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Parental Leave Limbo: Childcare Challenges and the Potential for Policy Progress
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Parental Leave Limbo: Childcare Challenges and the Potential for Policy Progress

Where childcare policies are failing parents and what countries can do to fix itAs I transition back to work after six months of maternity leave, I can’t believe my timing during the launch of a major new UNICEF report Where Do Rich Countries Stand on Childcare?Published by UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti, where I work, the report ranks countries across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU) based on their national childcare and parental leave policies. Childcare and leave policies in these 41 countries have been compared and graded on the accessibility, affordability and quality of childcare for children between birth and school age. Using the most recent comparable data on policies for these countries, the report ranked Luxembourg, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Germany the highest on childcare provisions among high-income countries and ranked Slovakia, the United States, Cyprus, Switzerland, and Australia the lowest.As I return to work now, I find myself in the middle of an unfortunate gap between when my maternity leave ended and when accessible, affordable childcare options become available. In Italy, where I live and work, accessible childcare options (such as daycare) become available when babies are about 12 months old, leaving me in an awkward childcare limbo – a half year gap that, without the option of family members to help me out nearby, I can only fill with a relatively expensive private nanny.Like colleagues before me, in order to fill the gap between when my maternity leave ends and affordable childcare becomes available, I’m having to cobble together a mix of annual leave, help from grandmothers who live in other countries, as well as employing private nannies at up to four times the cost of even the most expensive daycares in Italy. But I know I am not alone in this challenge. Many working parents have accepted this as their reality as even in rich countries, no other options exist for them and no policies are in place to protect them.In UNICEF Innocenti’s report, while Italy ranks #1 for affordability among rich countries for childcare, it ranks #15 overall when you also consider childcare access and quality, as well as its parental leave policies. I feel the effects of how well these policies support parents and children every day as a mother.“This report helps to quantify and magnify just where and how childcare and parental leave policies can have a positive impact on both child wellbeing as well as gender equality and the economy, with more women able to return to the workforce when better policies are in play.In the report, the United States, where I’m originally from, unsurprisingly and tragically ranks second-to-last overall for its childcare policies, taking into account that despite being one of the wealthiest countries, it has no paid parental leave, and affordability and access are very low. As an American living and working abroad, I feel privileged to be employed by an organization that provides paid maternity leave for six months, living in a country where affordable, quality childcare is available from the age of one year – two extremely helpful benefits protected by effective policies, that would have been unavailable to me entirely if I were living in my home country. But, as I’ve discovered, no system is perfect, and this report helps to quantify and magnify just where and how childcare and parental leave policies can have a positive impact on both child wellbeing as well as gender equality and the economy, with more women able to return to the workforce when better policies are in play.As my family is also Swedish, I would have had the option, if we wanted to, to start a family in Sweden, where I could have benefited from more than a year and a half of maternity leave (not counting the generous paternity leave reserved only for fathers). This parental leave policy nicely aligns with when most daycare centers are available, free of charge. It’s not surprising to me that Sweden ranks third in the report given its generous package of parental leave combined with access to free formal childcare right when the basic leave entitlement ends.Despite my privileged access to these policies, I have chosen, like many others, to pursue a career elsewhere. Knowing how these three systems compare and contrast has indeed shaped decisions we’ve made about where and how we live and plan to raise our children.  I am fortunate to have the choice to pursue a career outside of my home country and that, as a family, we can afford to find and pay for other childcare scenarios to fill these gaps, but many, many families around the world – even in rich countries – do not have the same opportunities.It is time to close these gaps and find solutions that work for every parent regardless of their job, where they live, or their gender. Now is the time to urge policymakers in every country to do better for mothers, fathers and every child to provide better parental leave policies combined with mandates for better childcare access, quality and affordability.UNICEF Innocenti’s report makes nine policy recommendations to better support parents and children:Provide a suitable mix of paid maternity, paternity, and parental leave for mothers and fathers.Leave should be both gender-sensitive and gender-equitable to ensure neither parent is overburdened with home care.Leave should be inclusive and granted to those in non-standard forms of employment or training.Align the end of leave with availability of childcare to ensure there are no gaps in childcare support.Make accessible, flexible, and affordable quality childcare available to all parents.Publicly provided childcare can facilitate access for low-income families.Invest in the childcare workforce to encourage the highest possible standards.Encourage employers to support working parents through paid leave entitlements, flexible work arrangements, and childcare support systems.Provide leave policies and childcare services with family policies (e.g. child benefits) to reduce the risk of social inequalities being replicated in public childcare settings.Join me in daring to demand that parents and children deserve better. Contact your lawmakers to fight for change for every child.Read the full report.Explore the report microsite.Listen to a podcast with the report author, Anna Gromada.Kathleen Sullivan is a communication specialist at UNICEF Innocenti who is passionate about finding narratives that drive change. Follow Kathleen @ksulli on Twitter, and for more updates from UNICEF Innocenti, follow @UNICEFInnocenti.
