Hadizatou Walett Ahmid dropped out of school in sixth grade.
It started with skipping class, a practice common among her peers. Hadizatou stopped attending school altogether in Grade 6 (the last year of primary education in Mali).
The 13-year-old lives in the Sosso Koïra neighbourhood in Gao, which is located on the River Niger around 320 kilometres east-southeast of Timbuktu.
One day, when she was in Gao’s Djidara neighbourhood, she stumbled across a listening session for radio programs aired by ORTM Gao. The episodes were broadcast as part of the DÉFI project, which aims to reduce barriers to girls’ education in Mali.
“These episodes taught me about the importance of a girl going to school and finishing her studies,” Hadizatou says. “After losing a year of school, I realized that I could resume my schooling.”
Hadizatou’s parents petitioned the school authorities to allow their daughter to return to school. They consented. Hadizatou repeated sixth grade and is currently in Grade 7.
“From now on, I’m determined to continue my studies forever,” she says.
Barriers to girls’ education in Mali
Hadizatou is not the only Malian girl to struggle with staying in school. In Mali, girls are at the highest risk of dropping out of school or not attending in the first place. Only 73.8 per cent of girls are enrolled in primary education, compared to 85.8 per cent of boys. By secondary school, the enrollment rate drops to 15 per cent for girls and 21 per cent for boys.
Education in Mali is divided into primary education (which lasts six years) and secondary education, which has two cycles of three years each. Schooling is free and compulsory between ages seven and 16, or until the end of Grade 9. Secondary schools are mostly limited to urban areas and are often private schools.
There are other barriers to children’s attendance for all levels of schooling, including the high cost of school supplies and uniforms, children’s household responsibilities, and the closure or destruction of schools as a result of the conflict in Mali. Girls face additional barriers to attending school, including gender-based violence, early forced marriage and attitudes about girls’ education.
Radio programs encourage girls to stay in school
Hadizatou is not the only girl who’s been helped by the radio programs.
Seguerema Kassogué is a member of the Comité de Gestion Scolaire (School Management Committee) for the school in the village of Moh Dah in Wadouba commune in central Mali. In Mali, school management committees run schools on behalf of the town administration, a role that includes the registration and monitoring of students.
Seguerema says that parents are not always able to manage the factors that are influencing students — particularly girls — to abandon school. The episodes for the DÉFI project on Kamba FM have helped the School Management Committee in its work and are making a difference when it comes to school dropouts.
“Some students had abandoned school, but after the episodes about education, some of those students negotiated to return to school,” she says. “The return of these dropouts allowed us to retain certain students that were on the point of dropping out.”
The impact of the radio programs extends beyond the school grounds into the community.
Nema Poudiougo is a representative from CAFO (Coordination of Women’s Associations and Women’s Non-governmental Organizations) in Sangha commune, which is also covered by Kamba FM. She says that her organization has seen fathers’ attitudes towards their daughters’ education change, parents paying more attention to their children’s homework and even teachers changing their behaviour after listeners called out harmful practices on air.
Women in the community are also discussing the DÉFI episodes in public gathering places.
“That’s a good thing and amplifies the impact of the episodes in the community,” Nema says.
Besides Farm Radio International-supported interactive radio programs at eight radio stations, the DÉFI project includes vocational training, classes for girls with learning difficulties, and direct support to vulnerable families and communities affected by conflict. The project is funded by Global Affairs Canada and led by Alinea International.
Helping teens navigate the adolescent crisis to achieve a better future
Maimouna Diakité hosted some of the episodes for the DÉFI project for ORTM Mopti. She’s an officer with SCOFI (the Girls’ Schooling Project) with the Centre d’Animation Pédagogique (CAP or Centre for Pedagogical Activities) in Mopti in central Mali. In Mali, a CAP is a state structure that trains teachers, organizes exams and regulates the activities of lower administrative levels.
On air, Maimouna gave advice to parents about navigating what she calls “the adolescent crisis” — that awkward period for both parents and teens when children are transitioning from childhood to adulthood. The connection between adolescence and dropping out of school is clear: teenagers are developing their identities and independence and may be more influenced by their peers than by their parents.
“Parents need to know that the adolescent crisis is temporary and need to pay attention. They need to collaborate with their children so that the crisis doesn’t affect them, particularly girls,” Maimouna says.
“Through my episodes, listeners understood the importance of girls’ schooling and keeping girls in school and how to manage a teenager.”
Maimouna told our team about a case in which a woman asked her to give advice to her daughter, who was going through a crisis. The girl was on the verge of dropping out of school but, with Maimouna’s advice, she decided to continue her education. Maimouna’s intervention was so transformative that the girl expressed a desire to become like Maimouna in the future, advising other girls in a similar situation.
These kinds of ripple effects from radio programs ensure that the project will continue having an impact well into the future.
And about Hadizatou whose story we shared at the beginning of this blog post? She has friends who are still reluctant to continue their schooling, but she’s hopeful about the impact of the radio programs in changing their minds. And she’ll be encouraging her friends right along with the radio station.
“I promise to succeed in my studies. From now on, I commit to raising awareness among my peers about the importance of school,” she vows.
About the project
The five-year “Défi education des filles au Mali” (DÉFI) project aims to improve access to and quality of education for girls in conflict-affected communities across Mali. Farm Radio International is working in partnership with Alinea International to reduce barriers to girls’ education thanks to funding from the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.