FCA improved access to education for 1146 overage and out-of-school children in hard-to-reach areas in Somalia
FCA has improved access to quality education for 1146 overage and out-of-school children in areas that are hard to reach in Hudur, Somalia under the Accelerated Basic Education (ABE) programme.
The main primary drivers of humanitarian needs in Somalia are conflict and natural disasters such as drought and flooding. According to Protection Return Monitoring Network (PRMN), around 893,000 people have been displaced in Somalia between January and August 2020, of whom 633,000 were displaced due to food insecurity, 177,000 affected by conflict and 71,000 by drought.
Of all the people displaced in 2020, around 357,200 (40 %) are school-aged children. Often they drop of education because of the disruption in their lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 exacerbated the situation as the government was forced to close schools in early March 2020. This led meant that fewer students could access quality education and more than one million children in Somalia were completely outside of schooling.
The situation is worse for marginalised groups, such as girls, children with disabilities, those who live in hard-to-reach areas and those who are overage or outside formal education.
It is against this backdrop that FCA Somalia has implemented an Integrated and Inclusive Education in Emergencies (EiE) Response for Crisis Affected Children in hard-to-reach ares in Hudur district in Bakool region of the Southwest state from June 2020 to June 2021. The project is funded by ECHO.
The response has focused on quality primary education for internally displaced school-age children, catch-up and ABE programmes for out-of-school and overage children within the population that was affected by the conflicts and natural disasters such as drought and floods. In the process, a total of 1146 ABE students, including 600 girls (52 %), were reached and supported at three school centres in Hudur district in level one and level two learning stages of the ABE programme for one academic year from August 2020 to June 2021.
Objectives of the ABE programme
The primary purpose of Accelerated Basic Education (ABE) is to provide learners who missed a primary school education for whatever reason with the opportunity to obtain primary education competencies and sit for the Primary Centralized Examination. It is also meant to reduce and remove the barriers of access to education that lead to children dropping out of or never enrolling in primary school education.
The ABE programme further allows for flexibility in the teaching and learning processes with negotiable timetable that allows students and their families to meet other demands for their time and attention, including employment and childcare. The ABE programme also emphasises the development of practical skills and transition pathways to both formal education and vocational training after the completion of all the four levels of the programme.
Somalia’s Ministry of Education National ABE policy framework was recently launched with the support of USAID.
ABE students assessment and transition to ordinary classrooms
After one year of schooling in June 2021, the ABE students were allowed to sit the examinations prepared by their teachers. The exams varied according to their levels of education, age and abilities. 1,121 students (51 % of whom were girls) sat for the final examination.
637 students (50 % both girls and boys) took the level one examination and 457 (50 % both girls and boys) of them successfully transited to grade 3 in the formal school. Unfortunately 180 students (84 girls) were not able to transit. They will be allowed to continue to level two under the new ECHO project that is starting in July 2021.
On level two, 484 students (257 girls, 53 %) sat for the examination and 87 % of them (422/51 % girls) successfully passed and transited to grade five in an ordinary classroom. In comparison, 61 students (39 girls) failed the exam. They will be supported for another six months under the new ECHO project within the Catch programme before their performance is assessed again.
The students who could not sit for examination because of various reasons, such as Covid-19 and other illnesses and their families’ displacement will be offered another chance once the schools reopen in August.
Overall under the FCA ABE programme 2020, 77 % of the students (51 % of them girls) successfully transited to ordinary classrooms. In the beginning of the academic year in August they will start their new classes in formal schools.
FCA launches an ECHO-funded project to enhance access to Education for displaced children in hard-to-reach areas of Southwest State of Somalia
We are happy to announce the launch a 12-month Education in Emergencies project in the Southwest State (SWS) of Somalia to fulfil the right to education of displaced children in areas that especially hard to reach. The READ Project is aimed at restoring and maintaining safe access to quality education for 7,000 crises-affected children so that they can enter or return to protective learning opportunities.
FCA will be implementing the project with its local partner Gargaar Relief Development Organization (GREDO) and it will operate in hard-to-reach areas of El-Berde Baidoa and Hudur. The project is funded by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) in its quest to support the improvement of access to quality education in Somalia.
The READ project is striving to improve children’s access to a safe, inclusive and protective learning environment; to enhance the capacity of teachers and other education personnel to provide quality education and learning outcomes; and to strengthen safety and child protection mechanisms in target schools for psychosocial well-being, protection and safeguarding of affected children.
