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A world of possibilities A world of possibilities
By Dr. Harriet Sakala, FAWEZA Alumni

From the Executive

FAWE’s gender-responsive schools improve learning experiences for African girls

Friday, 18 February 2011

Gender-responsive schools provide conducive environments for girls to learn and excel. Image courtesy Nancy Wong.Gender-responsive schools provide conducive environments for girls to learn and excel. Image courtesy Nancy Wong.FAWE has contributed to improving learning conditions for girls in six African countries, a recent study has found.

According to an external evaluation completed in 2010, FAWE’s gender-responsive schools in the Gambia, Guinea, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda and Tanzania have enhanced educational experiences for girls both inside and outside the classroom and enabled communities to contribute to improved learning environments for their children.

Established in 1999, the gender-responsive school model, also known as the Centre of Excellence (COE) model, is designed to enhance girls’ access, retention and performance by offering quality education in a favourable learning environment.

FAWE works with national and local educational authorities to identify government schools facing particular challenges including poverty, problems of accessibility, negative cultural practices and harsh environmental conditions, among other hardships.

Over time, these schools are transformed into gender-responsive schools through the introduction of a series of interventions that respond to the physical, academic and social needs of both girls and boys.

Interventions include gender-responsive pedagogy (GRP) training for teachers, bursaries for underprivileged children, social skills and empowerment training for girls and boys, sexual maturation management programmes targeting girls, and gender-responsive school infrastructure such as dormitories and toilets.

The evaluation of eight COEs established between 1999 and 2005 in the Gambia, Guinea, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda and Tanzania showed that student enrolments in all COEs had increased, especially among girls.

This was found to be a direct result of the COE components above and other special programmes such as the rescue centre at AIC Girls’ Kajiado in Kenya and the peace, healing and reconciliation programme at FAWE Girls’ School in Rwanda.

Improved attitudes
It was also observed that girls’ academic performance had improved in some COEs not only as a result of enhanced teaching and learning but also because of greater self-confidence and assertiveness among girls and notably less apprehension with regard to science and mathematics subjects.

Social skills and empowerment initiatives have been key to the positive results shown by FAWE’s gender-responsive school model.

These initiatives include school-based girls’ clubs which provide an interactive forum for girls to build their confidence, share information on subjects such as reproductive health and HIV/AIDS, and receive academic support.

Some gender-responsive schools run HIV/AIDS programmes that give girls the knowledge and confidence to avoid high-risk behaviour and prevent other problems such as unwanted pregnancy, abortion, abortion-related health complications, and early childbearing responsibilities.

According to the 2010 evaluation, the Tuseme [Let Us Speak Out] empowerment programme, a major component of the COEs, has been instrumental in helping girls feel empowered and excel academically.

The study observed that Tuseme clubs have become a major platform for empowering girls, giving them the confidence to speak out candidly, responsibly and firmly about issues affecting their education and overall wellbeing.

Girls show enthusiasm in identifying problems that affect their lives in school, at home and in society and attempting to find solutions.

Boys too
Gender-responsive schools address the specific needs of both girls and boys. Image courtesy Nancy Wong.Gender-responsive schools address the specific needs of both girls and boys. Image courtesy Nancy Wong.But FAWE’s gender equality initiatives are also concerned with the attitudes and behaviour of boys. Of the eight schools evaluated, all but two are co-educational and boys, too, were found to have benefited from empowerment initiatives within the COEs.

Interviews and focus group discussions undertaken as part of the study showed a marked positive change in the attitudes of boys in COEs as a result of gender sensitisation within the schools and notably through the Tuseme clubs.

The study noted a reduction in stereotypes and negative attitudes regarding girls speaking out and excelling academically, especially in mathematics and science subjects.

Boys more readily accept the leadership of girls and have understood that girls are capable of equal achievements in all subjects.

Overall, the relationship between male and female students was found to have improved considerably, with girls better able to manage their relationships with boys both within and outside the school on the basis of equality and confidence.

It was noted that guidance and counselling programmes have played a critical role in building a sense of togetherness and mutual respect among boys and girls.

In addition, there is notable positive interaction within the COEs between the student body on one hand and teachers and heads of school on the other.

Students’ voices are heard and respected by teachers and heads of school who have acquired new skills to understand and address the gender-specific needs of their students through GRP training, gender sensitisation and management workshops.

Community support
Girls excel academically when they learn within a community that supports them. Image courtesy Nancy Wong.Girls excel academically when they learn within a community that supports them. Image courtesy Nancy Wong.A crucial factor of the success of FAWE’s model is the active involvement of the local community in addressing issues that hinder access, equity and achievement for girls.

Communities within which the COEs are based have taken actions over the years including passing by-laws to protect girls from early marriage and increasing their participation in the management of the COEs.

They have also provided materials for constructing school facilities, donated food to support school feeding programmes, and become involved in counselling girls on sexual maturation issues.

The evaluation of the COEs in the six countries under study found that the training and sensitisation workshops held within communities prior to establishing the gender-responsive schools built the capacity of parents and other community members to help create an enabling environment for girls’ schooling.

Through the workshops, community members gained a better understanding of the importance of educating girls and the detrimental effects of early marriages on the welfare of women.

Communities have thus taken steps to ensure girls access schooling, remain in school and perform well, with the COE communities in Gambia and Guinea exemplifying this positive engagement.

Communities have also engaged in partnerships with the COEs to support infrastructure development and work towards achieving quality education.

In Rwanda and Tanzania in particular, community members stepped forward to provide the means to build classrooms, dormitories, hostels and toilets as well as to keep the school compound clean.

The study also found that the COEs created opportunities for parents to interact with and learn from teachers on how they can improve the learning environment at home.

The evaluation of the eight schools was carried out over a three-month period and involved literature review, field visits and interviews with main stakeholders, including Ministry of Education officials, heads of schools, teachers, parents, students and the local community.

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