School closures in West and Central Africa triple since 2017, as education comes under fire across the region

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More than 1.9 million children have been forced out of school in West and Central Africa due to an upsurge in attacks and threats of violence against education across the region, UNICEF said today in a new report. As of June 2019, 9,272 schools were closed in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Niger and Nigeria as a result of insecurity – triple the number recorded at the end of 2017.

Education Under Threat in West and Central Africa warns that deliberate targeting of schools, students and teachers is sweeping across the region, denying children their right to learn, and leaving them – and their communities – in fear for their lives and futures.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Charlotte Petri Gornitzka and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Muzoon Almellehan travelled to Mali earlier this week to witness the impact of rising insecurity and violence on children’s education and safety.

“Deliberate attacks and unabating threats against education – the very foundation of peace and prosperity have cast a dark shadow on children, families, and communities across the region,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Charlotte Petri Gornitzka. “I visited a displacement camp in Mopti, central Mali, where I met young children at a UNICEF-supported safe learning space. It was evident to me how vital education is for them and for their families.”

Insecurity spreading across northwest and southwest Cameroon has left more than 4,400 schools forcibly closed in those areas of the country. More than 2,000 schools are closed in Burkina Faso, along with more than 900 in Mali, due to an increase in violence across both countries.

In the central Sahel, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have witnessed a six-fold increase in school closures due to attacks and threats of violence in just over two years, from 512 in April 2017 to 3,005 in June 2019. The four countries affected by crisis in the Lake Chad Basin – Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria – stayed at roughly the same high level, varying from 981 to 1,054, between the end of 2017 and June 2019.

“Through my meetings with the children and young people in Mali, I realized how life is so challenging for them, but I was also amazed by their resilience and determination, and the hope they had for the future”, said UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Muzoon Almellehan. “I also witnessed the real difference that education can have in children’s lives. Children in Mali and across the region are real heroes and deserve to have a safe environment so they can learn and thrive.”

UNICEF is working with education authorities and communities to support alternative learning opportunities including community learning centres, radio school programmes, technology for teaching and learning, and faith-based learning initiatives. UNICEF is also providing tools for teachers who work in dangerous locations, and psychosocial support and care for school children who bear the emotional scars of violence.

In Nigeria, basic education has been introduced in Quranic schools; In Burkina Faso and Cameroon, lessons and life-saving messages are broadcast in multiple languages for children to learn in groups with a trained lesson facilitator or in their homes. Radio lessons for children who have never been to school are now being piloted in Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Mali, UNICEF recently supported the setup of 169 community learning centres, which provide safe spaces for children to learn basic mathematics and reading. Facilitators and teachers were also provided with tablets for continued self-training. Additionally, children receive psycho-social support to help them overcome mental distress. In the majority of conflict-affected countries, teachers and other school personnel are trained to identify and mitigate risks in times of conflict, and simulations are run in schools to help prepare children and teachers in the event of an attack. Teachers are trained to prevent sexual and gender-based violence in schools. They also help and refer victims to services, either directly through basic counselling or by setting up referral pathways towards specialized mental health services.

Children in conflict-affected areas of West and Central Africa account for 1 in 4 children globally who need humanitarian support – including education and other services critical to learning. Yet, as of 12 August there is a funding gap of 72 per cent to provide programmes for these children.  

UNICEF and partners call on governments, armed forces, parties to conflict and the international community to take concerted action to stop attacks and threats against schools, students, teachers and other school personnel in West and Central Africa – and to support quality learning for every child in the region. The report outlines clear guidelines:

States must protect education, and endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration. Teaching and learning must be designed to build peace and support girls’ education. Authorities must build the capacity of education personnel. All children, including refugee, migrant and displaced children must be able to continue learning. Parents and communities must be essential partners in ensuring that children, especially girls, access quality education.   Donor governments must commit to multi-year, flexible funding to support education in emergencies and create linkages to longer-term education programming.

“With more than 40 million 6 to 14-year-old children missing out on their right to education in West and Central Africa, it is crucial that governments and their partners work to diversify available options for quality education,” said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa Marie-Pierre Poirier. “Culturally suitable models with innovative, inclusive and flexible approaches, which meet quality learning standards, can help reach many children, especially in situation of conflict.” 

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

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