The GEARR-ing Up for Success After School project started with the primary goal of ensuring more girls would transition from secondary school to vocational training or formal education. With low literacy and numeracy levels in Uganda, we aimed to increase these and raise performance in final secondary school exams. Part of this goal was to keep girls in school to complete the cycle of education from Secondary Senior 1 to Senior 4. This involved interventions that tackled a number of barriers which existed both at home and at school.
Our project was concerned with safeguarding and empowerment of girls, particularly within some of the hardest-to-reach, rural communities where girls’ education was not encouraged. We wanted to increase access for these girls and ensure that they were safe at school. We worked to train teachers in gender-sensitive approaches and eradicate corporal punishment and other forms of abuse.
Changing attitudes was a large focus and a real challenge. It is not easy to uproot cultural traditions that have been there for generations. We wanted to change the mindsets within communities, including parents, teachers and the students themselves. Girls often needed convincing that they could be as adept as boys, particularly in subjects such as maths and science. This takes time. Lack of self-esteem can be a huge hindrance to learning. We used training and empowerment sessions to build self-confidence and self-belief. We supported girls with disabilities – identifying those whose disabilities may not be immediately obvious, such as dyslexia. We worked with teachers to identify and introduce new tools to support these children.
Engaging parents and the wider community was also critical to success. Their buy-in to the project’s aims and interventions was crucial. Our work had an impact in changing mindsets about the value of girls’ education and even prevented some early marriages.
In terms of particularly successful elements, the programme to get girls who had dropped out, particularly young mothers, back into education worked well. The re-entry programme developed by PEAS has been recognised by the Ministry of Education and has influenced the recently released guidelines on the management of teenage pregnancies in schools across the country. These interventions have also encouraged older boys to go back to school, not just girls.
Life skills training and Girls’ Clubs were also particularly effective. Through the clubs we offered courses in bakery, art, weaving and business skills. These skills were especially valuable during the COVID-19 lockdown periods which was an especially challenging time. Girls were able to keep busy and generate income for themselves and their families. Radio lessons, learning materials and support at home were also effective in continuing girls’ learning during the pandemic.
The partnership with Teach A Man to Fish - NGO that provides a programme to guide and support teachers and students to plan and set up real school businesses - was very beneficial, particularly in terms of the design of the livelihood programme. We were able to use their existing materials, resources and training, and it saved on costs. Partnerships with local organisations were also productive in the areas of child protection and sexual and reproductive health. We have been working at the local government level on referrals of abuse and misconduct, increasing good relationships and the impact of the work within the communities.
Being part of the larger GEC programme was helpful. There was a richness of experience. It was useful to learn what other projects were doing. Additional knowledge and support were valuable in tackling issues. There was a significant level of learning on safeguarding, in particular. Visits were also useful in facilitating knowledge sharing and informal discussions. Auditors who were familiar with other projects could offer relevant advice and resources.
In terms of advice to other implementers, it is important that the design of any project ‘completes the loop’ and looks at the whole girl experience. This includes their experience at home, in school and within the community. The non-school related work – such as child protection and community action – needs to be incorporated from the outset. Monitoring is essential: follow the numbers and use the data for inform activities and planning.
Given more time, we might have explored the inclusion of even more practical skills to complement the academic curriculum. The performance gap will remain an issue and some interventions may need time to pilot and test.
We are proud of the impact we have had on many communities. We can see our results in the girls who are happy, on their way to school, with dreams of what they want to be. Actions not just slogans! When we visit classrooms, we have been amazed at the girls’ self-esteem and the confidence they are showing. They can say ‘no’ and they can say ‘yes’. They understand their own rights, and are able to understand and make decisions about what is right and what is wrong in their lives.
The project’s work has meant that girls have felt valued. Improving their environment and the infrastructure around them, such as sanitary facilities and lighting, has had an impact on their wellbeing and their ability to learn. And many of these structure and facilities, including the life skills activities and girl clubs, are there to stay.
We have learned never to leave a school or end a visit without listening to the children. This approach has changed our understanding of what children need and improved our own lives as a result.
Further resources from the GEARR-ing Up for Success After School project:
External evaluation: Endline report