In El-Berde, only 8 % of school-aged children (1,574 in total, incl. 884 males and 690 females) are enrolled in one public primary school and eight meant for IDPs, with 12,198 children estimated to be out of school. Although the district only hosts 3,500 IDPs, FCA assessed that the needs for education are incredibly high, as 698 children (402M; 296F) are learning in the only available six classrooms, where there are on average 116 students per classroom.
Similarly, Hudur has the population of around 100,437 with around 42,504 IDPs (24,322 males and 36,482 females) residing in 26 IDP settlements across the district.
The Director General of Ministry of Education (MoE) of Southwest State of Somalia Fadal Abdullahi Mursal attended the launch meeting. He told that a delegation from the MoE visited Hudur town late last month to investigate the impact of FCA’s earlier ECHO-funded education project. They found great impact on the ground in terms of improved access to education.
“During our stay in Hudur, we had a meeting with the CECs and parents and they informed us that they are fully satisfied with FCA’s education program, especially the Accelerated Basic Education (ABE) system which supported many out-of-school children,” says Fadal Abdullahi Mursal, the DG of Ministry of Education of Southwest State.
The deputy minister for Education of Southwest hailed the ongoing FCA efforts in Bakool Region and requested FCA to expand their education projects and reach to the other Southwest State regions.
“Giving children a brighter future through education comes with commitment. I therefore request FCA to expand their education programmes to Lower Shebelle which is also part of Southwest State Regions,” says Abdifatah Isak Mohamed.
Finally, FCA’s Acting Somalia Country Director and the Programme Manager Mr. Bashir Fidow has appreciated the MoE-SWS partnership and pledged that FCA will continue working to enhance education for displaced people in hard-to-reach areas.
“On behalf of FCA Somalia, we are happy to be working closely with the Mistry of Education of Southwest State as a partner. FCA has been providing and implementing Education in Emergencies programmes in SWS since 2018, including Hudur town in Bakool region, which is a hard-to-reach zone,” Bashir Fidow says. “Our new ECHO project 2021-2022 is expanded to Elberde, which is also a hard-to-reach area. FCA will continue working with the MoE of the Federal Government of Somalia and Federal Member State of Southwest to make sure that children in hard-to-reach areas receive quality education and that teachers are qualified.”
FCA has started its EiE response in Baidoa and other hard to reach areas of SWS in 2018, with support from ECHO HIP 2018 and 2020, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland (MFA) and FCA’s own Disaster Fund. To date, the interventions have enabled 15,500 crisis-affected children (45 % girls and 400 CWD) have access inclusive education through safe learning environments, improved quality of education and school-based protection mechanisms. Among these children, 1299 (45 % girls) are Accelerated Basic Education (ABE) learners.
Knowledge Management Central in Advancing Inclusive Local Governance in Somalia
For years, FCA has worked with its partners systematically and successfully to involve women, youth and marginalised groups in decision-making. Sharing knowledge and learning from others is central to this work.
Successful district council formation is a key milestone in building inclusive local governance structures and systems. Since 2017, four district councils have been successfully formed with active and inclusive participation of the community including women, youth and marginalized groups, with the efforts and support by FCA and its partners. The four areas include Berdale and Hudur of South West, Afmadow of Jubaland and South Galkacyo of Galmudug.
In June, FCA engaged partners, federal and local government officials and key actors to reflect on the overall progress, achievements, challenges, lessons learned and remaining priorities in inclusive local governance in Somalia.
Active dialogue and knowledge management in a recent workshop
The workshop, held in Mogadishu on 21-22 June 2021, brought together more than 45 key figures in local governance. The aim was to promote collective reflection and knowledge management and to address remaining priorities in the work towards inclusive governance particularly in the district council formation processes and the promotion of women’s political participation in Somalia.
Mr. Mustafa Adaf, the Director-General of the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Local Governance of South West State of Somalia, briefly highlighted the success stories, challenges and lessons learnt from the established district councils in South West State.
“So far four district councils have been formed in South West State with strong representation of women in the elected councils including ten women out of 21 elected council members in Diinsor, five women out of 21 in Waajid, and two out of 21 in Berdale, while Hudur has zero women representation in the district council,” Mustafa said.
FCA has been implementing various programmes promoting inclusive local governance through district council formation (DCF) and increasing women’s political participation since 2016, with the support of the EU delegation to Somalia, USAID/TIS+ and the Somalia Stability Fund.
