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Anna Murru, VVOB’s Partnership Manager, had the rare opportunity to speak to the first ladies of Mali, Uganda and Zambia at FAWE’s 2017 Girls’ Education in Africa conference on 24 August. She raised her three top concerns about Africa’s out-of-school children, disproportionately female, and called for appropriate action by the represented countries: “We call on your offices to take up a leading role.”

This is her speech in full.

Vicious cycle

“Your excellencies, the first ladies of Mali, Uganda and Zambia: our warm greetings.

VVOB - education for development, together with FAWE, is honoured to have this rare chance to interact with you on issues that affect the education of our youth in Africa.

We’d like to take advantage of this opportunity to highlight the plight some of our countries continue to face in relation to out-of-school children. According to the Global Partnership for Education, 55 million of the world’s out-of-school children live in sub-Saharan Africa.

This is a shocking statistic. These 55 million children that are left behind by the school system will remain in the margins of society, only adding to the rising number of unemployed youth that is trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.

Your excellencies, there are many reasons for children being out of school. I would like to focus on just three of them: the schools they attend; the teachers that teach them; and early and unplanned pregnancies that befall them.”

Toxic schools

“Indeed, some schools are toxic to learners, parents and staff. Learners are punished or even suspended for minor infractions such as ‘talking back to the teacher’.

Some schools have a culture of low expectations. Many schools lack adequate guidance and counselling. The curriculum is sometimes not relevant to the needs of the learners.

And finally, school funding is not distributed in an equitable way across schools. Schools with the highest needs should actually get more funding than schools with less needs.”

Teachers are key

“We also know that teachers use passive instructional strategies that don’t consider individual learning styles of pupils. The least experienced, least qualified teachers are also often assigned to the most difficult and remote schools: they haven’t been prepared properly for these situations, and are left to their own devices.

VVOB is working on strengthening teacher education around the world. We would like to bring the importance of the quality of teaching to your attention, from early childhood to secondary education and beyond, as a key strategy to reduce the number of out-of-school children.

It is a known fact that quality early childhood education contributes to future learning outcomes of children, and, as a welcome consequence, thus contributes to reduced dropout during their school cycle.

Early childhood education is new in most sub-Saharan countries. Much still needs to be done to reach the targets set by the ministries of education to reach all children. In Zambia, funding to the subsector has hampered progress against this target.

Our children should be provided with the best foundation to enable them to progress well in school, and to become productive citizens of our developing nations. We need each and every one of them to progress as far as possible to contribute to the growth of the continent at large.

Your excellencies, we would like to take this opportunity to ask your noble offices to lobby for increased support to early childhood education in all your countries.

Your Excellency Ms Esther Lungu, First Lady of Zambia, we are happy to learn that you will soon take up an important role in the promotion of early childhood education in this country.”

Pregnancy is decisive

“Inadequate schools and teachers affect both boys and girls. But due to the issue of early pregnancies, girls are disproportionally vulnerable to dropping out of school.

Stakeholders remain seriously concerned about the high number of girls that leave school because of early and unplanned pregnancies. We are aware of several initiatives to address this grave situation in the various countries represented here, but much more is needed.

Even though we have some very progressive policies in place, their implementation is of grave concern. It is sad to note that even in 2017, pregnancy means the end of education for most of our girls, and a sentence to a life of poverty and marginalisation.”

Empower women

“Many of us in this room know someone who has dropped out of school for one of the above reasons, never to return. And too many of these young people are girls. I have five nieces, all below the age of 18, who are now mothers of one or two children. They are only a small portion of the too many girls that we leave behind.

Your excellencies, we call on your offices to take up a leading role in calling for more strategies and attention to reduce the out-of-school population, and to put your weight behind the full implementation of policies that call for their integration back into school.

This is the only way we can offer them the opportunity to break away from their situation, and to become productive and empowered women in their own right.

Thank you.”


VVOB also presented two papers on gender-responsive pedagogy at the FAWE conference:

‘Strengthening the capacity of stakeholders in agricultural education: towards a gender-responsive pedagogy. A case study of the Democratic Republic of the Congo'. You can read and download the paper, which is in French, in full below.

‘Gender-responsive pedagogy for early childhood education (GRP4ECE)’. You can read and download it in full below.