MOZAMBIQUE: Stretching for universal primary education by 2015

school_children.jpgAnxious to get to school
MAPUTO, 5 February 2009 (IRIN) - Opening day at Escola Communitaria 4 de Outobro in the Mozambican Capital, Maputo, is an anxious occasion as parents worry about their children's admission if they cannot pay the fees.

While two men try to salvage the decaying white signboard above the
sandy entrance to the school yard, the few lucky parents with the money
to register their children crowd a tiny reception room while they wait
outside the even tinier headmaster’s office.

"It is the first day of school but … you can see that today there are
hardly any children and lessons have not even started," Lote Daniel
Mondlane, the school’s headmaster told IRIN.

"This is a community school and the last choice of any parent. Most of
our students come from the poorest members of the community," Mondlane
said. The school was opened in 1988 to serve the people of Polana
Canico, a crowded shanty neighbourhood near the centre of Maputo, and
named 4 October to commemorate the signing of a peace agreement that
ended the country’s 16-year civil war.

Mondlane’s school usually caters to the students who are left when the
better schools reach capacity, "But each year the number of students
that cannot pay fees for education is going up – last year [2008] we
had 168 students who could not pay their school fees."

The challenges to Mozambique’s education system are substantial but not
insurmountable, and the school is an example of the struggle to provide
basic education to the population.

It is the first day of school but … you can see that today there are hardly any children and lessons have not even started

Illiteracy rates remain stubbornly high; according to the Human
Development Index 2007/08 of the United Nations Development Programme,
adult literacy is a mere 38.7 percent. But while the situation in the
capital, in the southern tip of the country, might not be ideal,
conditions in the central and northern provinces are worse.

But getting better

The government and its development partners aim to reverse this trend
by extending the reach of education services throughout the country, in
line with the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of universal primary
education by 2015.

According to Cristina Tomo, Director for General Education (DINEG) in
the Ministry of Education and Culture, an education programme targeting
primary school children in the disadvantaged central and northern parts
of the country is already reversing low education indicators.

The Child-Friendly Schools (CFS) programme is part of a "Six-year
programme aimed at providing education as the basis for improved
welfare and livelihoods for vulnerable children, such as orphans in
disadvantaged communities in the rural areas," Tomo told IRIN.

CFS was launched in 2006 in the Maganja da Costa district of Zambezia
Province, and has since expanded northward to cover seven provinces,
reaching more than 145,000 children in more than 570 schools.

"Education indicators in all the districts where this programme is
running have recorded some of the highest figures in terms of enrolment
rates, completion rates and reducing the gender gap," Tomo said.

Enrolment rates have increased by 36 percent in the targeted districts,
showing a much higher increase than the national average of 17.5
percent, while the average drop-out rate in Maganja da Costa district
has decreased remarkably from over 2.9 percent in 2006 to 1.7 percent
in 2008.

Critical education

"Primary school children at the critical ages of between 10 and 14
years are our targets in the CFP because it is a crucial window period
in their lives, when they come into adolescence and start learning
about sex and HIV/AIDS," said Thierry Delvigne-Jean, of the UN
Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in Maputo.

The programme’s success is derived from its broad approach. "The school
is at the centre of the society, of the community – that is our
approach. CFP [focuses] on five critical areas: education, protection,
water and hygiene, health and community participation," Delvigne-Jean

Ensuring that the schools have adequate water and sanitation services,
and that the health needs of the children are catered for, is central
to the success of the programme.

"Under the CFP more children are coming to school because of the
improved environment and increased community participation, and you
find that indicators such as the gender gap are beginning to decline
because of this," Tomo noted.

"In 2008 our national enrolment of primary school children reached
about 4.8 million [roughly a quarter of the country’s about 21 million
people] learning in about 12 000 schools nationwide," she said.

"Already, the CFP has started reversing low education indicators and we
are now using it as a model for the rest of the country. We are
encouraging the rest of our school system to use the programme as a

There are still too few teachers. "We currently have about 50,000
teachers in schools nationwide, which is still not enough," Tomo said.
"A bigger number will help us reduce our teacher-per-class ratio from
the current high of one teacher for 74 pupils per classroom, to one
teacher to 50 pupils per classroom by 2011."


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