Learning from experience
Officials from the Ministries of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation (MOIFAR) at the federal and state levels across Somalia, district administrations and councils, elders, women’s groups and networks and key stabilisation actors were actively participating in the lively discussions. The participants identified and discussed the results and successes of FCA and its partners’ interventions and contribution to promoting inclusive local governance and gender equality and the social inclusion of women, youth and marginalised groups.
The participants of the workshop also explored lessons on what has and not worked in past and ongoing interventions to foster learnings for the benefit of the other districts that are currently undertaking the district council formation in accordance with the Wadajir National Framework for Local Governance. In addition, the workshop also charted the way forward in addressing remaining priorities for effective, future programming.
The workshop’s outcomes will be collated and a publication will be compiled for internal and external knowledge management. The document will be distributed among the numerous actors working to support state-building processes in Somalia.
Advancing women’s participation
Not only is successful district council formation a historic milestone in promoting democratic process and inclusive local governance, but also in terms of women’s political participation. This is the first time in the history of South West State for women to achieve such a representation among elected council members.
“One of the lessons we learned in the previous council formations such as in Berdale and Hudur in 2017 was the need to emphasise the importance of the role of women. From such experiences, we started discussing a quota system for women’s participation in the DCF process in other districts. Once we secured that women can have meaningful participation, we proceeded with the process. So, in a nutshell, women participation can only be achieved, if the government and actors collaboratively engage the community to campaign for women in the process,” Mr. Adaf draws together lessons learned.
FCA contributing to profound shift in women’s political participation in Somalia
FCA’s persistent work has led to a significant increase in women’s political participation in Somalia and contributed to a change in local decision-making.
Two of Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) projects in Somalia have helped to move the country towards sustainable peace by advancing gender equality and increasing women’s political participation. FCA has strengthened women’s capacities, increased their opportunities for civic participation, and helped to build fair and equal governance bodies at different levels through trainings, discussions and multi-level advocacy.
“FCA’s team in Somalia works in a challenging environment but on the other hand, the timing of this intervention has fitted well into the state building process following the civil war,” Programme Manager Bashir Fidow from FCA Somalia office tells.
Somalia is one of the most unequal countries towards women due to cultural beliefs and institutional bias and discrimination. Many people still believe that women belong at home and do not have a place in the informal or formal decision making structures. Traditional practices and customary laws are often applied instead of state judiciary. Historically the representation of women in politics is very low.
FCA’s work to increase women’s involvement in politics and in the society
Within the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) project framework, there have been numerous trainings, citizen interface dialogues, debates, and meetings. FCA Somalia team with their partners Centre for Research and Development (CRD) and Ministry of Women and Human Right Development (MoWHRD) have advocated for women’s participation in politics. These platforms provided by the projects have offered women an important channel to be heard but also to learn from each other. The results have been encouraging as hundreds of women have participated in trainings about their rights and the social and civic responsibility of active citizens and elected leaders which has given them the confidence and the skills to participate in decision-making processes.
FCA has advanced inclusive district council formation, including the quota of at least 30 % women in the newly formed district councils. The project has contributed to significant political developments. FCA led the consortium that supported the establishment of four district councils in Berdale and Hudur of SWS in 2018, and Afmadow in Jubaland and Galkacyo in Galmudug in late 2020 with inclusive participation of women and youth. Two women were elected as council members in Berdale, five in Galkacyo and another two in Afmadow. A National Gender Policy was developed for the South West State. In the local elections in the South West State, the number of women’s seats saw a significant increase. There are currently 16 female parliamentarians and a female deputy speaker in the SWS Assembly.
FCA Somalia has implemented several projects in Somalia to promote inclusive governance and women’s political participation. ‘Gender Equality and Social Inclusion’ (GESI) worked in Baidoa, Hudur and Berdale Districts of the South West State (SWS) and was funded by the Somalia Stability Fund (SSF).
‘Strengthening local governance structures and systems for more accountable and inclusive Federal Member States in support of the Wadajir National Framework’ Phase II’ targeted the district council formation through democratic process in the SWS, Hirshabelle, Jubaland and Galmudug, and was funded by the EU. The goal of Strengthening Local Governance project was to bring inclusiveness to District Council formation and have a 30 % quota for women.
