lower the rate of HIV/AIDS infection. Girls have especially benefited from feeling safe, being supported to learn and encouraged to make their own choices – all of which will be of benefit both for them and their children in the future.