Programme approach

Areas of focus

22 May 2020

The sustainable approach

UNICEF understands that to improve the quality of education, the solutions must be interconnected and sustainable. The three programmatic areas indicated below – with a focus on two important spotlight groups – work holistically with success in one area pushing progress in another. This generates multiplier effects for strong, sustainable impact and efficiencies that allow resources to go further and reach more children.  The first three programmatic areas represent the education pathway a child takes from a young age through to adulthood and further learning: Early learningQuality primaryAdolescents for success

To enhance results in these critical areas, SFA has two ‘spotlight areas’ to accelerate gains for disadvantaged and vulnerable children: Children with Disabilities and Adolescent Girls

This multiplies effects for strong, sustainable impact and efficiencies that allow resources to go further and reach more children.

Children in low-income countries who start preschool today could expect to earn almost five times as much as their parents.

The Learning Generation

Early learning

During the early years – more than any other stage in life – the brain develops key capacities such as problem-solving, reasoning, self-control and adaptability. The pre-primary years, ages 3 to 5 or 6 years old, offer one of the most powerful windows for educational investment in a child’s life.

Early learning and pre-primary education have far-reaching effects for children’s performance and retention in school. An early start lays the foundation for academic achievement, future employment prospects and a lifetime of gains. For example, for every US$1 invested in quality pre-primary education, there is a return to between US$6.40 and US$17.60, with benefits for both the learner and society overall. Children in low-income countries who start preschool today could expect to earn almost five times as much as their parents.

Enrolment rates in sub-Saharan Africa for early learning are the lowest in the world – on average only one third of boys and girls are enrolled. While the low quality of teaching is a concern, the pervasiveness of private pre-primary education points to wider concerns around access and equity: the most impoverished children are the most unlikely to access preschool but have the most to gain.

Parents and governments are showing an increasing interest in quality early learning, but there is limited public infrastructure (schools) or funding to meet this demand. While UNICEF quadrupled its global investment in early learning between 2005 and 2015, there is low prioritization of pre-primary education among donors, accounting for less than 1 per cent of all education aid funding. Government budget allocation for pre-primary education in low-income countries has also failed to evolve and accounts for just 0.3 per cent of education spending across sub-Saharan Africa.

Through SFA, UNICEF and its partners will capitalize on the growing momentum for early learning and will support universal early-learning programmes, awareness raising among parents and caregivers, pedagogical support to educators, and increasing international and domestic financing for programmes. These interventions will play a key role in putting many young children – and the communities and countries they call home – onto a fundamentally different trajectory in their development.

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Quality primary

Great strides have been made in the past decade to get children into school, and now the focus needs to shift to improving the quality of education. Quality education is central to children learning and leads to quality of life improvements such as income, health status gains, and wider economic developments. Investment in quality primary education is shown to have positive economic and social multiplier effects for individuals and their communities.

UNICEF and partners work to strengthening educational policies, improving school attendance and mean years of schooling, and enhancing the quality of learning outcomes. Improving the quality of education also has wider impacts, which can calculate a ‘social rate of return’. Increased levels of education, especially for girls, have had significant impacts on life expectancy and mortality. Around one-third of the reductions in adult mortality and nearly 15 per cent of the reduction in infant mortality from 1970 to 2010 can be attributed to gains in girls’ education. Beyond the direct impact that education has on economic growth in low-income countries, the health benefits act to nearly double this benefit. Additionally, education promotes social cohesion and leads to more peaceful and equal societies.

It is estimated that each additional year of schooling reduces an adolescent boy’s risk of becoming involved in conflict by 20 per cent, increasing peace and stability and decreasing crime and violence in societies.

The challenge is not simply to get children into school, but to improve the overall quality of schooling. Poor quality primary education affects girls’ and boys’ advancement, often leading to disengagement, dropout and poor exam grades.30 In the Eastern and Southern Africa region, less than half (46 per cent)31 of all learners will reach the last year of primary school, which is necessary to transition to secondary school and many vocational trainings. Globally, the greatest teacher shortages are in sub-Saharan Africa, with about 6.2 million primary teachers needed to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030; 3 million new teachers are needed by 2020.

In this context, UNICEF supports governments to strengthen national education systems to confront the learning crisis. Interventions include improving assessment tools, building pedagogical practices to improve learning and teaching, developing and reforming national curricula, and providing support to teachers the backbone of the education system. UNICEF prioritizes system strengthening as improvement in the design and delivery of education will succeed and be sustainable only if they are underpinned by a system that is built to deliver results.

Through SFA, UNICEF and partners will scale up cost-effective and innovative models for free access to quality primary education that reaches all children. Through technical assistance and advocacy, UNICEF will support strong results-driven education systems – which ensure coherence across policies, a clear route from policy to implementation, and effective governance and accountability structures.