Fatina Al Shami, 6 years old deaf girl, with her teacher at the Association for Orphan Care in Sidon
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New guidelines to improve inclusiveness and effectiveness in global education

New methodological guidelines accelerate progress, and enable education systems to become more inclusive, resilient and effective.Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of the world’s children could not read and understand a simple text by the age of 10. Now, school closures implemented worldwide have exacerbated inequalities even further. The world must accelerate progress towards achieving global education goals, and get learning for all on track. To do so, countries need to move towards more inclusive, resilient, and effective education systems, capable of putting forward sustainable solutions. While this is a major task, a new evidence-generating tool is now available to help governments better understand and analyze the political economy of education systems and transform them for the benefit of all children and youth. The latest Education Sector Analysis: Methodological Guidelines – co-published by the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning, UNICEF, the Global Partnership for Education, and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office – is the third volume in a series first published in 2014. More than 70 countries have used these guidelines to prepare, implement, and monitor their education sector plans. This new volume can help governments tackle some of the major obstacles facing education systems today, from how to improve the effectiveness of the educational administration – from the central to local level – to how to galvanize all the relevant actors working in education around common solutions. They also cover how to advance inclusion, in particular for children with disabilities, and how to anticipate and address the hazards and risks that disrupt education the world over. Children with disabilities are very often not even visible and left outside schooling while children in conflict settings are 30% less likely to complete primary and 50% less likely to complete lower secondary.The guidelines are designed to strengthen national capacities to illuminate what is working – and not working – in education systems, and to create evidence-based policies to help each child and adolescent access their right to education and learning. Spanning four new chapters, the guidelines facilitate a system-wide diagnosis, adaptable to the unique context of each country, and advocates for pertinent data, strong analyses, and adequate levels of education financing. Here’s a closer look at the issues this new publication aims to address: Inclusive education for children with disabilitiesChildren with disabilities are one of the most excluded groups in education today. To turn this around, governments need robust information and rigorous analysis to strengthen decision-making and policy implementation. The guidelines can help decision-makers better understand the challenges of inequalities in access and learning, assess the delivery of educational services, enhance management efficiencies, and overcome demand and financing barriers. Risk analysis for resilient education systemsFrom conflict, massive migration, environmental degradation, natural hazards, to pandemics, education systems are under increasing pressure. Yet, education also holds immense power to contribute to safer environments, peacebuilding, social cohesion, and resilience. To help education fulfil this role, the guidelines provide tools for identifying prevalent risks, gauging their often inter-related links with education, and selecting ways to ensure learning continues. This is especially relevant given the widespread disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the guidelines provide concrete guidance for analzing the system with the goal to to adapt, mitigate learning loss, and build back better. Effective educational administrationsAn institutional analysis is an important first step to improving the educational administration’s performance – it helps identify both weaknesses and concrete answers to improve capacities, from the individual level through whole education systems. The guidelines propose new methods to conduct such an analysis and features insight on how to overcome technical and political challenges, such as how to ensure political acceptance, leadership, and the participation of the entire educational community. Everyone on boardThe Education 2030 Agenda outlines broad ambitions for education systems worldwide. The devastating impact of COVID-19 makes its goals for inclusive and equitable quality education all the more urgent. Yet, when different interests do not align, the delivery of educational services can suffer delays or become entirely jeopardized. To prevent this, the guidelines provide key concepts and tools to identify key problems and map stakeholders – from policy-makers to service providers and users – in education today – to identify their motivations, priorities, and roles and responsibilities in solving specific education issues. It goes beyond the usual process of diagnosing technical causes to examine in-depth how stakeholders interact to prevent policy blockages and advance on education goals. Transforming education systems and re-imagining education is at the crux of these guidelines. It goes further than helping education actors examine how their sector performs. It lays the foundation for working together, for lasting change and progress. Access Education sector analysis methodological guidelines volume1 and volume 2.Laura Savage is Deputy Team Leader, Education Research, UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Matt Brossard is Chief of Education at UNICEF Innocenti. Nicolas Reuge is Senior Adviser Education in UNICEF's Programme Division. Paul Coustere is Director a.i of UNESCO's International Institute for Educational Planning. Raphaelle Martinez is the Education Policy and Learning Team Lead for the Global Partnership for Education.  
Reimagining Digital Learning: Lessons from the Learning Passport in Timor-Leste
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Reimagining Digital Learning: Lessons from the Learning Passport in Timor-Leste

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools worldwide governments rapidly worked to deploy remote learning to continue education. 9 in 10 countries around the world used online learning platforms to support children’s learning in 2020. However, understanding of how students, especially those from marginalized households in remote areas, can access, use, and learn from digital platforms is limited. As schools reopen, digital learning is here to stay, both as a tool to support teaching and learning in the classroom and outside of it. Thus, it is imperative that we continue to learn more about what makes digital platforms work to improve learning and how they can be delivered to effectively support children and teachers, especially in vulnerable situations.Throughout 2020, the Learning Passport programme expanded in 8 countries as a remote learning response to COVID-19 school closures. Timor-Leste was the first country to implement Learning Passport in their digital learning platform called ‘Eskola Ba Uma’ (or ‘School Goes Home’). Now, as schools reopen in Timor-Leste, the Ministry of Education aims to build on the digital learning expertise built during school closures to support teachers and students within classrooms. To achieve this, UNICEF is working with the Ministry to develop the use of Eskola Ba Uma for blended teaching and learning in classrooms. As a first step, user experience testing and focus group discussions were held with teachers and students from grades 2,3,7, and 9 in four schools to understand the needs, perceptions, and constraints they face using digital learning. This rapid exercise allowed the Ministry and UNICEF to learn directly from users, informing upcoming teacher training and the wider implementation of the Eskola Ba Uma programme in schools.Children from Caitehu School learning with the ”‘Eskola ba Uma” app. This blog outlines three key findings from these user experience tests:Teachers are very excited about digital learning and supporting students to learn digital skills. All teachers agreed that digital instruction is an important way to impart digital skills to students. They felt that using digital learning tools allows students to learn from anywhere, especially during emergencies. They found that it makes learning fun (for example using YouTube videos) and gives students more opportunities to practice with interactive content. Teachers also said that they are keen to expand their own technological and pedagogical skills. However, they expressed concerns regarding a lack of access to electricity and connectivity when using the app both at school and at home.Benefits listed by teachers for students:Training and continuous support are key to enable digital learning. While all teachers in the focus groups had access to and could use mobile phones, less than half are comfortable using other devices, such as computers or tablets. Most students use smartphones owned by family members but primarily for watching videos and playing games. They still use books and other printed materials for learning at home. Many students rely on older siblings for support while using digital devices, highlighting the importance of assistance to feel comfortable when faced with challenges. Almost all teachers perceived the app to be helpful for teaching but expressed the need for training on how to use it. A few teachers and students from rural areas also felt less comfortable using the platform because they “do not know much about it”. Given the lack of previous experience with digital learning, regular training and support can make teachers feel more comfortable and improve the use of devices and the learning platform for classroom teaching. Students learn to navigate the app quickly and are intrigued by its features. After using the app for the first time, students were happy and enjoyed the opportunity to engage and learn through digital content. Students found the short training and induction on the use and navigation of the app very helpful.“This app is easy and I can use it alone, but if there are some difficulties, then we don’t know. If you Mister didn’t walk us through it, then we wouldn’t know where to press. But now we know that already. If in the future we use tablets to access this app, we will still remember. We can teach the other kids about this app.”  - A 7th-grade girl from AileuAlmost all older students were able to navigate between different sections on the app and search for relevant content. Many students mentioned they like the potential of using the app at their own pace, using it by themselves, listening to audiobooks, and watching videos. More to come. In Timor-Leste, research with teachers and students will continue as teacher training is scaled and the implementation of the Learning Passport in classrooms begins. This is part of a global initiative to build rapid action research into the deployment of the Learning Passport to learn and improve the programme as it scales across contexts. This programme, research and blog was made possible with support from GPE. This is part of a global initiative to build rapid action research into the deployment of the Learning Passport to learn and improve the programme as it scales across contexts. 
