Working in Partnership to Improve Education in Niger

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This case study focuses on Oxfam’s programme in the Tillabéri region of Niger, where many people have little or no access to basic services. The programme aims to improve children’s (and especially girls’) access to basic education in the pastoral and agro-pastoral communities where we work, and to improve the school environment so that fewer children drop out. Oxfam is doing this by improving water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, and motivating teachers and children to promote good hygiene in schools and in homes. This study highlights the importance of engaging different stakeholders in the programme to tackle the broad range of educational challenges. 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.
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   Gender, WASH and education case study: Working in partnership to improve education in Niger  Introduction  Niger, in West Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. 1  According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2009 report, 2   63 per cent of Niger’s 15.3 million people live below the national poverty line. Most people earn their livelihoods as pastoralists (animal herders), or combine pastoralism with growing crops (agro-pastoralists), although infertile soil and irregular rainfall mean that harvests are unpredictable. In recent decades, regular droughts have resulted in food crises, putting millions of people at risk of starvation and destroying their livelihoods. During the 2005  – 6 drought, for instance, pastoralists lost up to 70 per cent of their animals. In 2010, more than 7 million people  –  nearly half the population  –  were short of food as a result of poor rains, widespread crop failure, and high food prices. Malnutrition rates are on the rise. In areas worst affected by the drought, one in five children under the age of five is malnourished. 3  An international appeal was launched to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Oxfam GB 4  has been working in Niger since 2001, supporting the most vulnerable and marginalised communities in agricultural and pastoral zones. Our programme focuses on two of the biggest problems facing communities: food security and education. Due to people’s daily struggle to survive, sending their children to school is not always a priority . Parents often have to choose between sending their children to school or keeping them at home to support the family’s economic activities (cattle breeding, agriculture, etc.). Girls often stay at home to do household chores like fetching water and collecting firewood. What are the key education challenges? In Niger, more than 70 per cent of adults are illiterate, and more than 60 per cent of primary school-aged children are out of school. 5  Of those who do enrol, most complete less than five years of schooling, 6  and girls are much more likely to drop out than boys. Providing education in a country as large as Niger, with widely dispersed communities, is a major challenge (for instance, many children from pastoralist communities, who lead nomadic lifestyles, have to walk long distances to get to school or have to stay with other (host) families due to seasonal migration of their own families. The host family (usually the head of the village) does not always have enough food to feed children who stay with them. 7   However, achieving Universal Primary Education (UPE) is essential for a country’s longer  -term development. Niger developed a poverty reduction strategy in 2002 within the framework of its pledge to achieve the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. 8  To guarantee the success of this strategy, it has created sectoral programmes, including the Ten-Year Education Development Programme (PDDE), from 2003 to 2013. The PDDE set a target of 73 per cent gross enrolment rate (GER) in primary school by 2010. While this target has not been reached, the government has made significant progress towards it (GER was estimated at 72.9 per cent in the last PDDE review document). 9  However, this rate hides significant disparities between boys and girls, and between children in urban and rural areas. In 2010, for instance, 64 per cent of girls were enrolled at primary school compared with 82 per cent of boys, 10  and only 42 per cent of girls completed primary school compared with 57 per cent of boys. 11  Children in rural areas are more than twice as likely to be out of school as children in urban areas. 12  The PDDE 2010 review report revealed that only 44 per cent of children in rural areas were enrolled in primary school, compared with 65 per cent in urban areas. 13    Oxfam’s education programme   Oxfam’s education programme supports the government’s Strategy for Development and Poverty Reduction (2007), which aims to ensure primary education for all by the year 2015. This paper focuses on Oxfam’s programme in the Tillab éri region of Niger, where many people have little or no access to basic services. The programme aims to improve children’s (and especially girls’) access to basic education in the pastoral and agro -pastoral communities where we work, and to improve the school environment so that fewer children drop out. We are doing this by improving water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, and motivating teachers and children to promote good hygiene in schools and in homes. Female community workers ( animatrices ) play a central role in the programme, promoting positive role models for young girls, and working with schools and the wider community to tackle negative gender stereotypes and attitudes. We are also raising awareness within communities about the importance of education, working closely with school management committees and parents’ and mothers’ associations. Finally, we are building the capacity of officials from the Ministry of National Education by providing training and support to enable them to manage resources as effectively as possible. Working with local partners, including the government, non-government organisations (NGOs), and teachers, parents and children in each community, we are supporting 16 schools in 16 villages. Key challenges to education  Access to water and sanitation facilities   More than 80 per cent of people in Niger live in rural areas, and almost three-quarters of them have no access to clean drinking water. Women and young girls often have to walk for hours to fetch dirty water from the river or from wells that are contaminated. This makes it even less likely that girls will go to school. Only 7 per cent of the population (just 3 per cent in rural areas) have access to adequate sanitation. 