Unicef to help get more kids in school

By David Slettevold - Staff Reporter

The world's governments are working together to get children around the globe in schools, a United Nations worker said here on Monday last week.

During Highline's International Education Week, Eric Sype shared plans and statistics about foreign education issues and how groups are fixing them.

He currently works for UNICEF USA, a non-profit non-governmental organization which supports the United Nations Children's Fund that gives humanitarian aid and education resources to children across the world.

Sype ticked off UNICEF's accomplishments.

"We've saved more children's lives than any organization," he said. "We want children to survive. And not just survive, but thrive."

UNICEF supports 155 countries and vaccinates 45 percent of the world's children, Sype said.

But, he said, UNICEF needs to do more than just help local people. Laws and rules also need to be changed in some nations.

"In many places, there are school fees … that are very prohibitive. Abolition of school fees is very important," he said.

And sometimes, new buildings need to be added in to make a school permanent.

"Another huge impediment for children is that there is a school where no children are, or it's too far away," he said.

Due to problems such as these, 264 million children and adolescents worldwide are not in school, he said.

In West Africa, 13 million children are not in school because of conflict and war. War has also claimed 9,000 schools in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.

UNICEF also reports that 22 percent of students in sub-Saharan Africa don't go to class, and more than 40 percent of girls in West and Central Africa aren't even enrolled as students.

Sype said that sometimes families have reasons to not send their children to school, especially if there's a lot of work to do at home.

"Maybe the family doesn't deem education necessary," he said.

Regardless, Sype said that it's important to realize that each of these people are individuals.

"The numbers can be overwhelming," he said, but "the numbers are children. The numbers are faces. The numbers are real people … with real stories."

Sype said conflict can seriously damage these children.

"Generally societies are uprooted, or they stay [home] and society is destroyed around them," he said.

Sype said UNICEF sees this damage, and it is working to help children through it.

"UNICEF really looks at education as an investment," he said. "We know that the further you go in education, the more opportunities you have."

He said UNICEF gave supplies to 15.7 million children in 2016, as well as built new schools that are safe inside and out.

When faced with the challenge of buildng schools in Madagascar, the world's fifth most cyclone-prone nation, he said UNICEF made buildings that double as storm shelters.

"These schools go from being schools to community safe havens in a storm," he said.

Sype said schools also need to be safe havens where the student can learn without coming under harm.

"Schools should be safe havens, schools should be places without violence, especially gender-based violence," he said.

Lastly, Sype said UNICEF has been working closely with teachers to train them in their subjects and how to manage a classroom.

"The majority of teachers in Madagascar have little to zero training," he said. "It is important to invest in teachers to give back to the community."

And if Highline students want to help UNICEF, he said that's possible too.

"You could go into psychology and help with children in affected areas. You could go into education and become a teacher in other countries," Sype said. "The main thing is to have an international focus, and know international relations."

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