Educating a girl child has its challenges, like making sure they have a uniform to wear that fits the standards of all the other girls in her school, making sure that she is groomed well enough not to be afraid to stand up in class to answer the question she’s sure she has the answer to; and also making sure that when her menstruation period comes, she has sanitary pads that will not embarrass her with the big round red dot that is sometimes seen on the back of a teen’s uniform skirt once every four weeks.
These challenges may seem absurd, but these are half of the reasons why so many girls do attend school, or go back to school when these challenges occur in the school year.
In some parts of Africa, these challenges are nipped in the bud before they become a major setback for the educational system. For example, in Kenya, girls are asked to cut their hair very low to avoid the embarrassment of not having money or a hairstylist to plait their hair for the week.
In Uganda, girls are given free sanitary pads in school when their menstruation is flowing and are even allowed to take two of them home so there will not be the excuse of not having a fresh one in the morning for the start of a new school day.
A school uniform is one of the biggest challenges in Africa that keeps children from going to school. Some parents are able to afford only one set of uniform, and the child is asked to wash it as soon as she comes home from school so that it will be dry by the next school day. But because of the cheap material that is used to sew the uniforms, the color begins to fade, the uniform starts to tear and in some instances, the zipper and buttons begin dropping off from too much washing. Before a school semester ends, a child is powerless, with no uniform to continue into the second semester. They end up either going to school whenever they can or dropping out completely.
The question posed by most community members is: How can the Liberian education sector help this situation when the fabric is not free, but is the reason for more than a 3rd of the absences in schools?
“My daughter is always fortunate to go to school for first semester, but by the time second semester comes around, her uniform is spoiled. So we make her stay home until we can patch up the tear areas, zipper and so on. But most often the school sends her home whenever we try to make her uniform look right. So when that happens, we keep her home. She is now 15 in 5th grade,” stated Ms. Cecilia of Unification Town.
Some community members have suggested that government schools should provide a pair of uniforms for each child that gets enrolled, something that is very relevant to making sure students don’t drop out.
“This new school year should have stipulations and accommodations like all girls should cut their hair low so they don’t have to stay home because their hair is too short to plait or they can’t afford the L$50 to plait it. The government should look into this uniform problem since they are trying to figure out why so many girls drop out of school before the year ends. These are two of the three major reasons and government needs to address them,” she added.