Silent advocacy: How statistics empower

We can maintain a peaceful society by helping people who are poor and hungry.

Mutabazi, a 16-year-old student at Institute Filippo Smaldone, shares his ideas with the UNICEF team by using sign language. Like the other 168 students at his school, Mutabazi has a hearing disability. But that doesn’t stop him from dreaming big; after graduation, Mutabazi plans to become an architect.

A little more than a year ago, Mutabazi attended the Reading Data with Children event organised by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) and UNICEF. During the event, Mutabazi learnt about Rwanda’s socio-economic statistics for the first time.

“It was an eye-opening event,” he recalls. At the event, Mutabazi was one of the most active participants, engaging in discussions on children’s rights by using sign language. He learnt that in Rwanda, 38 per cent of children under five suffer from malnutrition[1], and he was shocked by the fact that not all children go to school. “At home, I tried to discuss what I learnt from the statistics with my mother, but she is not very good at sign language,” he laughs, “but I managed to tell her two things: many children are suffering from malnutrition and not all children are going to school.”  He told his mother to share their food with those who are hungry. He also encouraged her to talk to those children who do not go to school in their neighbourhood.

Due to the success of the Reading Data with Children event, some Rwandan secondary schools have started using statistics to educate children on their rights. Through dialogue with children like Mutabazi, UNICEF and the Government have witnessed that children can be powerful advocates for children’s rights.

“We are trying to reach all Rwandan children with this transformative statistics activity,” says Yusuf Murangwa, NISR Director General. “We want to leave no child behind.”

To reach a larger number of children, early this year, Rwanda Education Bureau (REB), NISR and UNICEF designed and published a teacher’s discussion guide for reading data with children in the classroom[2]. A systematic training has been organised for secondary school teachers on how to use the guide. Teachers who participated in the training were excited about the potential for created new data-centered lessons, using real statistics to touch on topics that are otherwise seldom discussed.

Rwanda has achieved almost universal access to primary education, but students with disabilities represent 7.5 per cent of 2.5 million pupils who are enrolled in primary education in 2016, while in secondary schools, they represent only 1% of those who are enrolled[3].  Mutabazi’s teacher, Marie-Jeanne Uwayisaba, is one of the teachers who acknowledges the value of the reading data with children initiative. “It is a great idea to let children be exposed to different statistics which are related to various aspects of life. The most important message that I see is to empower children so they can think and be responsible for their own hygiene, nutrition, health, and most importantly, their own lives.”

She continued, “Children with disabilities can be excellent advocates, but they need a tool. They need things like hand-outs with maps, figures and graphs, which is exactly the type of lessons the new data-centered teaching guide is meant for.”

Reading Data with Children was recently acknowledged as an excellent example of child participation and engagement in evidence-based advocacy. The national statistics office in Zambia and the directorate of statistical services in Ghana have approached NISR to learn how to replicate the event and help even more children like Mutabazi realize they are not restricted by their disabilities.





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