What does 'Back to School' Mean in Kigutu?
At Village Health Works, we’re well aware that education is important in realizing good health. So, when the community invited us to become more involved in education throughout the catchment area, we agreed enthusiastically. We believe education is vital to our mission to improve the health and well being of our community.
Village Health Works is deeply committed to working with the community and developing projects based on their ideas and needs, and our education projects are no different. This week, we held a three-day education conference at our Village Heath Works community center in Kigutu to discuss the ongoing challenges related to education and identify possible solutions. Some participants walked several hours to attend, and excitement buzzed around the campus the first two days as over 170 students, teachers, parents and principals came to our center.
The conference culminated on the third day with guests including high-level government officials and education specialists from the communal, provincial and national levels. We used this opportunity to present the community concerns directly to these specialists and policy-makers, and to begin to develop scalable solutions for Burundian students and educators. There was a lot of excitement at the conference, and we’re looking forward to building on this momentum to create lasting improvements in education.
However, the problems are dizzying. In some schools, latrines are not operational – presenting a problem for all students, but particularly for young girls who must opt out of attending schools during their menstrual cycle. Only 2.2% of schools in our province have electricity. Most students do not have electricity at home so it is not possible to study at night. Many teachers are under qualified and yearn for training opportunities that are not available. Last year Village Health Works conducted a study on the state of education in our catchment area and found that on average, 4.5 students share one desk. In our province, the average class size is 49 students. Many of the problems associated with education are part of larger, systemic problems like widespread poverty. Under these conditions, both teacher instruction quality and student learning efficacy suffer.
The conference attendees highlighted more issues. One teacher explained that he must teach new subjects in which he does not have previous education or training. The challenges of inadequate infrastructure and a shortage of school materials, as well as the lack of continuing education and teacher training, resurfaced often. In addition, redundancy and dropout rates are high. On average, children in Burundi are 14.4 years old when they finish primary school. Only 69.5% of children complete primary school. The lack of motivation among some teachers, students, parents and administrators, is another recurring problem.
Village Health Works will respond directly to challenges presented at the education forum. At the beginning of the school year, we will provide notebooks, pens and pencils to vulnerable children in our catchment area. We’ll continue hosting teacher-training sessions. Earlier this year, we sponsored a practice exam to prepare primary students for the annual sixth grade national test. We will award prizes to the students and teachers with the best exam results. In addition, we’re developing plans to improve school infrastructure. To address these mounting issues we’ve hired a new full time Education Co-Director, who will work on overcoming these issues on a full time basis.
At the end of the conference, Deo, the founder of Village Health Works, encouraged all participants, including teachers, parents, students, community members and administrators to do all in their power to contribute to educating Burundian children. Deo said, we should each ask ourselves, “What is my added value? What can I do?” We know our education programs will thrive only with active community engagement, and we’re thrilled that so many people committed to help us this past week.
In conclusion, we’d like to ask the friends of Village Health Works to ask themselves the same question Deo asked: What is my added value? What can I do?
- Zenon Jewendizeno, Director of Community Health & Catherine Bauman, Global Health Corps Fellow