FCA has worked in Somalia since 2008 and advanced sustainable peace from the beginning. The country programme operates in four states, South West State, Hirshabelle, Galmudug and Jubaland, and has been active during the time when the federalism and decentralisation efforts have been taking place. FCA has operations also in Mogadishu and Somaliland.
Advocacy on multiple levels of society
“A key element in these projects has been the multi-level strategic advocacy,” says Business Development Manager Leakhena Sieng from FCA Somalia.
The projects’ partners have been essential for effective advocacy. The MoWHRD has supported FCA in building networks and organised meetings and platforms for women and the political gatekeepers to meet, discuss and make decisions.
“FCA’s interventions engaged people on the local level, clan leaders as well as ordinary families,” tells Abdulwahab Osman, acting Local Governance Project Manager at FCA Somalia. “The projects have harnessed networks of women to advocate with traditional and religious leaders about the importance of women’s participation. There have been numerous occasions, workshops and discussions, where the importance of women’s engagement has been debated.”
The GESI project worked with clan elders so that they support and indeed enable women’s active political participation. Somalia’s governance system is heavily influenced by the clan-based social structure and without the support of clan elders, women’s inclusion and leadership is difficult. FCA identified traditional and local leaders as important change agents early on. When the local leaders are convinced about the need to have women in positions of power, in Somalia that is a major advantage, in relation to local communities as well as political leaders.
It has been important to challenge the traditional structures and roles that have prevented women from participating actively in the society. Women have been discouraged from education and girls have been denied their right to learn. The women that FCA has trained have visited villages and spoken to women themselves as well as their families to show how women can take an active role and why they should do it.
“One central goal has been to increase overall public awareness and now 56 per cent of the project’s beneficiaries say that they are able to influence decisions in their community,” tells Leakhena Sieng.
Women supporting and helping each other
FCA wanted to provide aspiring women the tools and the confidence that they need to participate actively in politics. The BAY Women Association Network (BAYWAN) has been key to this process. The network was established by the 207 trained women by FCA and CRD with the purpose to provide a supporting circle for women from all backgrounds and age groups to come together and exchange views and experiences.
The BAYWAN has contributed to change in various levels of society. They have been a great asset to the GESI project in arguing for and advocating women’s active participation in society and girls’ education and equal rights.
“FCA selected 150 young women from universities’ political sciences department to participate in trainings and discussions, with the aim of preparing future leaders, helping them to form networks, giving them confidence to speak out and providing them with a platform for discussions and dialogues with their peers and mentors,” Mr Fidow says.
FCA brought together the young aspiring women and female politicians to inspire the younger generation. The Ministry of Women offered internships and volunteer opportunities for university students. What these women with FCA and its partners have done locally in the South West State has been so successful and inspirational that these good practises have spread and have been adopted in different districts in Somalia.
Profound change towards sustainable peace is possible
FCA’s efforts in Somalia to increase women’s political participation and gender equality has overall been a great success. FCA has helped to bring together the media and key decision-maker and people of power. Because of the publicity that the increase of the number of women in politics has received in the media, especially in Galkacyo, Afmadow and Diinsoor, where a number of women have been elected as council members, this has become a mainstream issue, Mr Fidow says.
FCA’s projects have had a huge impact. More than 700 women and numerous clan and religious leaders have been trained as leaders and agents of change for gender equality and women’s empowerment. The number of women in politics has increased and the enthusiasm of young women at universities shows that this trend is likely to continue.
“Now we are ahead of the other federal states in terms of women’s political participation. I urge other states to be like SWS and provide women political space,” says Faduma Ali Ahmed, MP in the SWS District Assembly.
The UN Sustainable Development Goal number five states that ‘gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world’ and this is very important in a country like Somalia that has been suffering from civil war and violent extremism for decades.
Goal 16, ‘promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’ is intimately tied to FCA’s work in Somalia. The results of FCA’s projects show that great steps have been taken in Somalia towards this goal.
Innovative Approaches Bring Refugee Children Back to School in Uganda
Finn Church Aid, with funding by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), implements a condensed curriculum that allows refugee children who have not been able to attend school for long periods to catch up with their lost school years in Ugandan refugee settlements. Education helps to protect girls from early marriages.
Joyce Bisimwa, 17, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, came to Uganda with her parents and siblings in 2016. The hardship and lack of money for school fees forced her to drop out of school when she was on grade six in primary school and she spent years without education.