Israel Idrisi, 9 years old, at school. Nepalgunj, Banke District, mid-western Nepal
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How to co-create research during a global pandemic

Even in the most difficult settings, some schools excel in learning, champion gender equality, and have low drop-out rates. These “positive deviant” schools provide valuable lessons on how to improve similar but less performing schools. Through the Data Must Speak (DMS) Positive Deviance research, UNICEF and partners identify effective behaviours and practices in positive deviant schools and investigate how these can be rolled out to other schools. The research is one of three components of the global DMS initiative, which aims to improve learning through better data access, analysis, and use. In this way, education systems are optimised using data and evidence, no matter the context. But to do so requires the involvement of all stakeholders—from the Education Minister through to school teachers and students. The solution? Co-creation! This process means that key partners share their knowledge and expertise, learn new research skills, ensure the research is aligned with their government’s priorities, and are more invested in implementing recommendations. Co-creation means collaborating at every stage—from research design, to analysis, to maximizing data use. By strengthening local capacities, national partners themselves can replicate the research in the future, ensuring schools are continuously improving. Nepal’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) believe that evidence on the drivers of quality education in its high-performing schools could help them achieve their education goals. To achieve the goals and objectives set out in our education sector plan, we need to understand what dominant drivers of quality education are in schools. The DMS positive deviance approach to learning analysis helps us understand what factors make certain schools with similar resources and context outperform other schools. - Dr. Tulashi Thapaliya, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology  A hands-on collaboration with national stakeholders in offices and schools was planned. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and priorities shifted towards pandemic response.  Nevertheless, MoEST, local academics, and UNICEF Nepal decided to go ahead with the research, albeit virtually. This presented a new challenge: how to build social bonds and understanding with partners that play a critical role when co-creating research?A screenshot of one of the virtual ‘Technical Co-Creation’ sessions.Perhaps unsurprisingly—by using Zoom! A series of eight virtual ‘Technical Co-Creation’ sessions between MoEST staff, local academics, and UNICEF researchers were held. These sessions covered the crucial steps for the quantitative analysis of administrative datasets, including research design, developing school indices, and interpreting findings, among others. By using a learning-by-doing approach and engaging in ample discussions, these sessions created space for mutual learning and policy-relevant data analysis. The EMIS in Nepal is a comprehensive data set that presents a large opportunity in terms of analysis and informing planning. The collaboration with the DMS research team is valuable as we are not just presented with the outcomes of the analysis but also know what elements can be embedded in the EMIS to strengthen it. - Mr. Shankar Bahadur Thapa, Under Secretary in the Centre for Education and Human Resource DevelopmentComprehensive datasets, like Nepal’s Educational Management Information Systems, present a big opportunity to inform analysis and planning. By collaborating throughout the DMS research journey, partners are not just presented with the outcomes of the analysis but also have enhanced knowledge to strengthen these datasets. In this way, schooling for Nepalese children can be continuously improved, helping to secure their futures.   Dr. Tulashi Thapaliya, Joint Secretary of the Nepal Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.Gunilla Olsson, Director, UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti. Robert Jenkins, Global Director Education, UNICEFMark Waltham, Chief Education, UNICEF Nepal Country Office.
Barri pushes is daughter
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How a focus on parenting can reduce violence both for children and women

Violence against children and violence against women often occur under the same roof and share many risk factors. The economic insecurities and uncertainty brought on by COVID-19 raise the risk of violence within the family - already extraordinarily high even before the pandemic. Women and children were likely to experience increased levels of violence during national lockdowns with limited access to support services. Effective violence prevention and support are needed as part of COVID recovery plans. Encouragingly, evidence is emerging to suggest there are ample ways to prevent violence, such as cash transfers, programmes with boys and men, empowering girls and women, and parenting interventions. The best-performing strategies address the root causes of inequalities and work to transform harmful gender norms. The dual potential of parenting programmes  When parenting programmes recognize that different forms of violence are interconnected, they can prevent both the violent discipline of children and intimate partner violence (IPV). By promoting better parenting skills, positive forms of discipline, and gender equality, these programmes may benefit caretakers beyond parenting, including reducing violence in their adult-relationships and changes in social norms. While few programmes deliberately address the intersections of violence against children and women, emerging results show that simultaneously counteracting multiple forms of violence is possible. 4 ways to design better violence prevention programmes When designing parenting programmes to tackle intersecting forms of violence, UNICEF’s new guidance note on Designing Parenting Programmes for Violence Prevention recommends:Incorporating content and delivery methods that have proven effective in preventing violence.Promoting gender equality and positive gender norms, by engaging men and boys as well as women and girls. In Rwanda, Bandebereho (’role model’) encourages expectant and new fathers to reflect on their concerns about becoming a father, learn about the effects of harsh parenting, discuss violence in the family, and learn about conflict resolution. A study found that men who had participated in the programme were almost half as likely to use violence against their partner and spent just under one hour more per day doing housework chores than those who had not participated in the programme.Addressing the context-specific gender barriers faced by women and girls at each stage of programme design and development. UNICEF research into parenting adolescents in Eastern Europe showed that patriarchal gender norms heavily influenced parenting and the roles that adolescent boys and girls took in the home, and contributed towards violence against women and girls.Linking programmes to other services—such as health, nutrition, and education—to strengthen violence prevention. For example, schools are an entry point for reaching parents and provide a good setting to discuss violence prevention and gender equality. Health workers can play a vital role in identifying and reporting violence in their work with families. At the very least, establishing strong linkages to specialized response services for survivors is crucial. Violence in the home can leave long-lasting scars. Parenting programmes have enormous potential to prevent violence within families and tackle harmful gender norms. Increasing the number of families benefitting from these programmes requires resources. Now is an ideal time to invest in these programmes, integrate them into longer term recovery, and break the intergenerational cycles of violence for children now and in generations to come.  Janina Jochim is DPhil Candidate at the University of Oxford and works in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at UNICEF.Lauren Rumble is Principal Advisor for UNICEF's Gender Section.Stephen Blight is Senior Advisor for Child Protection at UNICEF.
Finland is the happiest country in the world – again. Or is it?
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Finland is the happiest country in the world – again. Or is it?

