The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports education in war-torn Mali is in a state of crisis and in urgent need of international support to repair the damaged education system and get children back to school.
International donors respond quickly to emergencies with money for food, water, health care and other basic needs. But they tend to give little for education, which is low on their list of priorities.
The U.N. children's fund considers this misplaced and wrong on many levels. UNICEF representative in Mali, Lucia Elmi said education is important in any emergency because it saves lives.
She told VOA schools provide a protective environment for children, providing them with school meals, medical checkups and psycho-social support to help them deal with traumatic experiences
"It gives children a sense of normalcy — children who have been displaced, who have been under attack," she said. "In the school and in learning and also playing with other children and going through the normal educational routine is really the best way to save lives."
UNICEF reports 750 schools have been closed in central and northern Mali because of security concerns, preventing one-quarter of a million children from getting an education. This is on top of the one million children who regularly do not attend school because of poverty, chronic lack of infrastructure and teachers. Elmi said UNICEF is employing innovative methods to get children back to school.
"We are reaching children where children are," she said. "We are using radio. We are using solar powered tablets with pre-recorded material, pre-recorded lessons. We are really trying to reach them, including in areas where access is difficult because of the conflict."
Elmi said it is important to be flexible about school hours and locations because many children work, many are nomadic and on the move with their families. She said school curricula also have to be tailored to the needs, cultural and religious beliefs of the different communities.
School is about to close in Mali. It will re-open in October. The UNICEF representative is appealing to donors to respond generously to its $22 million appeal, which is only six percent funded. She said the money will make it possible for many children deprived of an education to go back to school.