International Day of the Girl Child: The Power of the Adolescent Girl – The Power of Education
- Posted in:
- Girls' Education
As Country Coordinator for the Southern African Girls’ Education Challenge, including Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, my job is to monitor and support projects that are being funded by the UK’s Department for International Development to address the barriers which are currently preventing girls, many of them in adolescence, from getting to school and learning. Part of my job involves visiting projects at work in these countries and talking to a wide range of people, especially to the girls who are meant to benefit from the project interventions.
I have spoken to adolescent girls attending deep rural schools in Zimbabwe and Malawi, and to girls getting a second chance at education by attending out-of-school study clubs in Tanzania. I’ve talked to girls sitting under trees in dusty school compounds and in classrooms that lack sufficient furniture, windows and even chalkboards. Initially sometimes quite shy and soft-spoken, over time the girls generally became much more out-spoken and they talked about their hopes and dreams for the future.
They told me of the many challenges they face in getting an education.
- The struggle to go to school because their families are very poor and can’t afford to pay school fees or buy school supplies and uniforms.
- Negative attitudes from some people in their communities who are not supportive of girls attending school, and cultural expectations that they should rather be working to contribute to family incomes or to marry young.
- School environments that are not child-or-girl-friendly and where they don’t feel safe.
- Having to walk long distances to and from school and still having to do household chores before going to school and when they got back home.
Despite these challenges – and the negative impact these could have on the girls’ own aspirations for themselves – almost all of the girls I’ve spoken to emphasised why they were determined to go to school, to get a good education and to be able to have choices about their future. The GEC is making a real difference in the lives of the girls I have spoken to.
Many of the GEC projects I work with are addressing the barriers facing girls by providing: remedial literacy and numeracy support, teacher training in gender–positive teaching methodologies, developing girls’ self-esteem and self-efficacy with life skills sessions and girls clubs, and providing innovative economic support approaches to families with school-going children to help them to pay school fees.
Barbara Harvey is the GEC Country Coordinator for Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. She has over 25 years of experience in the education sector, working in South Africa, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Kenya, Namibia, and elsewhere in Africa.