Kampala, Uganda    “Poverty reduction is a three legged stool balanced on income generation, savings, and education” according to Mr. Knondoker Ariful Islam, BRAC Uganda Country Manager. “Take one leg away and the stool tips over.”

While Kiva social lenders are focused on the income generating leg of poverty reduction, this discussion pertains to the education leg; specifically post-conflict education in Uganda.

Education is one of the first victims of civil conflict in Africa. This is especially true where children are targeted as potential child soldiers and forcibly removed from their families and schools by rebel armies. One such post-conflict environment is Northern Uganda where the Lord’s Resistance Army formerly battled the Uganda Army for control. The local population, consisting mostly of members of the Acholi tribe, fled to the safety of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. The education system ground to a halt.

When armed conflict ends, one issue is what to do with children whose education was interrupted or not begun during the conflict. One option is to enroll the older children in the last grade they completed. This is not practical because the existing grades are completely filled with younger students. For example, in Uganda the average primary school class size is about 50 students. In Northern Uganda, where qualified teachers are in short supply, the average class size is larger. Adding a whole new layer of 10-15 year old students to Primary 1 level classes is not a workable solution.

In 2007 BRAC Uganda partnered with UNICEF to tackle this problem. BRAC is uniquely qualified to deal with post-conflict education because it traces its roots to the aftermath of the war of independence between Bangladesh and Pakistan in the 1980’s.

BRAC’s pioneering study “Non-Formal Primary Education, Learning from BRAC’s Experience” is a model for post-conflict education throughout the world. Ultimately 2.8 million students in Bangladesh who dropped out of or never started school have been educated since 1985. Subsequently, approximately 24,000 students in Afghanistan benefited from BRAC’s non-formal education program after their schooling was interrupted by war or denied by the Taliban because they are female.

Mr. Knondoker Ariful Islam (Mr. Arif, for short) has a strong background in education. He originally joined BRAC right out of college in the 1980’s as an education specialist. He came to Uganda from Afghanistan, where he headed BRAC’s education program there.

BRAC’s non-formal education program in Northern Uganda, referred to as the Out of School Program, focuses on young girls. Many of the children attending BRAC schools are formerly abducted, traumatized child mothers who became pregnant by their captors. They perceive this to be their last chance for education. BRAC school children spend 30 minutes each day story-telling, presenting local short drama, singing, dancing, drawing and other fun activities. This is considered part of the curriculum for traumatized children.

 BRAC and UNICEF share a vision of education as having multiple impacts on the student’s life. Education enhances people’s thinking ability, improves planning capacity, develops skill in managing and shaping an independent life, widens social participation, and empowers people to realize their rights. Education is a cornerstone of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for alleviating poverty in Africa. Without these acquired skills, escaping poverty is highly unlikely.

The elements of BRAC’s “Out of School Education Program” in Northern Uganda (Kitgum and Pader Districts) are;

· Community Instructors recruited from the local population

· 10-15 year old students with no literacy or numeric skills

· Completion of Primary 1-3 grade levels in two years

· Education following the government curriculum

· Smaller class size limited to 30-35 students

· Same instructor for the entire 2 years in the same learning center

· Year round school with no vacation and class breaks no longer than 1 week

· Four hour school day with flexible starting time so students can do family chores

· Characteristic BRAC “U” shaped seating for student-to-instructor eye contact

· Monthly parents meetings at the learning centers

Instructor training is provided by BRAC education specialists. Community Instructors must have “O” level of formal education (high school) but no previous teaching experience is required. BRAC provides induction training for new instructors prior to deployment and then conducts monthly one day refresher training in which the curriculum for the next 30 days is laid out and practiced. Instructors return to their classrooms with rehearsed lesson plans and all the materials needed to execute the program for the next month.

One of the primary differences between BRAC’s non-formal education approach compared to the formal government run system is the absence of a pass/fail year end test for advancement. Community Instructors in the BRAC program are trained to conduct frequent assessments of students and are responsible for re-teaching students who fail to grasp the subjects. Mr. Arif reports that this results in relatively uniform student performance across the entire class.

Students in the non-formal program attend class in learning centers located in rented buildings separate from the government schools. Instructors live in the same village or IDP camp as the students. BRAC Education Program supervisors are distributed uniformly throughout the area, so they can frequently observe instructors at work in the classroom. Monthly training is conducted at the supervisors’ location which is no more than several hours travel from the most distant learning center. Supervisors are provided motorbikes to travel on the unpaved, unimproved roads.

The results of BRAC’s non-formal education program in Northern Uganda since its inception in June 2007 are;

· 122 Learning Centers

· 3,973 students

· 764 boys (19%)

· 3,209 girls (81%)

The preponderance of female students and female community instructors in the Out of School Program reflects BRAC’s goal of “empowering the powerless”.

Upon completion in June of 2009 these students will either be mainstreamed into grade P-4 in the public school system or, in the case of the older children, be given an opportunity for job skills training through BRAC’s Adolescent Program.

In summary, civil conflict is a significant generator of poverty in Uganda as well as other African countries such as Sudan, Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. BRACs non-formal Out of School Program is an organized effort to reduce post-conflict illiteracy and rescue young victims from a life of poverty on the bottom rung of society.

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