In 2019, of the 47,470 refugee children in Kyaka II refugee settlement only one in four were enrolled in primary school. Joyce was relieved when she could enrol in the Accelerated Education Program (AEP) in Bukere Primary School to catch up on her lost years.
“I was very happy when I was allowed to return. The teachers here are so nice, and I feel happy when I see myself sitting in a class like this,” Joyce says.
To speed up the learning of youth like Joyce, the programme uses a specially designed and condensed version of the Ugandan curriculum. By covering two to three grades of primary education in one year and using teaching methods appropriate for different age groups, learners who have lost many school years can transition into the formal schooling system.
“We cannot leave girls behind, and I see a good future in Joyce. I know she will be a good influence on her other siblings,” says Joyce’s father Bisimwa Dieudonne.
Education for refugee girls a priority
The AEP programme is an integral part of the INCLUDE (Innovative and Inclusive Accelerated Education) project. Finn Church Aid (FCA) implements the programme in Kyaka, Bidibidi and Omugo refugee settlements in Uganda as part of an education consortium led by Save the Children and funded by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO).
One of the priorities is to support girls’ education. Under the project, 3,318 female learners in the three settlements have returned to school through the AEP. In Kyaka, additional 2,696 were able to return through Education in Emergencies cash support.
FCA trains teachers to ensure that learners receive inclusive, quality education. Felix Tumwesigye, an AEP teacher at Bukere Primary School, underwent various trainings from curriculum interpretation and teacher learning circles to child protection. Tumwesigye has seen many girls struggle to access menstrual hygiene materials, and girls also face concerns like teenage pregnancies and marriages. Girls have fewer role models in school, especially among teachers, and some parents prefer to support the education of the sons rather than the daughters, he says.
The project provides menstrual hygiene materials to all girls to prevent them from missing classes, and learners also receive scholastic materials. They can attend classes without fear of being sent away due to unpaid school costs or the lack of uniforms.
“Education is especially important for girls; it gives them a future and prevents them from being forced into early marriage,” says Tumwesigye.
Learning made fun and engaging
The project aims to make learning fun, engaging and more effective for learners in lower AEP levels and primary through innovative technology-based solutions for quality education. The component called Can’t Wait to Learn give learners access to tablets loaded with interactive games that help teach literacy and numeracy using the Ugandan lower primary curriculum.
A series of recreational activities under the name of Team Up has been designed to reduce the stress that refugee children experience as a result of war. Many of these children create new social contacts or friends through such activities and strengthen their social and emotional well-being. School attendance has also been boosted through the Team Up activities.
The closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic created sadness in many of the girls at Bukere Primary School. Lillian Kemigisa, 14, thought that she would not return and was relieved when the schools reopened.
“I feel safe like I have never felt before. I feel so happy because of the good teachers and the quality of education I receive here”, she says.
During distance learning, FCA together with other partners provided over 8,000 learners in Kyaka with home learning materials and distributed over 1,400 radios in the community.
“Studying from home helped me so much, but I felt happier when school resumed so that I could be with my friends again”, says Abigael, another girl from Bukere Primary School.
Bukere emerged as the best school in Uganda in 2019 in using tablets for learning and was rewarded with computers for the teachers. In a bid to support the increased number of children enrolling in school, more teachers have been recruited, trained and given instructional and learning materials. Fully furnished classrooms have also been set up, teacher’s accommodation built and gender-segregated latrines provided for learners and teachers.
Through the project’s innovative approaches and other education initiatives in Kyaka, primary school enrollment increased from 12,161 learners in 2019 to 23,075 in 2020.
“I feel very happy that these girls are back to school. They had lost all hope of education before we had this programme,” Tumwesigye says.
BackgroundSupporting education in Uganda’s refugee settlements
The INCLUDE project is implemented by a consortium of Save the Children, Finn Church Aid, War Child Holland and Norwegian Refugee Council, funded by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO).
Since 2018, 3,410 children and youth in Kyaka and 2,418 children in Omugo and Bidibidi refugee settlements have been able to enrol back to school through the AEP programme.
With Education in Emergencies (EiE) cash for vulnerable school-aged children, a total of 5,871 children have been supported in Kyaka II, out of which 4,902 enrolled in primary school.
Fighting period poverty leads to a future of confident and educated women
Monthly sanitary pad distributions at school prevent girls from missing classes or dropping out completely. Education about menstruation increases self-esteem.
