The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in collaboration with UNICEF and other development partners, is organizing the ‘Girls Education Week’ from the 20th to 26th October 2008.
The theme for this year’s celebration is: ‘Educate a girl for a better quality of life.’
In Sierra Leone an estimated 64% of children of primary school age are currently enrolled in primary schools. Sadly however, though attendance rates for boys and girls are almost equal at the primary education level; girls’ drop out rate is high at the secondary level and attendance rate is only 19%.
Without accelerated action to get more girls into school over the next few years, global action to reduce poverty and improve human conditions would be undermined. Lack of education impedes young mothers’ ability to provide care for their children. In Sierra Leone, the rate of under-five mortality for children born to mothers without any education is 279 per 1,000 live births compared to 164 per 1,000 live births for those born to mothers with secondary education. This year’s commemoration therefore serves as a clarion call for scaling up girls education, by not just providing access but also ensuring that girls stay in school.
Some of the factors responsible for the low rate of girls’ enrolment and school completion are: poverty, early marriage, teenage pregnancy, lack of infrastructure and teaching/learning materials, sexual abuse and exploitation, as well as cultural and religious biases.
About 62% of women of child bearing age in Sierra Leone are married before 18 years of age and 27% got married before reaching 15. The children born to those women have a 60% higher chance of dying in the first year than those born to mothers 19 years or older.
Early marriages curtail girls’ opportunity to further pursue education to become financially secured and independent.
“The number of Sierra Leonean girls still out of school is unacceptable”, said Geert Capperlaere, UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone. “Girls’ education is not about putting girls into classrooms instead of boys; it is about creating equal opportunities for all” he stressed.
The high rate of teenage pregnancy both in primary and secondary schools has had a disconcerting effect for many families. For poor families who send their daughters to school, the untimely pregnancy of a school going daughter prevents younger ones from accessing school. Hence, the need to work on making schools a protective environment for children and empowering girls through education and the necessary life skills.
To ensure that girls go to and stay in schools, UNICEF works closely with the Government of Sierra Leone and development partners to ensure the full and speedy implementation of the Education Sector Plan. In particular, UNICEF supports the efforts of the Ministry of Education, Youths and Sports to provide access to primary education create retention and foster completion and high performance of pupils, especially girls.
At the local level, UNICEF is addressing the issues of gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy and early marriage through awareness raising and training of communities and stakeholders and supporting the development of by-laws at Chiefdom level.
At the National level, Government plays a predominant role in ensuring quality education for girls. This is evidenced by the provision of free primary school education for both boys and girls and provision of uniforms, teaching and learning materials for girls in secondary school, to name a few. According to Dr Minkailu Bah, Minister of Education, Youths and Sports, “girls’ education is about providing quality education for girls, narrowing the gap between the enrollment of boys and girls in school and providing equal opportunities for all”.
One of the main highlights of this year’s events would be a special awards ceremony in recognition of girls who have stayed in school and have excelled in their studies. This ceremony would be conducted during the week in all 13 Districts nationwide.