14  The lack of latrines in schools is a particular problem for girls as they reach puberty, which may be another reason why parents are reluctant to send their young daughters to school. Lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation is also a considerable threat to public health. Basic interventions like providing latrines and encouraging people to wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet can reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal diseases  –  one of the biggest causes of child deaths in developing countries. Gender inequalities Patriarchal attitudes and significant gender inequalities still prevail in Niger. In particular, the gender division of household labour, and cultural norms such as early marriage, still represent significant barriers to girls’ access to and retention in education. Once girls marry and have children at an early age, they are pulled out of schools. Girls are also burdened with most of the household chores, and their attendance at school can be seen as a cost that poor families can ill afford.  Improving the education system   The government has made considerable progress in improving some aspects of the education system. For example, the teaching workforce has more than doubled since 1999, improving the pupil/teacher ratio significantly. 15  But greater effort is needed if Niger is to achieve its Education For All (EFA) goals. 16   Working in partnership to achieve our goals Oxfam works with others to take action to achieve the common goals of overcoming poverty and injustice, and the education programme in Niger has worked on the basis of this principle since 2001. The programme works with three national civil society organisations: the  Association pour un Développement Durable  (ADD), Volontaire pour une Intégration Educative Kande ni Bayra  (VIE Kande ni Bayra) and  Association Timidria . Their members come from some of the most disadvantaged communities, and they therefore have legitimacy to speak on their behalf. They are also best placed to identify problems and put forward solutions proposed by the communities themselves.   The programme also works in partnership with the Réseau des Organisations du Secteur de l’Education du Niger   (ROSEN), a network of more than 30 national NGOs active in the education sector. In addition, Oxfam has developed a dialogue with more than 20 international and national NGOs involved in advocacy to achieve the six EFA goals in Niger. The Ministry of Education is another key partner. The programme provides training and support to help the Ministry develop its institutional and management capacities in order to meet the country’s education goals by 2015. What have we achieved together? Building water points and latrines in schools   In 2010, we built 14 latrines in 7 schools in Fogou, Ayoga, Ezack, and Boumbounga villages. The children will receive hygiene education and awareness raising sessions to sensitise them to good hygiene practices. We also supported local communities to build 13 latrines. Providing separate toilet facilities for boys and girls affords them privacy and security, which encourages girls in particular to continue to attend school. The programme has made considerable progress in increasing the number of girls who are enrolled in school in the communities where we work, and reducing the number of dropouts.   Promoting improved hygiene practices Building infrastructure for water and sanitation facilities is vitally important to improve the school environment, but promoting good hygiene practices in schools and at home is equally important. The programme works through animatrices (female community workers) recruited by each of the three partner organisations. These are educated women from the community who act as positive role models for girls, demonstrating the benefits that education can bring. They help children to understand how to use latrines hygienically and the benefits of good hygiene, including the importance of washing their hands with soap before eating and after using the toilet. The animatrices also aim to change people’s views about the value of education for girls in particular, and to encourage more children to enrol and stay in school. They work closely with parents and teachers to provide joint solutions to the problems children face.   The work of the animatrices has improved girls’ access to schooling, as well as the retention rate- for example, in intervention schools in Foguou department, Tillabéri region, after the introduction of animatrices in intervention schools, no children who enrolled in 2004/5 dropped out after their first year. 17  In addition, parents and the wider community have become much more involved in their children’s education    –  for instance, in all of the schools we support, there are now functioning school management committees (which include teachers), and parents’ and mothers’ associations . Some parents reported that they noticed
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