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An investment of just US$22 per capita each year in secondary education can generate economic benefits in long-term earnings of 12 times that amount. Evidence shows that non-cognitive skills are as important as cognitive skills.

Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing, 2016

Adolescents for Success

Africa has some of the fastest growing economies in the world and is beginning to shape a new future with a growing youth population that is projected to reach half a billion by 2050. Africa’s adolescents have a unique chance to contribute creative solutions to the issues they face. To do this, young people need the right life skills and education to seize opportunities and be catalysts for change.

With investment and focus, young people can be equipped for major shifts in the labour market: better paying jobs require adaptability and advanced skills. Young people need transferable skills. Life skills help improve personal well-being and bring greater social, political and economic inclusion.

Adolescents in Africa are facing complex institutional and structural challenges, including a lack of access to quality education, unemployment and inter-generational poverty. The prevalent informal employment sector in Africa means young people need to be equipped with skills for entrepreneurship, supported by investments from government and the private sector in sustainable employment opportunities for youth. The next generation will be connected to a combination of opportunities that are online or offline, inside or outside the classroom, globally or locally, which will broaden their horizons and help fulfil their potential, but only if given the chance and provided with the appropriate skills and knowledge.

Investment through SFA for adolescent programming will allow UNICEF and partners to provide youth with quality learning opportunities, ensure that all adolescents, irrespective of their prior schooling, have basic numeracy and literacy, and provide skills for active citizenship, further education and employability. UNICEF is strengthening links between education, employment and citizenship by supporting disadvantaged adolescents to access learning opportunities to prepare for life and work.

Programmes will be complemented with investments in their health, well-being and protection to holistically address the challenges that young people face.

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Children with disabilities

Educating children with disabilities is their human right and is also a hugely profitable investment. Children and young people with disabilities who are empowered through literacy, numeracy, life skills and social acceptance have reduced social welfare costs, are able to reduce their current and future dependence, and can free other household and family members from caring responsibilities so that they can participate in employment or other productive activities. It is in the economic interests of governments and the private sector to invest in the education of children with disabilities so they can become effective members of the labour force as they grow up.

Inclusive education is more cost effective than special or segregated education, particularly in low-income contexts. Inclusive education that starts in the early years brings better social, academic, health and economic outcomes for all learners. The cost of excluding children with disabilities from education varies across countries and can reach up to 7 per cent of gross domestic product. Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the largest populations of children with disabilities in the world (6.4 per cent of children have a disability compared to 5 per cent worldwide). This is fuelled by the effects of widespread armed conflict, poverty and a lack of adequate health-care services.

The good news is that significant progress can be made towards inclusivity by using existing resources such as strengthening already planned and budgeted teacher training and outreach with inclusive pedagogies. Supporting existing community outreach initiatives to inform communities that children with disabilities have the right to education, as well as the capacity for learning and participation in society, are other ways to embed inclusive education into mainstream education programmes.

Children with disabilities can contribute and be part of Africa’s demographic dividend. If good quality education with an adequate number of well-trained teachers, strong peer support and accessible facilities were in place, as many as 80–90 per cent of learners with disabilities could be educated in mainstream schools with only minor additional support.

Investment from SFA would allow UNICEF and partners to respond to the needs of children and ensure that whatever their abilities or requirements are, they can access and succeed in their education and life.

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Adolescent girls

Investing in adolescent girls and their education is one of the most transformative strategies for economic growth and development. Educating a girl dramatically increases lifetime earnings and national growth rates and has a positive impact on future generations. Targeting girls is essential to improve education outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa. Investing in an adolescent girl today is also an investment in her children and in her grandchildren. Research shows that better educated women delay their first pregnancy, space their births more widely, provide better health care and education for their children, and have fewer children leading to smaller, more sustainable families.

  • Every year of secondary school education correlates to an 18 per cent increase in a girl’s future earning power
  • An increase of just 1 per cent in the share of women who have completed secondary school can increase per capita income growth by 0.3 per cent.
  • Around one third of the reductions in adult mortality and nearly 15 per cent of the reduction in infant mortality from 1970 to 2010 can be attributed to gains in girls’ education.

Adolescent girls are one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in sub-Saharan Africa. They face adversities such as harmful gender norms, a lack of education, child marriage, early pregnancy, forced sex, gender-based violence, limited access to sexual and reproductive health services, and a high burden of household work. Enrolment rates for adolescent girls in secondary school are among the lowest rates in the world, and less than one in 20 poor, rural girls in sub-Saharan Africa is on track to complete secondary school – seven times less likely than non-poor, urban boys. These challenges impact not only the children, but also their societies and economies. Girls face unique and numerous challenges to attain an education and a combination of interventions provides greatest impact on their education. Strategies to mitigate the challenges girls face include improving access to female role models and mentors, developing gender sensitive/responsive teaching methods, implementing cash transfers, including life skills in curricula, and creating opportunities for developing skills for employability.

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