The New MEST Education Project ‘Girls Access to Education’ (GATE) Programme, Supported by DFID and UNICEF, will benefit nearly 200,000 Girls Nationwide

By UNICEF Sierra Leone

Close to 200,000 girls across Sierra Leone will be supported by a new project, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), led by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST), and implemented in collaboration with UNICEF and partners, to improve the transition and completion rates of girls in secondary school.

The project – launched by the Government on the International Day of the Girl (11 October) – will support more than nine-hundred Junior Secondary Schools to address the safety of girls from violence, support girls from disadvantaged households, and also help out-of-school girls back into education. The 18 month project is being supported by USD 6.7 million of funding from DFID, through UNICEF.

“School data shows there are roughly equal numbers of boys and girls in primary school, but transition rates are lower for girls from one level to the next at secondary level,” said Dr. Minkailu Bah, Minister of Education, Science and Technology. “By tackling the issue from various fronts, we hope to reduce barriers such as school violence, poverty and low awareness on the importance of girls being in school.”

As part of the project – which will also see partnership with local NGOs – communities will be helped to come up with their own solutions to support girls to stay in school. And boys and girls will be encouraged to become a positive influence on the school environment by supporting change.

“I am delighted that the UK people are supporting the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in their work to enable adolescent girls to stay in school. Helping girls finish their education is vital for each girl herself. It is also critical for Sierra Leone, paving the way for women to play a full part in Sierra Leone’s development,” said Sally Taylor, Head of DFID Sierra Leone.

Project partner UNICEF also used the International Day of the Girl to highlight a new UNICEF global report which for the first time quantifies that challenge of household chores for girls – something that can be a factor in girls dropping out of school or performing poorly. The report found that girls between 5 and 14 years old spend 40 per cent more time, or 160 million more hours a day, on unpaid household chores and collecting water and firewood compared to boys their age.

“The overburden of unpaid household work begins in early childhood and intensifies as girls reach adolescence,” said Geoff Wiffin, UNICEF Sierra Leone Representative. “As a result, girls sacrifice important opportunities to learn, grow, and just enjoy their childhood. In the GATE project communities will be incentivized to support girls to stay in school, including through decreasing household chores. We hope this will help girls reach their full potential at school.”

The new project builds on the post-Ebola teenage pregnant girls’ education project, also implemented by MEST with support from DFID and UNICEF, which helped 14,000 girls continue their education, with many returning back into formal schooling.