Recently, news outlets across the world announced: Finland ranked happiest country in the world – again. This information is based on the World Happiness Report 2021 which uses data from the Gallup World Survey.But is it true?Similar to the 1950s household surveys that questioned only the male breadwinner and projected his feelings to the rest of the society, this poll misses a quarter of the world’s population – children under 15 years old.In a Lamentable Year, Finland Again is the Happiest Country in the World https://t.co/jGzx81PEo2 via @HappinessRpt pic.twitter.com/oUp6crxZJi— World Happiness Report (@HappinessRpt) March 19, 2021So, do children in Finland and other countries agree with adults? Not particularly. There are several studies of children that ask similar questions to the one in the Gallup World Poll. These are all schools-based surveys and have some sampling limitations. But the picture is consistent.The Children’s Worlds survey covered 35 countries/territories across four continents in 2016 to 2019. Finland ranked 15th out 35 countries among children aged 10 years old, and 16th out of 30 at 12 years old. Albania ranked top at both ages.The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children covered children aged 11, 13 and 15 in 45 European countries/regions plus Canada in 2017 to 2018. Finland ranked 26th among 11-year-olds, 14th among 13- year-olds and 13th among 15-year-olds. North Macedonia ranked highest at 11 years old. Kazakhstan ranked highest at 13 and 15.The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 asked 15 year olds in 70 mostly high-income countries/territories about their life satisfaction. Finland ranked 19th. Kazakhstan was 1st.In fact there is very little link between children’s and adults’ life satisfaction across countries.These differences are not restricted to Finland alone. The chart below shows average life satisfaction scores from the Gallup World Poll and PISA for adults and for adolescents aged 15 years old in 64 countries with matching data. Children’s and adults average life satisfaction are unrelated across these countries.Certainly there are some countries – such as Costa Rica – that have high life satisfaction among both groups; and some countries – such as Turkey – that have low life satisfaction among both. But the UK has high adult life satisfaction (8th out of 64) and low adolescent life satisfaction (63rd out of 64). Albania has low adult life satisfaction but high adolescent life satisfaction. Finland is top of the league table for adult life satisfaction but much closer to the middle for children.Sources: Adult life satisfaction taken from World Happiness Report 2020 which used the Gallup World Poll 2017 to 2019. Adolescent life satisfaction taken from the OECD’s PISA survey 2018 of adolescents aged 15 years oldNote: We use data from the Gallup World Survey, 2017 to 2019 (that featured in the World Happiness Report 2020) to match the timing of data collection with that of children’s surveys.What explains these differences?One of the doubts often raised about international comparisons of life satisfaction relates to linguistic and cultural effects. But these can’t really be a major factor here when almost the same question is asked of different age groups in the same country. One of the factors that has been linked with adult life satisfaction is national income. It is fairly clear from the examples in the diagram, and other analysis has confirmed, that this is not really the case for children. It is still not clear what can explain the different country rankings for children but one hypothesis is that high child life satisfaction is linked to the quality of social relationships.Two key messages come out of these comparisons:The factors that contribute to children’s life satisfaction are probably different to those for adults and we need to understand this better.We should be careful about ranking countries only on adults’ views - ignoring children’s views about their lives misses out on a quarter of the voices that are worth hearing. Gwyther Rees is Social and Economic Policy Research Manager at UNICEF Innocenti. Anna Gromada is Social and Economic Policy Consultant at UNICEF Innocenti. 
Can we change the way we think about violence against children and women?
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Can we change the way we think about violence against children and women?

Selina was 8 the first time her father hit her. And while he tearfully apologized afterwards, a few weeks later he did it again. Her mother often suffered the same fate, she knew, behind closed doors. It became a pattern in Selina’s life whenever he was drinking – and angry. When Selina was a teenager, her first boyfriend was much like her father – loving and warm at times – but with a violent underside that left her cowering with fear. But Selina was accustomed to these unpredictable, alternating displays of rage and affection and found his protectiveness comforting. At 17, she became pregnant, and after suffering her parents’ disapproval, left home to live with her boyfriend. His aggressiveness began to escalate as her belly grew, and after one particularly violent night, she started spotting. She began to fear for her health and pregnancy. Selina decided to leave, but was not sure where to turn. The women’s shelters she had heard of only accepted women 18 years and older. The officer at the police station threatened to call her parents. With nowhere else to go, she spent the night on a park bench, uncertain of what the future would hold. ***Selina’s story represents not just a personal tragedy, but the failure of systems - systems that are often structured to respond separately to situations of violence against women and violence against children. They can fail the needs of certain groups – such as adolescents – as well as miss the opportunity to break intergenerational cycles of violence. What do we know about different types of violence?Although only the more gruesome stories about partner homicide or severe child maltreatment tend to make headlines, the truth is violence against women and children is sadly commonplace. According to most recent WHO estimates, 1 in 3 women experience violence in their lifetime, a number that had remained largely unchanged over the past decade, at least until the pandemic. Intimate partner violence starts early: 1 in 4 young women (aged 15-24 years) who have been in a relationship will have already experienced violence by the time they reach their mid-twenties. Children are no better off - a multi-country study of 96 countries suggests that more than half (1 billion) of the world’s children aged 2-17 experienced physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse during the past year. Violence against children, adolescents, and women is likely to increase as a result of COVID-19 confinement measures, further spurring the international community to recognize these as human rights and public health problems of critical importance with important development implications, including for countries’ immediate and long-term pandemic responses. But while the violence experienced by Selina at the hands of her father and boyfriend are often seen as unfortunate, individual incidents, they are, in fact. highly interconnected. Men who hit their partners - such as Selina’s father - were often abused themselves as boys, or witnessed their fathers being violent towards their mothers. The same goes for girls, like Selina, who grow up exposed to intimate partner violence. Children in such households tend to mimic these harmful, gendered patterns in their own relationships – in adolescence, and later on in adulthood: boys may grow up to perpetrate violence, and girls may grow up to experience it.   Experiencing violent discipline, and being exposed to intimate partner violence in the childhood home both increase the risk of violence in adulthood, either as victims or perpetrators.What can be done to help break the cycle of violence?A new strategy document from UNICEF examines how and why UNICEF and international partners should pay greater attention to the gender dimensions of violence against children and adolescents, including drivers of violence, and offers concrete ways to more effectively prevent and respond to this issue. Solutions are based on existing evidence as well as guidance and frameworks for action developed by international partners (such as INSPIRE and RESPECT). The first step should be to recognize that Selina’s experiences of violence are not one-off occurrences, nor should they be relegated to the realm of “private” family affairs. Violence occurs across the lifespan and is both a reflection and a mechanism to perpetuate larger socio-normative and gender inequalities that increase the vulnerabilities of children, adolescents and women. The same social norms that condone such violence also contribute to discrimination against boys, men, and LGBTQI+ individuals. Interventions, then, should employ a life course and gender transformative approach that addresses the root causes of gender-based inequalities and works to transform harmful gender roles, norms, and power imbalances.The second step could be to start with Selina’s parents. There should be a greater investment in helping sexual and reproductive health services, including prenatal care, prevent and respond to intimate partner violence against pregnant women and new mothers. Additionally, preliminary evidence suggests that parenting and caregiver programs can not only reduce parents’ use of violent discipline against their children but that they can potentially lower the risk of intimate partner violence. Helping Selina’s mother – and intervening with her father - in the early years could have contributed to breaking the cycle of violence for herself and for her daughter. Thirdly, to help adolescents like Selina and her newborn, expand services for girls, boys, and women who experience violence, ensuring that they are age and gender appropriate. At a minimum, prepare service providers to a) recognize links between violence against children/adolescents and child and adolescent health (both physical and mental); and b) understand implications of intimate partner violence for both women and children’s health and wellbeing. A sensitized police officer may have reacted more appropriately to Selina’s plea for help, and a well-resourced women’s shelter would have known to connect her with youth-friendly services – or they could have taken her in themselves. Finally, changes should be made at a systems level; whole systems approaches should be used, with actors from different sectors (such as medical, child protection, legal/justice, education sectors) working together rather than in siloes. Case country studies from Cambodia, Viet Nam, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea jointly conducted by UN Women, UNICEF, and UNFPA, have highlighted opportunities for coordination of services for violence against women and violence against children. Hope for the future?Although knowledge gaps remain, particularly where low- and middle-income countries are concerned, promising systematic reviews have examined the effectiveness of strategies such as parenting interventions to prevent violence against children, support women parenting in the context of intimate partner violence (IPV) survivors, cash transfer programmes to decrease IPV, and programmes for boys and men to prevent sexual, dating, and intimate partner violence. There are ample promising practices from which to draw inspiration. And while there is much work to be done, the future is bright: one final, and important conclusion emerging from global evidence is that violence against children, adolescents and women is indeed preventable. We can and should do our part for the Selinas of the world. UNICEF is committed to addressing the gender dimensions of violence against children, including its intersections with violence against women.   Floriza Gennari is Consultant on violence prevention in the Child Rights and Protection Team. Alessandra Guedes is Gender and Development Research Manager at UNICEF Innocenti.