When her monthly period comes, 16-year-old Michelina tears a pillow and picks out pieces of its worn stuffing – an old cloth rug that she uses in place of the sanitary pad she cannot afford. That is just the tip of the iceberg. The worst part is that Michelina, who lives in Kalobeyei refugee settlement, cannot talk to anyone about her periods.
Despite being a normal biological process, menstruation remains taboo. Many girls stay home from school during their periods, leaving them behind in their education. In class, girls say that their concern about leakages makes it harder for them to concentrate in class or dissuade them from participating in the first place. Even with sanitary pads or towels, Michelina says that finding a bathroom is an issue.
“Without safe, private places for cleaning and changing during our periods, we continue to struggle despite the supplies”, she says.
Working against period poverty is an integral part of Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) education support in the refugee settlements Kakuma and Kalobeyei. Distributions of sanitary pads have reached 5,000 adolescent girls since last year. Project officer Catherine Angwenyi says the program has supported girls in several other ways too.
FCA’s sanitary pads distribution couples with sexual and reproductive health education, and the program has reduced school absenteeism among the girls.
“When parents do not take the time to talk to their girls on menstrual hygiene, the only way girls get information and support is through education programs that distribute pads,” Angweny explains.
Monthly sanitary pad distributions prevent girls from dropping out and keep them from asking for pads from men that can take advantage of them. When girls go to school, they are less likely to become pregnant or, for instance, get an HIV infection.
Angwenyi believes that by doing everything for girls to stay in school, we are heading to a future of fewer teenage pregnancies and more educated and confident women.
“When you educate a girl, you change the world,” she says.
Nkurunziza, 16, says that learning about menstruation and hygiene practices has changed her attitude: she no longer stays home from school during her periods.
“Having pads increases my confidence and helps me focus on my studies, and I can even excel in exams”, she says.
Covid-19 increases poverty and aggravates the education crisis in developing countries, but solutions exist
For more than a year, Covid-19 has dominated the news globally. In March 2020, when the first restrictions were imposed, nobody could have imagined that we would still be combating a crisis a year later. The global impact of this pandemic has been and will continue to be enormous.
The coronavirus pandemic has increased global poverty for the first time in twenty years. The World Bank estimates that up to 93 million people were plunged into extreme poverty in 2020.
“For poor countries, the outlook is grim,” says Saara Lehmuskoski, a Senior Adviser at Finn Church Aid (FCA). When the pandemic hit, she was working as FCA’s country director in Cambodia.
“Many are reaching a level where just getting food on the table is difficult. For them, moving out of poverty will take a long time. In recent years, we have heard positive news about how people are being lifted out of poverty. Sadly, we’re now taking a big step backwards.”
With less economic activity, tax revenue will fall, which then leads to cutbacks. The World Bank estimates that two out of three developing countries have cut their education spending due to Covid-19. Combined with a rise in poverty, families and children who are already poor will be the ones most severely affected.
“In Cambodia, distance learning is only available for the richest children. The poorest rural students, who have limited access to education anyway, don’t own a television or a smartphone,” says Lehmuskoski.
Children no longer have access to education because schools are closed. And due to rising poverty, some families need children to work to make sure that everybody gets fed.
“In the long term, this is a terrible risk for the children who are now at school age. We will be dealing with the aftermath of this pandemic for another 10 to 15 years. Right now, we need to make sure that children stay at school and continue their learning so that, once the pandemic is over, young people completing their studies will be equipped to earn a living and engage actively with their communities,” says Lehmuskoski.
Digital learning provides access to education
In poorer countries, the education budget is often small in comparison to other expenditure. When a crisis such as Covid-19 strikes, funds are needed for healthcare and other similar items. Deputy executive director Tomi Järvinen at Finn Church Aid points out that decisions about short-term savings should not be taken at the expense of education.
“Research findings show that education is a key to higher gross domestic product and, of course, improved levels of personal income. Each year at school will boost the student’s future earnings. For girls, this rise is even more marked.”
School closures in response to the pandemic raised concerns about whether children, especially girls, would return to school in the poorest countries.
“What we hear from the field is that the scenarios presented at the beginning of the pandemic have, at least in part, materialised. We have seen more teenage pregnancies and child marriages, and the concerns about young people not returning to school are real,” says Järvinen.
To prevent children from dropping out of school, it is important to develop ways of communicating with learners and preparing them for the eventual return to school. In Kenya, FCA has supported efforts to ensure that schools maintain contact with students and young people return to school as soon as possible.
