Improving girls’ education is the key to unlocking their potential
Girls are still more likely than boys to never set foot in a classroom, despite the tremendous progress made over the past 20 years. The number of girls out of primary school has almost halved since the year 2000, but work is still to be done to ensure girls are not excluded from education. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of both girls and boys out of primary school – 22.8% and 18.4% respectively. This rises significantly to 61.3% of girls and 53.6% of boys out of upper secondary school. Education is not freely available to everyone and poverty is the greatest barrier to accessing it.
Camfed supports girls in 5,745 government partner schools across 146 districts in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi to access school, succeed, and become leaders of change in their communities. Since 1993, the organisation’s community-led education programmes have supported the education of more than 2.6 million children. The girls Camfed supports typically come from households surviving on less than $1.25 a day, lacking the funds for direct and indirect school going costs. Resulting issues such as hunger, illness, or early marriage (a cause and effect of girls’ exclusion, often seen as a way to secure a girls’ future and remove her dependence on the family) make it difficult for girls to attend school regularly, learn, or study effectively at home. These issues are compounded by the physical distance to school, with long walks—or the need to seek accommodation close to schools—leaving girls vulnerable to abuse, including sexual abuse. Additionally, under-resourcing of government schools in rural areas severely compromises the quality of education they can provide. An academic curriculum that lacks relevance to young people’s reality, coupled with outdated pedagogy, also serves to undermine girls’ participation and self-esteem. The learning crisis created by these circumstances contributes to pressure on girls to drop out of school.
Part of the holistic support offered comes from specially trained Teacher Mentors like Ms Mukuka (left). Credit: Camfed/Eliza Powell
Camfed partners with schools, communities and education authorities to tackle these barriers to marginalised girls’ school access, retention, progression and completion, and not only supports girls and young women through school, but also on to new lives as entrepreneurs and community leaders. To complete the “virtuous cycle,” and create sustainable change, graduating students become Camfed Association (CAMA) alumnae, many of whom return to school to train and mentor new generations of students. CAMA, the largest network of its kind in Africa, offers peer support, mentoring, training and leadership opportunities for young women. CAMA members are now at the forefront of Camfed’s programme, and make up 25% of the organisation’s executive team, including its Executive Director – Africa, Angeline Murimirwa.
Melody* was once at risk of child marriage. Now she can’t wait to pay her education forward. Credit: Camfed/Eliza Powell
Girls like Melody*, a secondary scholar in Zambia, benefit from Camfed’s financial support, mentoring by CAMA members, and the community support networks Camfed builds to make sure girls are protected, respected, valued, and grow up to turn the tide of poverty. Before being identified for this support, Melody’s chances of finishing secondary school were remote and she was at risk of becoming a child bride. Having lost her father at three years old, the family was left with no stable source of income, and Melody’s mother struggled to provide for her four children.. Despite these challenges, Melody was determined to stay in school, and had her sights set on going to university in order to become a journalist. She says, “Education is very important because my mum keeps telling me that when you educate a girl child, you educate the whole nation… I think that as well!”
Melody* enjoys her lessons and is working towards her dream of becoming a journalist. Credit: Camfed/Eliza Powell
For Melody, the best thing about becoming a Camfed scholar was having everything she needed to stay in school and learn. “If I had not been selected as a Camfed scholar, by this time maybe I would have been married, because of the challenges I was facing” she said. With Camfed’s support, Melody’s dream of becoming a journalist, and setting up an orphanage to help others, has been revived. “My future now is bright because I am able to go to school... [It] is just waiting for me so I can reach it, and find it.”
*Melody’s name was changed to protect her identity