More than two million children are unable to return to school owing to ongoing security risks across the West and Central African region. An estimated 9,288 schools are closed and 44,000 teachers[i] will not be able to reach their classrooms, while schools are starting again.
In Burkina Faso, one of the affected countries, the rapid deterioration of the security situation has led to the closure of more than 2,024[ii] schools now, compared to 1,284 in March of this year. Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Chad, DRC, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria are facing similar challenges.
Across the region, and particularly in the central Sahel, education is increasingly targeted: schools are being attacked by armed groups, burned or even occupied for military purposes or by internally displaced people. Children and teachers are being attacked on the way to school and at school.
Humanitarian operations are confronted with conflicts and insecurity, presenting challenges in providing much needed support to communities who face increasing violations.
With their education interrupted, children risk dropping out of school and being exposed to protection concerns such as recruitment into armed groups, violence, abuse, and exploitation. These risks are further exacerbated for young girls, in times of crisis.
Studies conducted by Save the Children in the region show that even during crisis situations, the main priority for children is to return to school.
"I was afraid of losing my mother because I already had no father. The whole village was destroyed; I went to the village school which was also destroyed. When we came to this village, the principal of the school informed my uncle that I could continue school. This was good news because I love school and it is important to have an education. I have new friends with whom I have a good time. Later I want to become a minister." Ibrahim*, 12 years old, Mali.
Last month Save the Children published its Education Against the Odds (see attachment) report which found children in humanitarian emergencies overwhelmingly identify education as their top priority at times of crisis.
The report's surprising findings reveal children are more than twice as likely to rank going to school as their top concern, compared to immediate needs like food, water, shelter or money.
Most of these countries, affected by humanitarian crises, already have low levels of development and fragile education systems that are unable to adapt in times of crisis. Solutions are urgently needed to ensure children can continue their learning, to prevent us losing another generation.
"Violent internal conflicts, insecurity, natural disasters, epidemics such as Ebola, are troubles that we regularly hear about. But do we ask ourselves what the consequences are for children and young people in the areas affected by these multiple crises?", says Mr Philippe Adapoe Regional, Director of Save the Children for West and Central Africa.
Save the Children is calling for:
Governments, non-governmental and humanitarian organizations to find ways to ensure children can enjoy their right to education even in times of crisis. Preparedness measures must be integrated to reduce the risks of reduction;
Governments to secure schools through the implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration and its guidelines[iii] and ensure the availability and protection of teachers even in rural and insecure areas;
The training of teachers to integrate psychosocial support techniques into their teaching to help children overcome shocks and stress of the crisis.
The international community needs to increase funding for education in the humanitarian response. So far, of the $222M[iv] required, only $61M was allocated to education in emergencies in the region, or 27.52%.
*Name changed for privacy reasons