Gender, WASH and Education: An insight paper from Viet Nam

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This case study focuses on Oxfam’s education programme in Viet Nam where Oxfam has worked closely with local partners to improve water and sanitation facilities in schools and to increase children’s understanding of good hygiene habits. Oxfam’s experience in Viet Nam shows that WASH activities can be successful as part of a larger model to improve the learning environment in schools and promote a child-centred approach to teaching methods. This case study is part of a series designed to illustrate how Oxfam GB has been working with partner organisations, schools and communities to integrate water, sanitation and hygiene into education programmes to tackle some of the biggest obstacles that prevent children from going to school.
  1 Gender, WASH and education case study: An insight paper from Viet Nam  2 Introduction Viet Nam has made remarkable strides in educational achievement over the past 50 years. In 1945, more than 95 per cent of adults were illiterate, but by 2006, nearly 93 per cent were literate. 1  Even so, in 2009, there were still 4 million people who had never attended school (5 per cent of the total population aged five years and over). There is still a need to raise educational standards, and to improve the quality of education and equity of access. This is especially the case for girls and children from ethnic minorities  –  who have the lowest enrolment rates in the country  –  and those living in remote areas. The developments of Universal Primary Education (UPE) have yet to extend to all children. The wider social and economic inequalities driving group-based marginalisation in Viet Nam have important consequences for education. While provision for ethnic minority groups is improving, it still lags far behind provision for the majority Kinh population. Twenty-five per cent of minority children do not enrol at age five, compared with 5 per cent of Kinh children.  Around 30 per cent of minority households report at least one child dropping out of primary school, which is double the figure for Kinh households. 2  Two of the four main reasons for dropping out  –  being unable to afford school fees and needing children to work instead  –  are directly related to poverty. 3  Gender disparity is also greater in ethnic minority communities. While national statistics show that in the 10  – 14 age group, 98.1% of boys are literate and 98.2% of girls 4 , the gender gap between ethnic minority girls and boys is large, even at primary level, standing at 5%, 7% and 20% for the Dao, Thai and H’Mong groups respectively. The quality of basic education is another cause for concern. Though they may succeed in progressing through the grades, ethnic minority children still struggle with basic literacy and numeracy skills, including poor oral skills. The quality of education very much depends on the quality of teaching. Many teachers use traditional teaching methods that fail to encourage active learning. While ethnic minority children account for 18 per cent of the primary school age population, ethnic minority teachers make up just 8 per cent of the teaching force. Moreover, few of these teachers are posted to ethnic minority areas, and few have the training or experience to teach bilingual education. As a result, Kinh remains the dominant language of instruction for most ethnic minority children. 5   Children’s cultural context is less understood, and there are few role models to inspire children and raise their aspirations. Local authority support to improve teaching methods or professional development is weak, evidenced by insufficient allocation of resources. While 18 per cent of the state’s budget goes to education (and just over half of that goes to primary and lower secondary schools), most of this goes on teachers’ salaries, and there is l ittle left for improving teaching and learning methods and the learning environment, or providing materials. Poor health and nutrition are also strongly linked with poverty and underachievement in school. In Viet Nam, Oxfam has worked closely with local partners to improve water and sanitation facilities in schools and to increase children’s understanding of good hygiene habits. Together, we have achieved better rates of school attendance, and promoted positive attitudes towards girls’ education and right s, alongside the rights of indigenous cultures. This, in turn, has led to a more confident engagement by different ethnic groups in school activities, promoting greater ownership and accountability. Key education challenges in Lao Cai province Lao Cai is one of the provinces Oxfam works in, and is a poor, mountainous province in the north of Viet Nam, bordering China, 400km from Hanoi. Winters are extremely cold, especially in the districts of Sapa and Bat Xat. Two-thirds of its 600,000 population belong to  3 25 ethnic minority groups. It is one of the poorest areas of the country, with an annual per capita income of $300 compared with national per capita income of just over $1,000. 6  Levels of educational attainment in Lao Cai province are among the lowest in the country, especially for women and ethnic minorities. In the 15  – 25 age group, 10 per cent of people from ethnic minorities are illiterate and 95 per cent of those are women. 7  In 2005  – 6, before Oxfam’s project, enrolment rates stood at 89 per cent (pr  eschool), 92 per cent (primary) and 90 per cent (lower secondary). Although these rates are high, attendance rates remained low, at 75 per cent, 81 per cent and 76 per cent respectively, even dropping as low as 60 per cent in some communes. The primary school dropout rate is 1.9 per cent, rising to 9.95 per cent at lower secondary level. The main challenges include poor quality of teaching due to inadequate teacher training.   