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  Education Companions
a sustainable approach to re-integrate drop-outs
By Leila Loupis,
UNESCO Harare
   
    How do you tackle the problem of dropout youths who, having left the school system, can't find their place neither in their rural environment and traditional family system nor in the urban workplace?
   
    In Niger, dropout youths were joining the ranks of the unemployed in the urban areas, reluctant to return their villages of origin. Those who did return to the rural communities did not have the skills to enter the workplace. Parents observed that those students who were leaving the school system early were not easily re-integrated within the community. Those parents, perceiving that the school system had a negative effect on the community and family structure, became increasingly wary of the school system and were discouraged to send their children to school.
   
  Companions in Education
   
    In response to this problem, the Ministry of Education and the French NGO "Aide et Action", initiated the project "Education companions" targeting the rural youths from 15-25 years who have attained a certain level of basic education. The youths chosen as "Education companions" receive a basic education refresher course and are trained as student teachers. At the same time, they receive basic training in small business management. Each person chooses a profession and receives a small financial aid to help them get a small business off the ground. For example to purchase tools, a boat engine or a sewing machine.
   
    In exchange for this assistance, the young "Education companions" tutor children from the local primary schools in the evening. The Companion helps them with their homework, to understand and learn their lessons and to succeed in their schooling.
   
  Supporting the community
   
    After a trial period, highly positive results were observed. There was a noted improvement in the school performance of the young students tutored by the Companions. In some of the villages where the pilot project had been implemented, the success rate in examinations rose to 100%. This improved the image of the young tutors, encouraging them in their new professional life and to stay in their family and community environment instead of moving to the urban centres.
   
 

  The project reveals the importance of close community involvement and parent motivation in education, especially towards the goal of achieving Education for All.

   
    "Within the village parents are more receptive to the school as they know that even if their children leave the school system, they will be useful to the community" states Mr Hamissou Oumarou, National EFA 2000 Coordinator of the Ministry of Education in Niger. Following the very positive evaluation of this experience, it is expected to spread to other regions of the country.
   
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