By Manuel Moreno
This week, global leaders are meeting in Incheon, Republic of Korea, to look at progress in education over the last 15 years, and to chart the way forward for a powerful new education agenda. As co-convener of the World Education Forum, which takes place 19–22 May, UNICEF is calling for a fair chance to learn for every child, particularly the most vulnerable.
In Chad, where access to quality education remains a significant challenge, UNICEF and its partners are supporting the Government with a project aimed at strengthening education for almost a million children.
MOUNDOU, Chad, 18 May 2015 – There is a magic tree on one of the streets of Moundou, in southern Chad. It may not look magical or even special through everyone’s eyes, but to 15-year-old Ahmad Mohammed, this strong, leafy tree is his favorite spot in the world. It receives the last light of the day, which allows him to finish his homework.
“Everyday I revise my lessons under the tree over there, because of the light,” says Ahmad as he points at the tree near his house. “We do not have light at home, and it is the last place to get dark. It is my favorite place.”
Ahmad is a bright boy, with big eyes and a shy smile. He lives with his parents and six younger brothers and sisters in a humble home in one of the neighbourhoods of Moundou. They all sleep in the same bedroom, and only a few thin mats separate them from the sandy ground.
Ahmad helps out his family whenever he can. From time to time he sells vegetables and boiled eggs at the market, which brings in some extra income. Nevertheless, he has a clear objective in life: to finish his education.
“I am really motivated to go to school, because I like learning, and I would like to do well so I can help my parents,” he says.
Ahmad wakes up every day at 6 a.m. and helps his brothers and sisters get ready for school. They all attend Quinze Ans school of Moundou, where UNICEF, with the support of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and Educate a Child (EAC), has built 12 classrooms equipped with new desks. Previously, the classrooms were constructed of clay and chopped straw, and bricks were used for benches.
“Now, when you enter in the school Quinze Ans, you can really feel the change,” says Ms. Bainam Mogezolcandar, the school’s principal.
Basic education in Chad faces enormous challenges. Despite recent improvements, primary school enrolment rate remains low, quality education is lacking, and girls are especially disadvantaged.
About one child in five does not go to primary school and, for those in school, only one in three finishes primary education. Existing schools are overcrowded and understaffed, with only 30 per cent of teachers properly qualified.
“Teachers are not effectively equipped for their work, the classrooms are very dilapidated and the learners work without textbooks,” says Mrs Mogezolcandar. “The teachers cannot get through the work in these conditions.”
As an example, she says that some children in grade 6 are still unable to write their own name.
Quality education for all
To overcome these challenges, UNICEF is implementing a nationwide project, in partnership with the Government, that aims to strengthen basic education, benefitting almost a million children.
“Our goal is to make education real for children, families and communities,” says Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Chad. “Access to free, compulsory education is a right that should be sustained for all children, no matter where they live or how difficult the circumstances in which they live.”
With the support of GPE and EAC, UNICEF is building almost 1,600 classrooms, using eco-friendly insulation materials that help keep indoor temperatures down – important in a country like Chad, where temperatures can reach 50ºC (122ºF). UNICEF is also constructing hundreds of boreholes and latrines.
In addition to the training of teachers, UNICEF is also providing teaching and learning materials, with millions of reading books and teachers’ guides distributed across the country.
“I don’t know exactly what I want to be one day, but I want to make sure I can help my parents in the future,” says Ahmed.