Gender disparity is most apparent at lower secondary level, particularly in the more mountainous and remote areas of the province. Local authorities have an inadequate understanding of the factors that drive gender inequalities, and communities often fail to recognise the right of girls and minority children to attend school regularly. Girls’ access to education is a particularly serious issue among H’mong families. Traditions of early marriage, arranged marriage and large families reinforce the vicious cycle of poverty, poor health and low literacy levels. The topography of the highland area of Lao Cai presents its own challenges (see Box 1). The population is widely dispersed, and there is very limited transport and communications infrastructure, making the provision of education services difficult. Many young children have to walk a long way to school, and in more remote areas, have to board. To address these issues, the government has tried to build ‘satellite’ schools (small schools in the most remote villages attached to a main school in the commune centre) and has set up a network of boarding schools. However, these often lack adequate facilities (including bathrooms and accommodation) for both students and teachers, most of whom are not local. The teaching and learning facilities are often poor and inadequate. For instance, although some teachers have recycled local materials to make their own teaching aids, what they have managed is still too little compared with the minimum requirement for pupils ’  learning activities. Shortages of desks, chairs and tables, blackboards, exercise books and pens are typical. Oxfam’s education programme   Since 2003, Oxfam has applied a comprehensive approach to its education programme by targeting support to different groups, including students, teachers, parents, and district education managers. We have been working with Lao Cai’s Department of Education and Training (DOET) since 2007 to help achieve its education development priorities and goals. Box 1: Providing schools with clean water    ‘Without safe water, our life is very tough here because we have to climb up and down nearly a kilometre for taking water from the stream for daily usage, bathing and cooking.’   Nguyen Thi Huyen, who has been teaching for four years at Trung Leng Ho Primary School, in Bat Xat district. In 2008, a tropical typhoon affected Trung Leng Ho Primary School when a landslide destroyed the water supply system. Teachers and students, some of whom board, were without clean water for many days. The school received £700 from Oxfam’s project to rebuild the water supply system. It now provides clean water not only for students and teachers but also for a nearby preschool, a lower secondary school and the health centre. About 300 students and teachers have benefited.  4 These include consolidating the achievement of UPE and improving access to lower secondary school. The programme has moved from a focus on quantity to quality of activities. For example, as well as building 10 latrines in ethnic minority schools, we will also monitor outcomes in terms of girls’ attendance. By 2010, 61,300 students in 244 primary schools in Lao Cai had benefited from our activities, directly or indirectly. We have also trained 4,990 teachers in child-centred teaching methods (CCM), and provided support to 527 education managers. Other initiatives include supporting parent  – teacher associations (PTAs) and making schools better, safer environments for children (child-friendly schools). Oxfam’s project in Lao Cai has four components:  improving the quality of teaching and learning outcomes through promoting child-centred teaching methods, promoting community participation in improving the quality of basic education, building education managers’ capacity for effective management, decision -making and participatory planning, communicating good practices locally and nationally and promoting their adoption as policy. Gender and diversity issues have also been addressed through promoting girls’ education and the preservation of indigenous cultures. The models used (including teacher training using CCM, child-friendly schools, school transition and supporting PTAs) have demonstrated to both the Government and donors the need for an integrated approach to ensure adequate education provision in remote and disadvantaged areas. The WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene)   activities aim to build adequate facilities for child-friendly schools. Although the government has built many new schools in Lao Cai, they often lack proper toilets and water supply systems. It is estimated that just 47 per cent of schools (758 out of 1,596) have hygienic toilets. 8  In those schools that do have toilets, they are often dirty and poorly maintained. Cleaning toilets is sometimes considered a student’s duty, or in some cases pupils clean the toilets as a form of punishment. In addition to inadequate toilet facilities, many schools lack facilities that would make them more child friendly, such as outdoor play areas and fields planted with shrubs and trees. Participatory planning and assessment The project cycle included identifying problems and needs in each of the 18 schools involved. The assessment process included whether the school had facilities such as clean and separate toilets for boys and girls, adequate water supply systems, and a green environment. It also considered students’ needs for extracurricular activities, and the relationships within schools, between teachers and parents, and with local authorities and others in the community. Participants (teachers, parents and education managers) worked together to develop action plans, and then implement, monitor and evaluate the activities. The assessment process required their active participation. While taking actions to improve the school environment, the process also helped to improve relationships between these stakeholders. The project provided training for headteachers, teachers and district education managers on child-friendly school criteria, assessing the school environment, and planning, monitoring and evaluation (see Box 2). This helped them to develop a common understanding of what constitutes a child-friendly environment, and to assess how their school was doing and prioritise the improvements needed.
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