Final reflections from the Building Girls to Live, Learn, Laugh project in Uganda

18 April 2024 by Viva and CRANE

When we started working together on the Girls’ Education Challenge, our priority was to reach the girls who had fallen through the cracks of an education system that was not serving the most marginalised. To be able to do that we soon realised we had to work also to change attitudes towards girls’ education at community and household levels. We wanted our project to be innovative. We didn’t want it to be only about running schools or paying school fees. We wanted to provide quality education to the most marginalised girls through a solid network of schools, communities and local organisations.

The barriers that girls were facing, such as gender and social norms around girls’ education, could only be tackled by working closely with parents, community leaders and government officials. Changing parents’ attitudes was particularly challenging. The initial expectations from parents were that the project would help cover school fees and provide learning materials for all girls involved in the project. As we followed a targeted approach based on the level of marginalisation, we didn’t support all girls in the same way. It took some time and effort to communicate this to the parents.


We were ambitious and determined. What we achieved was beyond our expectations – in school and beyond. It was great to see the teachers we trained developing confidence in their capacities. Their teaching was engaging, creative and participatory. Children started enjoying learning and being in school. Teachers were also given feedback on their teaching practice. The feedback wasn’t about being blaming or accusing teachers but about identifying their teaching needs and looking at how their teaching practice could improve further.

We brought on board community members as mentors who would reach out to the communities, identify the girls who were out of school, work with parents to get them to understand the value of educating their girls.

We realised it was important to give girls individual attention. Each girl had a different story and had been out of school for different reasons, like abuse, menstruation or pregnancy. It was great to see girls developing their confidence and actively participating in the classroom, when they were initially submissive and insecure. These are the successes that you cannot measure easily but that keep you going when things are difficult.

We are particularly proud of the work we did around the identification of girls’ learning needs. This started when we realised that although teachers were trained to support girls with special needs, they were not trained on how to identify those girls. So, we looked across the country and came up with 21 conditions that were prevalent across children with special needs. Each condition would have 10 behaviours that anybody could identify and that would signal that a child would need additional support.

We then worked closely with the Ministry of Education at different levels, and we pointed out how important it was for teachers, parents and caregivers to be able to engage in such a process of identification of learning needs. We have been very proud to see the Ministry of Education adopting our approach at national level and the identification of learning needs becoming a tool used across the education system.

Across the lifetime of the project, we worked closely with the Ugandan government on various fronts. We did that also to make sure that what was valuable to the girls and communities we supported would last beyond the lifetime of the project. We organised monitoring visits and we regularly shared with lessons about what worked and what didn’t with local government officials.

Also, for years we've been offering capacity building and training – called QIS, that is Quality Improvement System – to small and medium sized organisations and this has had such an impact on the schools that it was picked up by the government.

Our work on safeguarding had huge impact. We worked with the public prosecution service and trained officials on some child psychology to ensure girls who submitted a case were treated kindly and respectfully. We also introduced the use of an anatomical doll that the girl could use to explain what she had experienced. We were surprised that following these interventions the conviction rate increased from 51% to 80% (1).


This is not to say that the programme did not face challenges. COVID-19 was a major challenge for the project and for the girls we supported. Uganda had the longest school closure in the world at around 82 weeks. However, because of our efforts to provide virtual tutoring and to deliver learning materials as soon as was allowed, learning results rocketed. We worked hard on getting girls back to school, and 97% of girls reported back after COVID-19 lockdown of schools ended.

Lessons learned

Persistent quality teacher training and mentoring were critical as was the ongoing engagement with headteachers and government officials. Building trust across these stakeholders is key to create a framework that sustains success. It is about engaging parents, teachers, headteachers and government officials deliberately and persistently and encouraging them that things can be done differently.

Also, we didn't know how important the mentors would be. So, one of our recommendations is to engage with local mentors from the start. Another recommendation is to set up a strong safeguarding response from the start. Equally, it is important to identify girls’ individual goals and needs and to offer individualised learning from the start.

Legacies and unexpected outcomes

The most surprising result we had was after the COVID-19 pandemic when our midline evaluation reported that girls had higher learning outcomes when they weren’t in school and were supported individually by the learning support teachers who would reach out to the girls via text messages or phone calls. This demonstrates how important it is to give individual attention and to invest in each girl.

Perhaps one of the most valuable legacies of the project was getting young mothers back into school. These girls are at normally excluded from the education system. We made an intentional effort to reach those girls and keep them in school. If we look at the girls we supported, we can say that their lives have been transformed and they're on a very different journey then they were on before we came in. Many of them are determined to become changemakers in their society. We are also delighted that only 2% of our girls became pregnant during the 2 years of school closures. This compares to a rate of 25% nationwide.

This experience taught us about being patient and resilient, and that getting results take time, that seeing a girl succeed takes time. We learned that determination pays off and that you cannot do it alone. You need different actors playing different roles and working towards achieving the same goal.


(1) For more information