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Monday, November 29, 2021

Mali: The joy of preparing a return to the classroom and to school.

“I WANT to be a Doctor when I grow-up”- Assana.”As for me, I want to become a Minister”, chimes her twin brother Soumaila.

The twins Assana and Soumaila, probably don’t share the same ambitions, but they express the same joy in preparing their entry into second grade.

At age 9, they will start their second grade, while they should normally have been in the fourth grade.

“Until very recently I was convinced that once a child passed a certain age, he had no chance to be enrolled in school,” says their father Alassane Coulibaly.

Assana and Soumaila live in a modest home in Nankorola a village located in the circle of Koutiala in Sikasso region. Dad is a farmer, and mom a housewife. The youngest children are the twins and they have four brothers and two sisters, none of whom unfortunately ever went to school. This was also their case two years ago.

In Mali, more than two million children aged between 5 to 17 still do not go to school, and over half of young people between ages 15 to 24 are not literate.

Household poverty, child labour, child marriage, insecurity and the distance between schools and children’s homes are all factors driving the high drop out and out-of-school rates in Mali.

UNICEF’s education programme is in line with national priorities and it puts emphasis on the most vulnerable children: those who are currently outside the school system, girls, children on the move, children with disabilities and those affected by conflict or other emergencies.

UNICEF works with partners like KOICA to provide the children out-of-school with non-formal and informal education in order to facilitate their reintegration into school. The children receive accelerated remedial lessons, and then they are directly reintegrated into formal school.

In the case of conflict-affected children whose schools are closed, the project makes community-based education arrangements.

“Thanks to the support of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), our NGO partner RAC has set up a project to identify children outside the school system and enroll them in school with School Management Committees support. For some, it’s the first time, for others, it is a return to school. These children receive school kits, attend remedial courses and benefit from home monitoring,” explains Souleymane Traoré, UNICEF Education Officer in Sikasso.

The project aims to support the improvement of the quality of education through:

  • Capacity building for School Management Committees;
  • Continuous training of teachers;
  • Providing pupils and teachers with school and teacher kits;
  • Remedial courses for pupils with learning difficulties.

Since its launch in 2017, 124,210 children have been integrated or reintegrated into school. Assana and Soumaila, are among those attending school today thanks to this project. In addition, 1,481 teachers and 715 CGS have benefited from training and increased access to teaching and learning materials.

For Assana and Soumaila, the 2019-2020 school year marked a new start. “At first, I was sad when I saw other children going to school,” Soumaila explains, “Today, we are happy to join them, » adds his sister Assana. The village School Management Committee is composed of school authorities and committed parents, who have come to realize the importance of education. Assana and Soumaila hope to realize their dreams and never drop out of school ever.

“In 2012, our school had 300 children, today we have 396 and our enrollment rate for girls has increased from 30% to 42%,” says the head of girls’ education, Maimouna Diarra with pride. “When a girl goes to school her whole family benefits from the knowledge,” she continues.

The 2020-2021 school year is proving to be full of challenges with COVID-19, both for teachers and pupils. However, the School Management Committee is already preparing to kick start this new academic year. “Thanks to UNICEF support, the school has received 9 handwashing sets, soap, sanitizing gel and masks. In addition, we have integrated a special COVID-19 module on the importance of handwashing with soap, social distancing and wearing a mask, into our monthly trainings “explains Salif Bouare, Coordinator of the NGO RAC in Koutiala.

At 9, Assana and Soumaila do not yet fully understand all the stakes in being enrolled in school. But their parents are already convinced of the success their children will have. “They are our hope and I am sure they will go far, and one day they will be part of the people who are making the big decisions in the country,” says their Mum.

  • * UNICEF News
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