GIRLS EDUCATION CLUB
“In Uganda, census data reveals that more than 700,000 children from age six to 12 have never attended school. And roughly two out of three children enrolled in primary school fail to complete their full primary education cycle.” UNICEF
By Chulho Hyun
KASESE DISTRICT, Uganda, 12 May 2006 – Sylvia, 18, and Jonas, 14, are classmates in their final year at Kyabikere Primary School. Had it not been for Sylvia’s perseverance, the two friends living here in the rugged and verdant hills of western Uganda might not be moving on to secondary school together.
In late 2004, Jonas lost interest in school, preferring instead to spend his days hunting. “I thought that school was useless,” he recalls. “With hunting, at least you could eat the bird or sell it to friends to make money.” When he stopped attending school altogether, his parents became very worried.
“Whenever I was going to school, I would see Jonas running into the woods,” says Sylvia. “Each time I saw him, I tried to encourage him to come back, but he would not listen.”
‘You will lose ground’
A turning point came with the formation at the of the local Girls’ Education Movement (GEM) Club, part of a national initiative launched in 2001 with the support of the Forum for African Woman Educationalists, UNICEF and other partners in the African Girls’ Education Initiative.
GEM Clubs aim to improve the status and participation of girl pupils in school life. They also raise awareness on the importance of sending every child – boy and girl – to school.
The club gave Sylvia a platform for her tireless words of encouragement to Jonas.
When she realized that his absence was partly a result of his family’s inability to afford school books and other supplies, she used the club to help raise funds to assist him. Sylvia also mobilized other club members to regularly visit Jonas’s home and advocate for his return.
His parents were happily supportive of their efforts, which ultimately paid off: After an absence of eight months, Jonas returned to school and has been attending since.
Sylvia’s strongest argument to convince her friend?
“I let him know that I sympathized with what he was experiencing,” she says.
“But I also told him, ‘You are a smart person and you will lose your good marks in school and lose the chance to live a happier life.’”
Expanding club activities Kyabikere Primary School is one of 49 schools in Uganda’s Kasese district managed under the government’s Universal Primary Education programme and currently receiving UNICEF assistance to organise GEM Club activities.
Under the national programme, Uganda’s net enrolment in primary education more than trebled from 2.3 million in 1996 to 7.5 million in 2004. While the gender gap in the early years of primary education is minimal, overall dropout rates are still high.
Photo @ Women's Global Fund
Only 23 percent of children complete primary school (21 percent of girls and 24 percent of boys, respectively).
In response to the continued exclusion of many of the most vulnerable children from primary education, UNICEF is expanding GEM Club activities to primary schools in all 22 sub-counties in Kasese district.
With Jonas now attending school every day, Sylvia is now reaching out to other children who are not in classes. She meticulously monitors the numbers and location of children who are out of school, recording the factors preventing them from returning.
“If I managed to convince him,” she says, smiling at a bashful Jonas,
“I know I can convince others.”
Sabine Dolan contributed to this report from New York.