Digital learning is part of the solution for developing countries. It contributes to enabling access to education and to providing high-quality education for all. Going forward, digital solutions will continue to make remote education possible, for example when children are ill or unable to attend contact teaching for some other reason.
“We shouldn’t think that developing countries will take up digital learning at some later date. They have already gone digital in fields such as communication and commerce, and now we need to extend these solutions to education,” says Tomi Järvinen.
In fragile countries where FCA operates, the first stage of digitalisation means low-tech solutions, such as radio lessons and WhatsApp messaging. For example, radio receivers have been distributed and radio lessons broadcast to families in refugee camps and rural areas in Kenya.
“The situation is never hopeless; there’s always something we can do. Now we need to invest in digital learning and its development, and analyse the lessons learned from the Covid-19 crisis.”
1. INVISIBLE WORK. All women work but do not necessarily earn a salary. Traditionally, only productive work is categorised as a job and all other work, such as that in households or outside the formal economy, remains invisible and therefore unpaid. Women are doing 75 per cent of all unpaid work worldwide and do it for three to six hours per day. Much of the invisible work is within homes, taking care of children, the sick and the elderly.
2. EDUCATION. More than 130 million girls aged 6–17 do not go to school. A girls’ education can also be disrupted if her family needs her to support their daily life through household work or paid jobs. Menstruation or marriage can also put an end to a girls’ education.
3. MENSTRUATION leads to discrimination. In Nepal, for instance, families and the community restrict women’s movement and participation in activities during menstruation. In Myanmar’s Rohingya communities, women are traditionally not allowed to interact with other boys and men than their own family’s after they started menstruating. Many girls face the risk of early marriage after they have had their first period.
4. PERIOD POVERTY. The lack of sanitary pads causes multiple challenges. For instance, in refugee settlements, quality pads are hardly available or sold at a very high price. If the sanitary pads do not exist or cannot be changed safely in school, girls might be forced to stay home during their periods. Repeated absence from school might cause girls to drop out.
5. LAVATORIES are part of everyone’s daily life, but many women have to search for a safe lavatory every day. According to the UN, every third of the world’s women cannot access a safe bathroom facility where they can also wash during menstruation. Women need a door that can be locked not only because of privacy and dignity but because bathroom facilities put women at risk for abuse and sexual violence.
6. EMPLOYMENT. Traditional roles and models weaken the position of women in the job market. Their invisible work as caretakers of families creates further challenges for the women to find time for paid work. Research shows that public support for daycare services increases the number of women doing paid work. A woman with a job and salary has a better chance of impacting her own life and the surrounding society.
7. VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN is a severe violation of human rights and a far too common practice. Women are not safe even in their own homes – every third of the world’s women report having experienced violence in a close relationship. An estimated 38 per cent of all murdered women were killed by their spouses.
8. DISASTERS worsen the situation of those in the most fragile positions even further – conflict and war increase domestic and gender-based violence. Violence against women has reportedly soared in several countries during the lockdowns caused by the coronavirus, including the countries where Finn Church Aid operates. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and the pandemic’s burden on healthcare, women are struggling to access services related to sexuality and reproduction, and this might result in a rise in, for instance, unwanted pregnancies.
9. INEQUALITY IN POWER STRUCTURES. Men form a majority in decision-making positions worldwide. Research shows that women are more likely to consider women-related issues, family politics, education and care services when they are in a leadership position. Thus, leaving women outside decision-making significantly affects these areas of life. The influence of women is also undermined by them not being part of the informal, male-dominated networks that might have an unexpected impact on society.
10. ADDITIONAL DISADVANTAGES. While women per se are in an unfavourable position, the women with additional disadvantages caused by disabilities, age, poverty or sexual orientation face even greater challenges. In emergencies, such as natural disasters and conflicts, women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence and struggle to access support. Elderly and poor women and those with disabilities are dependent on the support of others, which makes them vulnerable to abuse.
+1 FINN CHURCH AID (FCA) includes and promotes gender equality in all its operations. FCA and the Women’s Bank work for women’s rights by supporting women’s education and livelihoods in fragile countries. Livelihood activities offer training in entrepreneurship, marketing and managing finances. Creating cooperatives and savings groups are central to the projects, and the cooperatives support their members’ business activities.
