Monday, April 22, 2013

Child-friendly school clubs and the potential for gender equality

By Chemba Raghavan, Regional Focal Point for the East Asia Pacific UN Girls Education Initiative

Chemba with students from Gavuone Adventist Primary School
© Chemba Raghavan
Last month, Dr. Cliff Meyers (UNICEF’s Regional Education Advisor) and I visited Papua New Guinea (PNG) as part of a country support mission. My role was to offer a regional perspective on gender in education and early childhood policies, initiatives and activities in the country.

One of the most enriching parts of this trip was a visit we made to two schools in the Kupiano District of Central Province, a picturesque four-hour drive from Port Moresby. One school was a government school and the other is church run. In schools such as these, UNICEF is helping train teachers to run weekly child friendly school clubs. These clubs are supported by parents and community members. 

Students from the farming club give Cliff a coconut sapling to plant
© Chemba Raghavan
The school clubs are particularly attractive to children because they are fun, relevant and help build children’s skills. As I chatted with the school administrators I saw that these clubs had great potential to bring children currently not in school back into the education system.

Children from the Creative Arts club at Gavuone Primary School perform a dance
© Chemba Raghavan

As the UNGEI Regional Focal Point, I was also looking around me with a “gender lens”. This made me more aware of the potential of school clubs to promote gender equality. At Gavuone Primary School it was heartening to see both boys and girls taking part in the Creative Arts club, and to see girls participating actively in the carpentry club – a stereotypically masculine profession. The cooking club was also run by a male teacher. Nonetheless, as in many other countries, cooking remained a favorite activity for the girls while boys opted for fishing.

It occurred to me that, while these clubs can provide a context for promoting gender equality, they also involve the notion of choice. The challenge for UNICEF is to work out how to develop the clubs and use them as a strong medium for dialogue on gender equality without preventing children from choosing the activities that they find most interesting and relevant.

Girls cooking and boys fishing at Gavuone Primary School
© Chemba Raghavan
 Many of us living in industrialized countries take school clubs for granted. It’s easy to view them as an extra-curricular luxury. Yet, particularly in the contexts of disadvantaged remote areas, and for marginalized groups such as ethno-linguistic minorities, investing in low cost programmes like school clubs can boost student motivation, community involvement and create a pressure-free environment for children to pursue their talents. They can also serve as a powerful platform for advancing gender equality in education. 

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