In Central and West Africa, longstanding conflicts among governments, militants, insurgents, and other actors have sadly penetrated schools in the region, with attacks on institutions more common and the displacement of children as an unfortunate consequence. According to a recent report from UNICEF, Education Under Threat in West and Central Africa, 1.91 million children and 44,000 teachers have lost access to education due to violence and insecurity issues in the region. UNICEF estimates that these numbers correspond to 9,272 schools that have been closed in the region as of June 2019, a threefold increase from the end of June 2017.
If that number (1.91 million) seems large, consider this: UNICEF estimates that a grand total of 40.6 million school-aged children are out of school, largely in part due to humanitarian need, lack of resources, or displacement due to insecurity and strife. Without access to their fundamental right to education, girls are particularly susceptible to gender-based violence and child marriage, both of which may result in early pregnancies. Boys face increased risk to be recruited into the ranks of militant and armed groups, further perpetuating the violence in the region.
In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, several organizations, including UNICEF, have launched initiatives to support communities. A Radio Education in Emergencies program offers broadcast lessons in literacy and numeracy. The contents are distributed over a local radio station or even USB key, allowing an alternative form to access education for children. Other communities have seen UNICEF-supported learning centers pop up in villages, staffed by local volunteers who are trained in basic teaching techniques and help facilitate a refuge for children to learn, play, and interact. Other initiatives include the provision of resources and teacher training – both in content and pedagogy as well as emergency preparedness and psychological support.
In crisis-affected communities and countries, access to education is typically the first service to be cut and the last to be restored. Despite admirable efforts by UNICEF and other organizations, children’s access to a basic education is a long-term problem which, if unaddressed, will only further instability in both the region and worldwide. Several governments have pledged their support for the Safe Schools Declaration, and with further advocacy, coordination, and resources, the children who most need assistance and education will receive this much needed support.
To donate to UNICEF education causes, please visit https://donate.unicefusa.org/page/contribute/support-unicefs-education-programs-16082.
Education Under Threat in West and Central Africa, UNICEF Child Alert, New York, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2019.