The livelihood projects also strengthen women’s rights in other ways. Participating in cooperatives and their management builds confidence and experience that support women in becoming involved in broader decision-making structures. The cooperatives also offer interventions and solutions to issues, such as domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence.
The education of girls is one of the most efficient ways of securing sustainable development. Educated women are more likely to send their children to school, and education is the key to sustaining oneself and live an independent life.
Sources: Caroline Criado Perez (2019): Invisible Women, World Health Organisation, Plan International
Of an estimated 80 million teachers in the world, more than half are women. They are everyday heroes who face their share of challenges each day but also role models for countless girls who enrol in school.
A competent teacher is a child’s gateway to society. Surrounded by war, teachers in Syria settle their pupils in their classrooms and help them forget the reality outside school, even if just for a moment. In a Ugandan school for children with disabilities, the world opens up when both teacher and learner know sign language.
A school should be a safe place to grow up in, but this is not always the case. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) reported at least 11,000 attacks on education worldwide between 2015 and 2019. Attacks refer to actions such as bombings, kidnappings, or sexual violence directed at pupils or staff. The threat of attacks is real in Syria, a country living with war for almost ten years.
During the past year, education has faced new kinds of challenges. According to experts, the school closures caused by the pandemic may have far-reaching consequences for an entire generation. As schools reopen, there is a lot of catching up to do, and the new normal comes with practical challenges.
Below, three female teachers share their story. One is worried about the children freezing in school, while another faces doubts because of her age and gender. A third teacher hopes for more resources for special needs education. Despite the challenges, they all think they are on the right path as teachers.
South Sudanese Simon Peter was out of school for long because he could not reach the classroom. An inclusive education project in Kakuma refugee camp brought him a new chance while teaching teachers and parents how to support persons with disabilities.
Simon Peter is 24 years old but is only in primary class 3. He enrolled in school for the first time ten years earlier after growing up in a rural area of South Sudan. Before that, schools were located too far for him.
Simon was born with hemiplegia. Hemi means “half” and hemiplegia refers to the paralysis of half of the body. He had no wheelchair to help him reach a school. His chance to join school came only when his family moved to a city.
“I never got a chance to socialize and play with other children. I was indoors most of the time”, Simon describes his childhood.
Shortly after Simon started his education, South Sudan slid into a civil war that disrupted his learning. It took a long time before he could enrol again, this time in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Finn Church Aid’s project for supporting special needs education issued him with a wheelchair to help him reach the school.
Simon’s guardian Mark Loyiel is grateful for the opportunity for Simon to catch up with education.
“I used to carry him wherever he needed to go. It is a relief that I can wheel him to school, and he manages the school day by himself while I report to other duties. Then I pick him up after the classes”, he says.
Inclusive education and learning environment
Finn Church Aid’s special needs education project benefits 275 children and youth with disabilities that live in the refugee camp in Kenya. The project has also trained 69 teachers on inclusive education that bridges the language barriers of refugee learners and prepares teachers to meet the needs of learners with disabilities. The support to the learners also includes wheelchairs, stationaries, textbooks, school uniforms and food.
Ensuring an inclusive learning environment also requires construction work. The project has built disability-friendly classrooms and pit latrines in all the primary schools and Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) centres in Kalobeyei settlement, a part of Kakuma refugee camp.
When Kenya ordered schools to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic, FCA distributed solar-powered radios to enable Simon and other persons with disabilities to participate in radio lectures. Teachers have complemented broadcasts with home visits and by following up on the homework of learners.
Parents and guardians actively involved in their children’s education
The project has actively involved parents and guardians of children with disabilities in supporting the special needs education, says Simon’s guardian Mark Loyiel. Mark is also happy that the schools include those with disabilities in physical activities, such as ball games. Before the pandemic, they were all cheering in inter-village competitions for learners – with or without disabilities, playing together as one family.
Mark is particularly grateful for the psychosocial support that goes with the project. The staff of FCA visit their home to engage with the family and build a stronger understanding of persons with disabilities.
“We have found new aspects of understanding and respect for Simon’s personality and dignity. Persons with disabilities are not a burden – they are unique human beings like anyone”, he says.
“The home visits of the staff make us feel like we are one family to them.”
Simon Peter has grown much and describes himself as very peaceful. He dreams of becoming a teacher for primary class 1 and wants to teach mathematics and science to children with disabilities.
“I want to give back for the support I have received, and I feel that I know from experience what children with disabilities need when they grow up.”