Education is a fundamental right. It is also among the first casualties of war and conflict, with schools closed down and children forced to abandon their studies when conflicts arise.
It is the case in Burkina Faso, where a number of schools have been shut down over jihadi attacks. More than 100 schools were closed in the country’s northern region, where jihadist have not only destroyed schools but threatened students to abandon their studies.
In some incidents, teachers and students have been killed by these insurgents, who are against western forms of education.
In Cameroon, students of a school in Kumba were abducted late Tuesday, two weeks after another group of students were returned just weeks after they were abducted in the neighbouring town of Bamenda in the country’s English-speaking region.
Cameroon is currently facing the Anglophone crisis, where the English speakers are seeking to separate from the French-speaking region over years-long discrimination. Both Kumba and Bamenda have been affected by the crisis, with many people fleeing the areas because of the conflict.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram has been targeting school children, kidnapping them as leverage against the government and to propagate their mission, which is against education and enlightenment. In 2014, it conducted one of its biggest kidnappings, capturing more than 200 girls from Chibok. The aim was to sell the girls in the market as slaves or force them into marriage at ages as low as 12.
In many other African countries, conflict results into massive displacement, meaning that education is interrupted and many children may never get to see a classroom again. In the Lake Chad region alone, the education of more than 3.5 million children has been affected.
These are just incidences to indicate that governments and private organisations need to step up their involvement in not only preventing conflict but also protecting the school-going children from these effects. The issue concerned the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which called for multi-thronged approach to deal with the crisis and conflict.
“Where there is insecurity, education can be both life-sustaining and life-saving. Education supports children and young people’s lifelong learning. It gives them the necessary skills to build a better future for themselves and their families, and to contribute to peaceful and prosperous communities. Yet too often overall humanitarian education funding is lacking in emergencies,” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes said in September.
UNICEF also calls for the inclusion of alternative educational opportunities to ensure children are able to access education.
In Kenya, alternative educational opportunities include mobile schools, which has been in use in the country’s pastoralist communities that move from one place to another in search of water and pasture for their animals. With this option, a teacher travels with the group and schedules classes according to the needs of the children and the changing weather.
Reconstruction of schools after conflict will also help in reviving education on the continent. It has worked in Angola and Sierra Leone, which included educational opportunities for older students who had missed out on school during the crises in the countries.
Whichever alternatives are to be put in place by multi-stakeholders in the educational sectors, it is vital that children in whatever region are able to access education. Education should be a priority as it is a doorway to empowerment, especially for a continent that has the youngest population in the world.