Having worked in Mozambique for four and a half years myself, I can attest to the challenges of working in a post-conflict situation. But as you can see in Manuel Francisco’s blog from Angola, the spirit of the people has not been damaged, and there is a lot going on to try to improve the situation in all sectors, including education.
My name is Manuel Francisco and I am UNICEF’s Resident Programme Officer in the field office in Bié, one of the 18 provinces in Angola. I have been working with UNICEF over the last 18 years and have been actively involved in projects that aim to improve the country’s fragile education system.
After over three decades of civil war, the Angolan education system has been marred with scores of challenges. These include the lack of an adequate school infrastructure, which often leads to overcrowded classrooms, and the difficulty of attracting and retaining quality teachers. As a result, schools have to resort to poorly trained or unqualified teachers. The education system also lacks of quality instructional materials and professional development opportunities for teachers, and has insufficient government funding.
These challenges have not only hindered teachers’ ability and motivation to give students stellar learning experiences, but they have also had implications for students’ enrolment, the quality of learning and the rate of completion. Despite a large and rapid increase in pupil numbers in recent years, many children start primary school late, drop out early and repeat years. This contributes to a low rate of children completing primary school and a low net attendance ratio. Compared to other countries in the region, Angola continues to fare poorly in these two areas. UNICEF’s partnership with the IKEA Foundation has been instrumental in efforts to counter these challenges and to help find ways to improve the country’s education system.
Thanks to financial assistance provided by the IKEA Foundation, UNICEF has been able to support the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Assistance (the two ministries in charge of education) to implement various projects to help improve the overall quality of teaching and learning. These activities include providing water and sanitation to schools, training trainers, training teachers, collecting education data and formulating policies. Some activities take place at a national level and some in various provinces.
The projects have allowed UNICEF to generate evidence that the government can use in its efforts to improve access to and the quality of education for all children. These are indeed activities that, as a UNICEF staff member, I deem very pertinent to the immediate needs of the country. I always feel honoured whenever I have the opportunity to be part of any of these projects supported by the IKEA Foundation, that bring change in the classroom.
In fact, I have been personally involved in the implementation of one of the IKEA Foundation-sponsored projects, namely the Child Friendly School project in the Province of Bié. This project, which has also been implemented in other provinces (Namibe, Cunene, Moxico), has helped to promote practices to improve teaching and learning outcomes. It encompasses several aspects including providing water and adequate hygienic conditions, training trainers and training teachers and school principals.
I am pleased to see that these activities have helped students find schools more welcoming, which has contributed to improved attendance in the participating schools. Similarly, teachers who attended the training sessions have reported a positive impact on their instructional practices. I have no doubt the training represents an invaluable opportunity for these teachers, given the scarcity of ongoing professional development opportunities for educators.
In essence, the education system in Angola is up against several challenges that need immediate and continuous attention. Fortunately, the UNICEF partnership with the IKEA Foundation provides a channel through which UNICEF is helping the government bring positive changes in the classroom. I am proud to be part of this experience.