How can caregivers and the community be engaged to support children to regularly attend school?
In July 2013, we set out to work on improving regular school attendance at one of the orphans and vulnerable children service delivery points. In the beginning, I held a pre-conceived idea that children were not in school mostly because their caregivers could not afford the school requirements. After all, the category of children we were working with are those who are vulnerable because of many factors including poverty. Further discussions with the service providers highlight the lack of resources from parents to provide for school attendance which increased school dropout.
Whereas it may be true for many communities, for this particular community in Busia district, eastern Uganda, it turned out differently. Although caregivers of vulnerable children have been supported to improve the economic status of their households through village saving and loans association with over 80% of them regularly saving, this did not translate into children regularly attending school.
An assessment in July 2013 found that only a few children (14%) were attending school as expected (at least four days a week). Efforts were made to identify what challenges the caregivers and the children experienced that made most of the children not to attend school regularly. Caregivers were engaged in their regular monthly saving meeting, to establish the challenges. In the discussions, it was found that many parents kept girls at home to do domestic work while the boys were involved in supporting with the farm work so parents did not think it was a big problem that the children missed school on some days.. At the end of the meeting the facilitator explained to the parents that it was important that they supported their children to stay in school and this was only possible if parents made efforts to ensure that the children attended regularly.
The caregivers have since worked together by checking on their children in the community in effort to ensure that the children stay in school. Spot checks are done in the community to identify who was keeping children from school. Community resource persons visit households to talk to caregivers and the children. (Community Resource persons are part of the CSOs working in the community and they carry out the role of training the communities). Together, they make plans for them to be in school if they were not. Feedback on their efforts of supporting children to attend school is shared during the savings meeting and solutions for the challenges are suggested for implementation.
The caregivers have been responsive to the new ideas and have supported the community system to respond to the identified problems. These efforts have led to reduced numbers of children who stayed home. However, spot checks at school showed that some children left home but never reached school. This prompted the community resource persons to link with the school and form a committee of 5 teachers in each school responsible for monitoring school attendance through daily roll calls. Teachers provide feedback to community resource persons if there are children not seen at school and missing children together with their caregivers are followed up by the community resource persons.
Consequently, the community and school efforts have paid off with over 75% of the children reported as regularly attending school by May 2014. We have learned that caregivers, the community and the teachers can be engaged to work together to keep children in school.