These fast schools in Ethiopia give child laborers a second chance

By Emeline Wuilbercq

LOYA, Ethiopia, November 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When Genet’s father died four years ago, his fledgling studies were cut short, forcing the 12-year-old Ethiopian girl to drop out of school and have a baby -sitting to help his mother Make ends meet.

But a charity’s accelerated schooling program helped Genet and more than 2,000 other Ethiopian children return to class this term, resuming studies disrupted by conflict, poverty and child labor.

“I’m happy to be going back to school for the second time,” said Genet, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, adding that she felt especially lucky because her younger brother still has to keep the cattle for her. help the family to fend for themselves. .

Standing in the courtyard of Loya Primary School, she held up a large tag with the name “meteorologist” – one of the individual responsibilities assigned to each of the 25 students in her second chance class in the Sidama area.

“It might rain today,” she said earnestly, explaining that her classmates had jobs ranging from factory keeper to news reader.

Children enrolled in the 10-month speed school program cover the same learning outcomes as others in the first three years of school – and eventually join regular classes in fourth grade.

“We really work with the most vulnerable marginalized children who have been denied the chance to learn,” said Caitlin Baron, founder and CEO of Luminos Fund, the education charity behind the program. accelerated schooling program.

“The government has done its part to make access to education possible. But … the system is so stretched (that) when the kids are on the margins … give the kids a second chance, ”Baron continued.

Yet access to education has improved dramatically in Ethiopia over the past two decades, with the net primary school enrollment rate tripling between 2000 and 2016, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, l ‘UNICEF.

Four years ago, the government started replicating the Luminos Fund model and more than 200,000 children were attending speed school courses funded by the state and its partners in 2020.

But in the midst of a civil war, drought and floods, schooling has stagnated. Some 3.2 million children of primary school age were out of school in 2020, said Yohannes Wogasso, director general of school improvement at the education ministry.

Girls are often kept at home to help with housework or married chores, while boys work mainly in the fields in this country of 115 million people, where around 16 million children work.

A facilitator corrects an exercise for students in a second chance class in Sidama region, Ethiopia. October 26, 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation / Emeline Wuilbercq

“Return to the system”

Launched a decade ago in Ethiopia, the Luminos program has helped some 130,000 vulnerable children aged around 10 to access education with a program focused on play and songs to prepare them to return to school. public schools.

Some children have never been to school, others like Genet have dropped out prematurely.

Singing, playing instruments and clapping their hands, the children divided into groups of five smiled and laughed as they recited the syllables of the Sidama language in a second chance class.

Located in public primary schools, the classrooms are bright and decorated with banners, each has a model store and a bank. In one corner, the letters of the alphabet, made by hand in clay, are displayed.

“For children who have been in a hard working environment, that sense of empowerment, that sense of security that comes from being in a warm and welcoming classroom is a powerful entry point into the school system,” said Baron.

Prolonged and repeated school closures over the past two years due to COVID-19 have resulted in increased dropout rates, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable children according to the United Nations cultural agency, the United Nations. UNESCO.

Even before the pandemic struck, 59 million children of primary school age had no access to their education around the world, most of them in Africa.

Ethiopian schools closed in March last year and gradually reopened from October 2020, with dropout rates lower than initially feared, according to data collected by the research program on the Education Systems Improvement (RISE), a global research project.

Pauline Rose, international research team leader in the RISE Ethiopia team and professor of international education at the University of Cambridge, said speed schools could help children catch up on learning difficulties.

“Accelerated learning programs are essential to tackle both those who are out of school and the learning losses for those who are still in school, but who are at risk of not staying there,” a- she declared.

A facilitator teaches numbers to students in a second chance class in Sidama, Ethiopia. October 26, 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation / Emeline Wuilbercq

Progress faster

Alemayehu Hailu Gebre, Ethiopian director of the Luminos Fund, which also operates in Lebanon and Liberia, said all public schools should have at least one second chance classroom to accommodate older children.

Research by the Center for International Education at the University of Sussex found that six years after the program ended, three-quarters of students were still in school and progressing faster than their peers.

But despite government pressure to expand the model, officials say there are limits that must be overcome.

“This program is designed only for children who are over the required age and also have time to attend a daily program,” Yohannes said, adding that officials were trying to adapt it to target hard-to-reach groups. reach such as nomadic shepherds. .

Rose said the large number of children in need of speed schools was also a major challenge in Ethiopia.

“Reaching that number will require a large number of facilitators with appropriate training,” she said.

Alem, another 12-year-old girl attending a second chance class, said she dreamed of becoming a doctor someday.

For now, however, Alem – whose name has also been changed – still has to clean and cook when she comes home from school.

“We are trying to reduce the workload and help her. We understand that she is now busy studying,” said Hamaro Hanka, an acquaintance of Alem’s parents who offered her room and board in exchange. housework when his wife died. “She’s already served us as much as she could, so I want to give her a chance.”

(Reporting by Emeline Wuilbercq; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org) Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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