As the HIV epidemic continues to unfold across the southern African region, its negative impacts at the individual, family and community levels intensify. One of the most visible signs of this devastation is the endlessly swelling tide of orphans and other children made vulnerable, or made more vulnerable, by the direct and indirect effects of HIV on their households. All countries in southern Africa are struggling to address the needs of the hundreds of thousands of children and adolescents whose life circumstances have been fundamentally destabilized in this way.

Former Education Programme Manager

March 5th, 2013

As the HIV epidemic continues to unfold across the southern African region, its negative impacts at the individual, family and community levels intensify. One of the most visible signs of this devastation is the endlessly swelling tide of orphans and other children made vulnerable, or made more vulnerable, by the direct and indirect effects of HIV on their households. All countries in southern Africa are struggling to address the needs of the hundreds of thousands of children and adolescents whose life circumstances have been fundamentally destabilized in this way.

Under normal circumstances, most children and adolescents spend the better part of their developmental years attending school within a national, formalised education system. Indeed progress across the region in achieving basic education for all children has made attending school a tangible and claimable right and a cornerstone of every child’s health and development. These efforts have also included additional interventions to achieve equity in access to education for children facing various forms of disadvantage and inequality. Instituting free primary education, providing bursaries, school feeding programmes, and the provision of practical support (in the form of school uniforms, books, stationery, toiletries for personal hygiene, and funds for transport, among others) are some of the more predominant efforts to achieve equity across southern African.

Schools and other educational services and institutions have always been aware of children or adolescents in their midst struggling to stay in school due to difficult or even catastrophic life circumstances. There have been many individual and institutional efforts to assist these learners. What is unprecedented now is the sheer scale of this need within southern Africa. One dilemma amongst many has become painfully prominent as a result of this situation. It is the realisation that, on the one hand, education and skills development offers multi-faceted benefits for the health and social development of these children, but, on the other hand, the urgent and multiple needs of many of these children is beyond what teachers, schools, even educational systems themselves can provide.

The southern African region has reached a critical stage where the gap between what these vulnerable children and adolescents need to claim their entitlement to basic education and skills development is growing at a much faster pace than both governmental and non-governmental interveners at local, national, regional and global levels can effectively address. Many children and adolescents remain beyond the scope of these efforts and, to the extent that they are able to participate in educational programmes, do so amidst the daily challenges of hunger, poverty, illness, disability, social and cultural discrimination, family disintegration from disease and death, neglect, exploitation, and physical and sexual abuse.

While it is clear that the descent of more and more of the region’s children into a variety of moderate to extreme states of vulnerability is far beyond what the education sector alone can address, the sector has firmly recognized the critical role it can play amongst the broader multi-sectoral efforts that are currently underway. UNICEF, UNESCO and UNAIDS have been among the regional multi-lateral agitators for more recognition and support for what the education sector can do to mitigate the compounding, negative impacts of the many forms of vulnerability affecting a substantial portion of the region’s children.

The Open Society Foundations Education Support Program (OSF ESP) and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) have also been part of these efforts. What has emerged within this work is the realisation that too many interventions within the education sector to assist vulnerable children have not been adequately documented nor have they been evaluated or studied rigorously enough to be certain that positive, lasting benefits accrue to children from the perspective of their own individual well-being. Moreover, where a best-practice approach has been substantiated, the proliferation of this knowledge has been limited along with the frequency of replication across similar settings.

As part of their contribution to improving knowledge about the effectiveness of school-based intervention to assist vulnerable children, OSF ESP and OSISA have collaborated on an initiative to study such interventions in Lesotho and Swaziland, two countries in the region with the highest burden of HIV and AIDS. This report is the culmination of the multi-stage project to study and document the range of efforts within these countries to assist children and adolescents through schools. It presents detailed findings regarding children and vulnerability within these two countries and the impact of these on access to, and performance and retention in, both formal and non-formal educational settings. It also documents two interventions in each country aimed at providing comprehensive care and support to children and adolescents struggling in the face of multiple barriers and challenges to participate in and complete educational and skills development programmes. Emanating from a discussion of the findings, the report proposes recommendations on how education-centred approaches for the care and support of children and adolescents might be strengthened at the local, national and regional levels.

1.0.         Rationale for the study

In 2007, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), in collaboration with the Open Society Foundations Education Support Program (OSI ESP), began a discussion on the role of school-based models of care and support as a means to address the region’s growing challenge to ensure the rights and entitlements to education of orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC). Based on the outcomes of a conference held in October 2007, OSISA and its partners developed a research programme to document existing interventions within the education sector to provide support to OVC in Swaziland and Lesotho.  

In Phase I of the programme, a literature review was completed and four case studies of programmes in Swaziland were developed. It was envisaged that the next phase in the programme would be an in-depth impact assessment of two of the case studies. The assessment was to lead to the identification of best-practice approaches, which would, in turn, inform recommendations on strengthening and expanding the role of the education sector in providing care and support for OVC. In June 2009, Phase I was completed in draft form, focusing exclusively on Swaziland. A decision was subsequently made to revise and extend the Phase I deliverables to include data and examples from Lesotho before proceeding to Phase II. The Phase I deliverables were completed in mid-2011. This report represents the final, consolidated deliverable for the research and documentation components of the project.