Researchers reflect on what inspired them to work on gender
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Researchers reflect on what inspired them to work on gender

To mark International Women's Day 2021 we asked three Innocenti researchers to share what inspired them to work on gender issues.  Alessandra Guedes (centre), Gender and Development Research Manager, UNICEF InnocentiAlessandra Guedes has dedicated 20 years of her professional life to promoting children’s and women’s rights and health, including working intensively to end violence against children and against women.I actually didn’t intentionally set out to work on gender and came to the issue in a roundabout way. I often joke that while I started out by studying what, in my opinion, is arguably humanity at its best (I have a degree in studio art!), I ended up working with humanity at its worse: violence against children and against women. How did I get here? Few things are as important to me as social justice and once I started working on the issue of violence prevention over 20 years ago, there was no turning back. globally, one-third of women continue to experience violence at the hands of those who should love and protect them: their partnersMy journey started haphazardly when I was offered a position to work with International Planned Parenthood setting up services for women who had experienced violence within reproductive health clinics in Latin America and the Caribbean. It didn’t take long to become obvious that women’s rights and gender-based violence were areas of work that were spearheaded primarily by women. Women have spent centuries (millennia?) protesting all kinds of injustices committed against them simply because they are women. The same impetus to fight for women’s right to vote or to drive is what keeps us working to change the fact that, globally, one-third of women continue to experience violence at the hands of those who should love and care for them: their partners. While this is the most common form of violence against women and girls, plenty more females experience other forms of gender-based violence, including femicide. While I started working specifically on violence against women and girls, I’ve come to understand that these forms of violence are intimately connected with violence against children and that many drivers are shared across these manifestations of violence.  Equipped with this knowledge, I’m supporting UNICEF to address the gender dimensions of violence against children, including looking for ways to end violence in the home. I am both inspired and grateful to all of the women on whose shoulders I stand. Many have been imprisoned, some have been killed, fighting for equality across gender, race and ethnicity. I hope that my work will add a grain of sand to their heroic efforts. See an example of Alessandra’s research on violence against women and violence against children.   Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, Gender and Development Research Manager, UNICEF InnocentiZahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed has extensive experience in women's rights and gender equality across organisations and within large-scale development projects.Today, I can say I am a researcher – a qualitative researcher – exploring gender, care work (paid and unpaid) and social protection. But my inspiration started small, and with no name. Growing up I had no terms to make sense of the world I lived in, the world people I knew lived in, the world people I didn’t know, but would observe, lived in.  But there was curiosity, a lot of it. I would search for answers – mostly through books. When I got older, and a little less shy, I ventured beyond the books and would speak to others to find out a bit more. Still, there was no name. Let me dig a little deeper. After all, what is research if not trying to uncover what is unknown and make sense of it?  My inspiration really started with what I would observe inside and outside homes: what girls would do, what boys would do, what women would do, what men would do. Or more, what could be done, and what couldn’t be done. Still, I had no name. Only what I saw (or maybe also what I didn’t see). Over time, I found the words, the terms: that what could or couldn’t be done forms part of the unequal division of labour inside and outside homesOver time, I found the words, the terms: that what could or couldn’t be done forms part of the unequal division of labour inside and outside homes; that the activities that boys and girls, women and men are often told they can do feeds into our understanding of care work in homes, paid work outside the home, and also that sometimes these unpaid care activities are commodified, in the form of paid care work. So, what really inspired me to do research on gender - home: the home I lived in, the homes people I knew lived in, the homes people I didn’t know, but would observe, lived in; and over time the people who left their homes, who worked in homes, and those who lost homes. See an example of Zahrah’s research on gender and unpaid care work.   Elena Camilletti, Research Officer in Gender and Adolescence, UNICEF InnocentiElena Camilletti conducts research on the political economy of gender in social protection, unpaid care and domestic work, and gender norms, in low- and middle-income countries.My commitment to gender equality, and my interest in making that my career, has come gradually over time, but it goes back to my adolescence years. During that time, as it’s often the case for all adolescents, I started to become more aware of the world around me, the inequalities and injustices that I was seeing, in my family, in my community, in my country, and beyond, as I was growing up. When it was time to choose my University degree, and later on when applying for jobs, I knew I wanted to pursue a career where I could make a small, humble, contribution to the fight against those inequalities, those injustices. Gender inequalities specifically remain, in my opinion, the main obstacle to a world that’s just and caring, where equal opportunities exist for all genders.Gender inequalities specifically remain, in my opinion, the main obstacle to a world that’s just and caring, where equal opportunities exist for all genders. And research on gender inequalities is the first step to being able to make a difference: understanding their prevalence, for example the amount of time that women and girls spend on unpaid care and domestic work; investigating their root causes, for example unpacking the social and gender norms that drive gender inequalities; and identifying interventions that work to change those, sustainably. But ultimately what brought me to a career on gender equality and children’s rights, is the potential to use the evidence generated to raise awareness on these gender inequalities, and inform action, for current and future generations to benefit from. Something that I’m proud we at UNICEF Innocenti are committed to doing! See Elena’s research on adolescence and gender. 
