The Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) has provided US$ 5.9 million support to address the challenges that adolescent girls face in provinces like Hadjer Lamis. With this three-year funding, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF are expecting to help girls access and progress through secondary education by, among other things, easing access to health services and improved sanitary conditions in and around schools.
If you were born in rural Chad, your chances of receiving an education, not to mention a good education, would be rather slim. More than half of the children between the ages of 5 and 18 are out of school in Chad. If you were born a girl, you would more likely not go to school at all or drop out, marry before your 18th birthday as 7 out of 10 girls in Chad do, and fulfill responsibilities as a wife and mom from an early age.
As a girl, you would face more challenges than boys to make your way through education
The Ministry of Education data show that the rate of schooling for both girls and boys, already low in primary education, further drops during the transition from primary to secondary school. However, the gap widens significantly between girls and boys. Unequal access to education is reflected in the much higher female (86%) illiteracy rate compared to that of males (69%) as well as in the chronic lack of female teachers in the education system.
Hadjer Lamis near N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, is deeply marked by both low schooling rate and high gender disparities in education. Only 9% of the children in this province attend lower secondary school, a proportion significantly lower than the national average of 29%. Among them, there are only 3 girls for every 10 boys. On the other hand, out of 263 secondary school teachers in the whole province, 3 are women representing just 1% of teaching personnel.
The Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) aims to support activities that address the challenges these adolescent girls face. In preparation, I had a chance to meet students and teachers in Massaguet, a small town in Hadjer Lamis, and learn what they think about the existing barriers to girls’ education in their communities.
Amouna, a 16-year-old middle schooler, says there are many prejudices around girls’ education. “Some parents believe … education is only a waste of the already limited resources once girls are married. Unlike educated boys, educated girls would not become anyone important anyway.” In addition, for some parents, school only creates problems by putting girls and boys in the same classroom. “They are afraid their girls flirt with boys in school.”
According to Amouna, boys are also prejudiced and this is why efforts made to promote girls’ education should involve them as well. “When some boys in town see girls go to school, they say things like ‘what is the use of educating girls?’ or ‘are you going to school to go out with boys?’ It is disturbing and very discouraging.”
Students I met in another school in Massaguet talked about the conflict between traditional values and modern education regarding girls. “For some parents, modern schools are an institution representing Western values. … Unlike boys, girls familiar with Western ideas are believed to cause disorder and problems in the community. Therefore, many parents prefer sending their girls to traditional Koranic school if they want to educate their girls at all,” says Mohamed, 21, a high school student.
Certainly, there is still a lot of work left to promote equal educational opportunities for girls and boys. Despite all the challenges out there, however, I also noticed positive and encouraging signs in some classrooms I visited in Massaguet. For example, I met Kaltouma, a 19-year-old high school girl who continued to attend school even after her marriage in the hope of becoming a professional health worker.
“The barrier of prejudice can be broken down only if communities are fully aware of the potential of educated girls. All of my family including my husband supports my education because they are aware of the economic and health benefits I can deliver to the family and community in the long-term.”, she says hopefully.
Yera Kim is an Education Specialist with the Programme Section in N’Djamena, UNICEF Chad.