1.1.         Study design and methodology

The joint OSF and OSISA project found, even in its early stages, that there appeared to be no systematic or best-practice approach among the different efforts to provide comprehensive support for OVC within schools across southern Africa, and, more particularly, within Lesotho and Swaziland. However, there did seem to be individual interventions with some degree of success and some tangible evidence of positive impact. Why these very individualised and context-specific approaches seem to predominate, at least in Lesotho and Swaziland, is not clearly understood. Each has its strengths and weakness from a number of perspectives, including from the point of view of the children they involve. Given evidence of a growing population of children likely to be able to benefit from school-based interventions, it is becoming more and more critical to understand, within a context of high need and limited capacity, what it is about these local level, collective efforts that helps them form; what enables them to meet the needs of the children they support; and, what enables them to continue within such an unstable context.

1.1.1.     Study purpose and research questions

The propose of the study was to probe in greater depth, and within the more systematic frame of a research methodology, the dynamics of two current initiatives aiming to provide support to vulnerable children in both Lesotho and Swaziland. Each of the four interventions had within their programme designs a main emphasis on enabling school enrolment and sustaining school attendance. At the same time, the interventions looked to support the more comprehensive needs of vulnerable children and, by doing so, to enhance their overall life situation. The research findings from these case studies were intended to contribute to both national and regional knowledge about ‘what works’ in complex, heavily burdened, and resources-limited settings.

The main research questions guiding the study were:

a)    What are the range and type of resources (human, financial, physical or spiritual) that are involved in these interventions?

b)    What is the return or the ‘value’ that is derived from this use of resources?

c)     How is that ‘value’ defined and measured? To what extent is it child-centred or child-focussed?

d)    What facilitates coordinated interventions and what inhibits this kind of collaboration?

e)    What defines ‘impact’ and how can this be measured in order to capture the comprehensive effects on child well-being?

f)     What are the ingredients of sustainability?

g)    What has potential to be replicated? Why, or why not?

h)    What guidance can the experience of these interventions provide for the on-going regional effort to engage, to capacitate and to resource the education sector to play a more effective and comprehensive role in safeguarding the welfare of vulnerable children?

1.1.2.     Study design

The assessment of the interventions used a case study design which allows for in-depth examination of projects and their impacts from multiple data sources and multiple perspectives (Yin 1994).

1.1.3.     Case selection process

Two interventions were selected from each country based on preliminary information captured during the rapid assessment stage of the project. Considerations involved in the selection of cases included rural or urban, primary school or secondary school, school-based or community-based. Practical issues of availability of information, and accessibility of key informants, particularly current and former children as participants in these interventions, also influenced the final selection.

Based on this approach, the two interventions chosen from Lesotho were the Lesotho Girl Guides Association’s ‘Children in the Street’ project, implemented in partnership with the Boitelo Primary School in Maseru; and the Nthabiseng Area Development Programme (ADP) intervention by World Vision Lesotho in rural regions of Butha-Buthe District. For Swaziland, the two interventions chosen were the Moya Centre, operating in the Manzini region; and, the Bantwana Integrated Schools Programme, located in the Lubombo region and supported by World Education Incorporated, a US-based international non-governmental organisation (NGO).

1.1.4.     Identification of key informants and other data sources

The data needed to support the multi-dimensional nature of case study analysis was collected for each intervention from a broad range of sources. These included individuals such as current and former learners or participants, project staff, teachers, administrators, local and district level officials, national level counterparts, chiefs, church leaders and community members. Participant selection followed an informant-driven sampling approach. Children and adolescents were selected through both project and school-based staff. The purpose of the study was explained to the respective groups by the researchers in the presence of the staff. An invitation to voluntarily participate in a focus group discussion was subsequently offered. Focus groups were conducted according to a focus group guide. The importance of informed consent was explained verbally to the group and prospective participants were asked to remain if they agreed to join the discussion. No names or other identifying information was collected from focus group participants.

Additional data sources were identified through the key informant interviews and the focus group discussions. These included various types of documents such as project reports, project proposals, aggregated child status measures, evaluation reports or impact assessments, and, to a limited extent, direct observation. The case studies for Swaziland relied mainly on data collected in 2008 and 2009 during site visits by an OSISA-engaged consultant. To complete the studies, no additional primary data was collected. However, a number of secondary sources were used to augment each case description. For all cases, the availability of quantitative information to establish longitudinal trends was a challenge and mostly not available within the scope of the data collection process.

1.1.5.     Study administration

The study was conducted on behalf of OSISA by Armstrong Associates Consulting based in Maseru, Lesotho. The study was carried out between June 2011 and January 2012.

About the author(s)

Wongani Grace Nkhoma is the Education Programme Manager. Wongani has over 10 years experience working in the development sector. Before joining OSISA, Wongani worked with ActionAid International - Malawi as Regional Manager and Education Policy Coordinator


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