How can formative assessment foster learning as schools reopen?
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How can formative assessment foster learning as schools reopen?

During COVID-19 related school closures, at least 463 million children had no access to remote learning (digital or TV/Radio). This crisis not only affects overall learning levels, but increases gaps, with the learning of children from disadvantaged households more deeply affected. Children from disadvantaged households miss learning opportunities because they lack access to remotely delivered instructional content. Children in poorer households are less likely to access computers and the internet, as well as TV, radio, or smartphones. For instance, 2.2 billion – or 2 in 3 children and young people aged 25 years or less – do not have internet access at home. In some contexts, disadvantaged parents are less engaged in their children’s learning. During school closings, children are more dependent on the academic support they receive from their parents, which some may not be able to provide. The pandemic may have, however, led parents of all backgrounds to provide more support. The pandemic has led to uncertainty and disruption. 39 billion in-school meals have been missed during school closures and an estimated 150 million more children were pushed into poverty. This economic crisis, coupled with children’s absence from school and reduced access to services offered through schools, may have increased children’s work. Children who work tend to also be disadvantaged in their learning in school. Even before COVID, the global “learning crisis” was well acknowledged. In many parts of the world, even after five years of schooling, a majority of children could not read a basic text fluently or do simple arithmetic. Pre-crisis, an estimated 53 per cent of children were in “learning poverty” – they could not understand a simple text by the age of 10. It is expected that COVID is leading to an additional 10 per cent of children in learning poverty Even within the same setting, prolonged school closures likely had differential impacts on children of different backgrounds. On top of existing inequalities, the pandemic likely worsened the situation, especially for children whose learning levels were already weak. The above-mentioned factors increase learning gaps, even within the same classroom, which means teachers will face students at different starting points when schools reopen. In response to this challenge and to accelerate the recovery process, it is important for teachers to understand the performance level of students when they return to the classroom in order to design lesson plans appropriate to the students’ current needs. The best tool to achieve this is formative assessment, which helps both teachers and students by giving them feedback about how individual learning is progressing. Formative assessment is a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student achievement. Prior to COVID-19, initiatives by UNICEF, Pratham (an innovative learning organization created to improve the quality of education in India) and others successfully used formative assessment: In a UNICEF supported program in Assam, India, Pratham worked in partnership with the government schools in Sonitpur district. In 2019, in 200 schools, over 60 days (an hour a day), simple assessment showed that the proportion of children who were able to at least read a simple paragraph increased from 17 percent to 28 percent for Grade 3 children. In Grade 5, the percentage of "readers" went from 45 per cent to 56 per cent.In Papua, Indonesia, UNICEF programming focused on improving early grade reading, using formative assessments to tailor teaching to children’s needs. This yielding a 12 per cent increase in reading comprehension and a 36 per cent decrease in the proportion of non-readers.In Ethiopia, UNICEF’s Assessment for Learning improved teachers’ knowledge of continuous assessment, leading them to reinvent their teaching: they subsequently spent more time actively assessing students, as opposed to lecturing, managing the classroom, or on tasks unrelated to learning. Classroom observations revealed better use of continuous assessment. Communications between teachers and parents increased. Finally, there was substantial positive impact on learning in mother tongue and Mathematics.In Afghanistan, a creative approach to formative assessment involved children using hand signals to answer the teacher’s questions. This is promising, particularly for resource-constrained contexts where other modalities of formative assessment may not be feasible.Students in Daikundi province of Afghanistan respond to their teacher’s question by using hand signals.All this accumulated experience is proving useful now that formative assessment is more necessary than ever. When schools reopen, these tools are essential for identifying children’s learning levels, and to design remediation, compensation, catch up and accelerated programmes accordingly. In Mongolia, after schools were closed from February to September 2020, affecting over 600,000 children, the first month of the new term focused on assessment of learning and remedial lessons and activities. UNICEF supported development and distribution of teacher guidelines for remedial classes covering all core subjects from pre-primary to upper secondary. Teachers used the first classes for formative assessments to gauge children’s learning, and remedial classes were then adapted to the children’s specific needs. Earlier, UNICEF found that most Mongolian children wanted catch-up opportunities. These classes responded to children’s feedback, aiming to reduce stress and anxiety, and letting students ease back into their learning routines. Teachers’ feedback indicated that remedial classes were much needed and helpful, but more time was needed to fully address gaps. Global map of school closures caused by COVID-19Source: https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse (February 2021).In Madagascar, national scale up of their summer catch-up programme is being adapted to kick off school reopening, incorporating formative assessment. A similar UNICEF-supported program in Uzbekistan combined remediation and long-term reorientation of instruction, with a focus on teaching at the level of students. It identified priority learning outcomes and success criteria; assessed learning loss and knowledge gaps, favouring methods enabling automated results calculations; and designed catch-up plans for students with the greatest learning gaps. The most experienced teachers led the individual or group catch up sessions. Programme Guidelines have been disseminated across the country. In two provinces, Sri Lanka modelled return-to-school remediation packages including formative assessment, curriculum adaptation, and support for training around individualized learning. Similarly, formative assessment tools developed in Bangladesh and Malawi will also support school reopenings. Much remains to be done. Now more than ever, policy makers must prioritize support to teachers to strengthen their capacity to effectively use assessment. That is why Pratham and UNICEF are currently exploring ways to collaborate in promoting the use of formative assessment in classrooms around the world. Stay tuned…
Why developing more measures of social and gender norms really matters for gender equality
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Why developing more measures of social and gender norms really matters for gender equality

Supriya Sthapit recently completed an internship at UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. In this blog, Supriya reflects on her work reviewing existing gender equality measures on social and gender norms, and how they can be used to strengthen research and evaluation studies, including on gender equality and social protection.In August 2020, I joined the Gender-Responsive and Age-Sensitive Social Protection (GRASSP) Team at UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti as a research intern. Working with my colleagues Elena Camilletti and Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, we mapped and reviewed available measures of gender equality outcomes, including ones on social and gender norms across the life course used or tested in research and evaluations in low- and middle-income countries.Why measure social and gender norms?In recent years, there has been growing interest in social and gender norms (Box 1 provides definitions), in part due to their role in shaping gender equality outcomes. Depending on how restrictive or progressive these norms are, they can either foster positive social transformation or hinder progress.From a social protection perspective, prevailing norms can influence the design, implementation, and outcomes of programmes (see ALIGN and GRASSP Think Pieces). For instance, if the design of conditional cash transfer programmes is informed by norms around family and care expecting women to comply with conditionalities, they may risk increasing their existing care and domestic work, especially if appropriate services and infrastructures are not in place.Efforts