Conflicts Disrupt Schooling Across Region
Conflicts Disrupt Schooling Across Region
This month, children will be back to school in many parts of the world. But in areas of conflict and some disaster zones, schools have either disappeared or closed their doors. In such circumstances, parents, teachers and relief workers strive to find a way to educate the children of displaced and threatened communities.
Nearly 30 million children around the world cannot go to school, either because of conflicts or natural disasters, according to a recent report by the UN Children’s Rights and Emergency Relief Organisation (UNICEF).
The South Kordofan-based Sudanese activist Nagwa Kanada said that when children of displaced families attend school, this raises the morale of the entire family. “We in Sudan have a terrible experience with the civil war between the north and the south (1983-2005) which deprived an entire generation of education and thus robbed many of social mobility,” she said.
Kanada pointed out that the local population in her area created what was dubbed a “tree school” to help the children. “The tree school means that children would gather around a tree with a teacher offering them basic principles,” she said.
Democracy First, a Sudanese activist group, pointed out that hundreds of thousands of children who live in Darfur, Njuba, and the southern Blue Nile haven’t had formal schooling for the last two years.
In South Sudan, the conflict between the Dinka supporters of President Salva Kiir and the Nuer supporters of former vice president Riek Machar is keeping 40,000 children out of school, and threatening their communities with famine.
In the Central African Republic (CAR), two-thirds of city schools were damaged in shelling or seized by rival armed groups, according to the website of the country’s education ministry. Fighting between Muslim and Christian communities in the landlocked CAR drove hundreds of thousands from their homes in the capital Bangui.
In Nigeria, the largest country in West Africa, schools are still closed in the areas controlled by the extremist group Boko Haram. Several elementary school teachers in Borno State were killed, and hundreds of girls were abducted by the militants. An international campaign called “Bring Back Our Girls” is now trying to rally international action against Boko Haram.
Nigerian activist Ahmad Belu says that despite government and international pressure, Boko Haram militants still terrify families, preventing them from sending girls to school.
“The fear extended to some villages in the far north of Cameroon,” Belu added. “You often see dozens of children crowded under a thatched roof that cannot give shade to more than 20 children, so as to take their lessons,” he remarked.
“Every child carries a wooden slate on which to write lessons and learn to spell. There are no notebooks or chairs, no schools in the literal sense. But the community doesn’t want to deprive its children of the most important means of human and social development,” Belu said.
In Somalia, clashes and attacks by Al-Shabab militants have prevented 40,000 children from attending school in the central parts of the south, according to the website educationafrica.com.
Somalia said it aims to have three million children back in school by next year 2015-2016, up from one million at present.
The Ebola virus in West Africa is also wreaking havoc on education. UNICEF says that schools in Sierra Leone and Liberia will remain closed till the end of the current year, leaving 3.5 million children without education. Guinea is also said to have suffered a near collapse of its educational and health systems.
In Syria, war conditions have prevented nearly three million children from going to school. Syrian activist Maan Hasbanai described the dire conditions in her country: “Half the inhabitants of the country are now refugees and displaced. Syria has lost thousands of schools and many families cannot afford the cost of education.”
Hasbani and other activists are trying to close the gap by offering help to children living in refugee camps. “We have community-based efforts to create schools in refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon,” she said.
On the website of the Syrian Centre for Social Studies there is a video clip of Jamal Ahmad Shehada, a Syrian man who created an elementary school for children in Al-Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Shehada, who is not a teacher himself, started this initiative because he wanted his children to continue their studies after the family fled its home near Daraa in southern Syria.
After she left Syria with her daughter, Farida Jahjah travelled to both Jordan and Egypt. “As a teacher, I know that social instability negatively affects children’s educational performance, which happened to a lot of Syrian students,” she said. “We went through a lot of trouble to establish a Syrian school in Cairo, first because of the lack of funds and then because of political differences among those who wanted to run the school.”
Jahjah said that the Egyptian Ministry of Education was reluctant to accredit the school.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which offers assistance to Palestinian refugees, reports that 100 schools were damaged in the latest Israeli offensive on Gaza, leaving nearly 100,000 children out of school.
Palestinian activist Ahmad Diyab said that the damage was so extensive that even schools that went on operating lacked any semblance of normalcy.
“It is impossible to rehabilitate these schools, considering the scarce resources. All we can do is remove the debris and get the classes ready to receive children, even without chairs,” he said.
In Iraq, the government said that 600,000 students would not be able to attend school this year. Most of those live in areas controlled by the Islamic State in Nineveh, Diyali, Al-Anbar, and Salah Al-Din.
Education in Iraq suffered drastically after the US-led invasion of 2003. Before Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the level of education in Iraq was among the highest in the region in terms of quality, accessibility, and attendance, according to a UNESCO report.
Yemeni activist Nabiha Al-Haydari says that hundreds of families in Sanaa have stopped sending their children to school since Huthi protestors started their sit-in in the capital.
After a particularly bloody incident near the cabinet offices in central Sanaa, even teachers stopped going to work. Transportation and commercial life has also been affected in the city.
As Yemeni schools prepare to receive six million children, observers are sceptical about the prospects of education.
“Many students will fail if the situation remains as it is,” said economic researcher Fadl Al-Qaatabi. “With the government fighting Huthi rebels in the north, Harak separatists in the south, and Al-Qaeda in between, the prospects for education are dim.”
The problems faced by schoolchildren are not confined to the Third World. Families in Ukraine are also having trouble keeping their children in education.
According to Russian and Ukrainian sources, 290 schools were fully or partially damaged in the eastern parts of the country, where Russian-backed separatists are battling the central government.