are underway globally to better understand social and gender norms and their influence on gender equality outcomes (see recent works by EMERGE on Gender Norms and Social Norms, OXFAM, and UNICEF). However, more methodological investments are needed to appropriately measure norms, which must be sensitive to different ages and stages in the life course. This research in GRASSP contributes to these global efforts.MethodologyUsing existing repositories of measures from EMERGE and Population Council (Gender and Power Metrics), as well as additional surveys and evaluations[1], the measures were mapped and assessed to identify whether they:align with the underlying theories on empowerment and normscover a range of thematic areas in the GRASSP conceptual framework, such as healthcover different life course stages from childhood to old age, andcover different countries and regions.while journal articles and research reports claim to measure norms, they in fact measure attitudesSome Preliminary FindingsMost of the existing measures of gender equality are on attitudes - only few focus on social and gender norms. So far, 419 measures of gender equality have been reviewed. Of these, only 31 were found to be on social and gender norms. This is significantly lower than 226 measures found on attitudes and perceptions. Upon further review, while journal articles and research reports claim to measure norms, they in fact measure attitudes. This is in line with findings from ALIGN on gender norms, and suggests the need for a more careful conceptualization and operationalization of the concepts of norms and attitudes.Only a few of the thirty-one measures of social and gender norms are reported to be reliable. Of the twenty-three measures on norms that could be tested for reliability, nine of these report at least one measure of reliability, such as internal consistency. Of those, only seven had Cronbach alphas of more than 0.80. For the remaining 14 measures, journal articles reviewed did not report information around their reliability. This calls for greater attention to validity and reliability, and rigor, by researchers when developing or employing measures in research and evaluations.Most of the thirty-one measures on social and gender norms focus on empirical expectations. Twenty-one of these measures on norms focus on empirical expectations (see Graph 1 below for the breakdown on the number of questionnaire items). For instance, a 2019 paper drawing on findings from GAGE Bangladesh and Ethiopia baseline surveys includes a measure on “Community-Level Restrictive Gender Norms”. This assesses empirical expectations related to gender and education by asking respondents to agree or disagree with statements such as "Adolescent girls in my community are more likely to be out of school than adolescent boys".A further 13 measures are on normative expectations. For example, a South Africa survey  contains a measure on "Norms about Partner Violence Scale", asking respondents to agree or disagree with the statement "Most people in community think a boy can assault a girl".Finally, two measures were found to assess what actions are taken if individuals transgress prevailing norms in their communities (sanctions). Additionally, one measure was found on the nature and influence of the reference group (who and how individuals who matter to a person influence his/her decisions).Most of the thirty-one measures on social and gender norms are on adulthood From a life-course perspective, 28 measures on norms focus on adulthood (18-59 years). This is in line with the number of measures of attitudes, which overwhelmingly focus on this stage of the life course. A further six measures focus on adolescence (10-17 years), and two measures focus on old age (60 onwards)[2]. No measures were found on early childhood (up to 5 years) and ‘middle’ childhood (5-9 years). Finally, across life course stages, most questionnaire items focused on empirical expectations, followed by normative expectations (see Graph 2).Although there are sufficient measures on adulthood which can be utilized to learn about their norms, understanding the prevalence of norms in other stages of the life course is equally crucial. As studies suggest that children start to learn about social and gender norms from an early age, and to internalize them, especially during their adolescence, future research could develop and test measures on norms to be administered to children and adolescents. These measures can help understand the distribution of norms in certain populations, evaluate the effectiveness of interventions on changing these norms, and assess if and how such norms moderate the effectiveness of interventions on other outcomes.What’s Next?In completing this work, a visual database and accompanying briefs will be published, presenting additional findings by geographical coverage and gender equality outcome areas. The study will also analyze measures specifically employed in research and evaluations of social protection programmes, to understand how gender equality concepts are operationalized. As GRASSP progresses, these ‘best practice’ measures will inform the development of survey instruments for primary research, and feed into the production of Monitoring and Evaluation guidelines. So, stay tuned!Supriya Sthapit is a public health undergraduate from Nepal who joined the UNICEF Innocenti as an intern in August 2020 to work with the GRASSP team. She has been working in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights for past four years. For further information on UNICEF Innocenti’s FCDO-funded GRASSP project, click here. [1] These include surveys from Young Lives, the Transfer Project, and measures include in J-PAL Women’s Economic Empowerment.[2] For the measures on social and gender norms across the life-course, the same measure may have been used across more than one stages of life course. Hence, when we add the number of measures on social and gender norms across each stage of life course, it does not equal to the total number of measures on social and gender norms.
Promising Futures: Vocational training programme in rural Bangladesh
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Promising Futures: Vocational training programme in rural Bangladesh

This is the second in a two-part blog series that draws from the authors’ field visit to Let Us Learn programme sites in Bangladesh in February 2020.  The first part can be found here. In a town in the rural Sumanganj District of Bangladesh, we met recent graduates of  Alternative Learning Pathways, a Let Us Learn-supported programme implemented in partnership with Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. The project targets adolescents aged 14 to 18 who have dropped out of school and are mostly unemployed or out-of-school. Alternative Learning Pathways provides them with vocational training in trades for which there is market demand in the community. In the Sumangani District, these trades included tailoring and dress making (the most popular), wood furniture design, IT support technician, mobile phone servicing, and beauty salon (for girls exclusively), amongst others (see Figure 1). Participants are trained for 6 months in their selected trade by a master craft person who owns a local business in the trade. The students train on-the-job with the master craft person four days per week and also receive classroom training twice a week, the latter of which includes theory, foundational literacy and numeracy skills, and life skills. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee supports graduates to find a job in their trade upon completion of the programme. More than 80% of the graduates are typically taken on as full-time employees by the person they trained with. The incomes vary by trade, with those working in a trade such as woodwork receiving a slightly higher salary than those working in tailoring.The authors with recent ALP graduates they met with at the marketplace alongside colleagues from UNICEF Bangladesh, government, and implementing partners.In a market carpentry shop, we meet two adolescent boys making wooden chairs. They tell us that they recently completed their ALP training in wood-working and are now employed by the master craft person they trained with. They reflect that one of the most enjoyable aspects of the programme was being able to make new friends. They also highlight that their master craft person was constantly worried about their well-being, phoning parents if participants did not show up for training or work.A number of female Alternative Learning Pathways graduates we also met are now working at a tailoring shop. Most of the adolescent girls who participate were previously confined to a household helping with daily chores. Once girls start bringing money to the household through the earnings they make from their work, parents realize that their daughters can contribute financially to the household and they see a benefit to delaying their marriage. “It saved us from [early] marriage”, the three female practicing tailors from the programme tell us. Having been hired by their master craft person after completing their training, they earn between 2,000 and 4,000 Taka per month ($23.6 and $47.2USD) according to their production rate. Given the high rates of poverty in these communities (half the population live under the poverty line), these wages go a long way. The three young tailors say they have each been able to save money in bank accounts as a result. Their parents like what they are doing and now say, “later on we will think about marriage,” suggesting that productive work coupled with an income can trump the belief that girls need to be married to be taken care of. Once girls start bringing money to the household from their work, parents realize their daughters can contribute financially and they see a benefit to delaying their marriage.Through Alternative Learning Pathways girls who were initially confined to the household are freer to participate in social spaces predominately occupied by men. The programme allows girls to gain the confidence they need to pursue their interests and to visualize a future with opportunities. Another group of  three girls in the marketplace completed their vocational training as IT support technicians and now work on such tasks as editing photos, typing in Bangla or English, sending emails, and converting videos for customers. Within 6 months they had learned it all, their master craft person explains, saying “they can run the shop.” The girls are excited to train in this field because it is the future. “We are going for ‘digital Bangladesh!’” Echoing the tailors we met earlier, one participant shares that this opportunity prevented her early marriage, adding that she wants to run her own computer shop and get a better job working with software in the future.  Two Alternative Learning Pathways trainees and their Master Craft Person (left) show us the products and tools they use as beauty salon practitioners.A recent impact evaluation by the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee found that the programme has a more significant benefit for girls in comparison to boys, which is why Alternative Learning Pathways aims for 60% of programme participants to be girls. One of the explanations behind this trend is that boys are still expected to be breadwinners in their households. While Alternative Learning Pathways does provide the programme participants with a small stipend (approximately 10 USD monthly), boys may be engaged in hazardous forms of labor that pays them a higher wage. The National Child Labor Survey from 2013 estimated that there were 3.4 million working children in the country between the ages of 5 to 17, with 1.2 million children performing hazardous labor. Cultural expectations of males being breadwinners brings about a strong pressure to have higher earning power, which means that boys are less likely, and less willing, to participate in training programmes that provide limited stipends. We end our visit meeting with additional programme graduates and master craft persons, who show us some of the tools they utilize in their trades; a beauty salon practitioner even offers to give us a makeover! While ALP has contributed to a high rate of job placements and productive livelihoods for graduates, the longer-term impact of the programme is yet to be investigated. COVID-19 has placed some of these gains in question, as many business owners and workers have struggled to make ends meet during the periods of lockdown. Fortunately, as of the writing of this blog, the master craft persons engaged by the programme have been able to restart their work and are ready to receive a new cohort of trainees once Let Us Learn programmes are able to proceed. Cirenia Chavez is a education research consultant with UNICEF Innocenti and Annika Rigole is a research monitoring and evaluation specialist with the education section in UNICEF’s headquarters Programme Division.
Bright Beginnings: Community-Based Early Childhood Education in Rural Bangladesh
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Bright Beginnings: Community-Based Early Childhood Education in Rural Bangladesh

The first in a two-part blog series on Let Us Learn programme site visits in Bangladesh in February 2020.According to the most recent census, around half of the population in Bangladesh’s Sunamganj District lives below the poverty line. Monsoon flooding in the district perennially cuts villages off from one another and makes access to schools difficult. We drive past bustling markets and vast stretches of rice fields, arriving in a sparsely populated village on the banks of the Shurma river. Welcomed by members of the community, we take off our shoes to pay a visit to a new community pre-primary education center established by Let Us Learn in partnership with Dhaka Ahsania Mission. Community-based pre-schools are a critical way to expand early child education in this region, where only 30% of children attend a government pre-primary programme. In the community we are visiting, the nearest government school with a pre-school is 2 kilometers away, too far for young children to walk, especially during monsoon season, when the rising river is a major risk factor considering that most children do not know how to swim. While the river rose high last year, it did not overflow, and the school we are visiting was able to stay open the whole season. With support from Let Us Learn, community members here contributed their own land, resources, and water and sanitation facilities to establish and maintain the pre-school so that young children can learn closer to home. This community joins a group of 150 Let Us Learn-supported communities which established such centers in late 2018, serving 4,500 children who completed pre-school in 2019 and another 4,500 children (52.5% girls) who enrolled in pre-primary in these centers for the current school year. On the walls a profusion of learning materials – numbers, colors, and pictures displayed, images of famous historical figures, including Mother Teresa and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first prime minister of Bangladesh.From Sunday to Thursday, 5-year old children in this community attend class for 2.5 hours each day at the center. Classes follow a daily learning structure using the government curriculum of one year pre-primary education; the government provides the centers with the same teaching and learning materials used in government schools. The room has four corners for learning that the children can freely choose to access during a part of the class day. These corners include reading and drawing, block and movement, creative imagination, and sand and water. One facilitator is responsible for instructing the children; she shares that she initially received 15 days of training on pedagogy for her role and participates in both monthly and annual refresher trainings. the nationwide percentage of children on track in early literacy and numeracy skills was close to 50% amongst those who had attended early childhood education and only 20% for children who had notBecause the center is close to their homes, parents are able to bring and pick up their children each day. Even with a nearby center, flooding during the monsoon season can still create challenges for children’s access, so UNICEF and Dhaka Ahsania Mission have helped the communities develop disaster risk reduction plans. Without this center, parents describe, the pre-primary aged children in the community “would all be out of school.” There is an abundance of evidence  showing that children who attend pre-primary education score higher on a School Readiness Index (see for example UNICEF, 2016) and tend to have better learning outcomes once they are in primary school. In Bangladesh in 2019, the nationwide percentage of children on track in early literacy and numeracy skills was close to 50% amongst those who had attended early childhood education and only 20% for children who had not (Figure 1). At this center, we learn that all children from the previous pre-primary cohort have mainstreamed into primary school - an amazing result! “So how do you track whether the children are learning?” we asked the pre-primary facilitator. Children’s learning progress, per the government curriculum, is assessed every 3 months across 15 indicators with grades A to C. Children who score a C receive special support; they are paired with a high-performing student, a technique for which there is evidence of positive results. In the context of COVID-19, with all schools and Let Us Learn centers being closed, the likelihood of enrolling in primary education for these children may be further jeopardized. During the pandemic closures, facilitators are continuing to engage the children and their parents with learning through 10-minute phone check-ins every two days. UNICEF is also currently working on a 3-month package so that these children can be prepared for primary school and to mitigate the risks that those children might not enroll in primary education. Cirenia Chavez is a education research consultant with UNICEF Innocenti and Annika Rigole is a research monitoring and evaluation specialist with the education section in UNICEF's headquarters Programme Division.  
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