Burkina Faso schoolchildren pay double price in ongoing conflict | Education

Dakar, Senegal & Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso – In the small towns in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, which straddles the border with Mali and Niger, the long-delayed start of the school year finally came around last month.

Classes there – and in many other parts of the country – remained empty, even as children returned to school in the capital Ouagadougou on October 3.

One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear for her safety, said: “We have not resumed classes for the current school year because we cannot access our workplace, which is under lockdown. radiate. “We can’t get there by our own transport except by convoy or helicopter.”

According to the United Nations, across the West African country, about 4,300 schools, about a fifth of the total number of schools in the country, are currently closed amid the ongoing insecurity there.

The Burkinabé government estimates that around 700,000 children and 20,000 teachers have been affected, but many more could be cut from classrooms as the number of displaced people in the region has exceeded 1.6 million.

Students fleeing attacks by armed militants in the Sahel take part in a classroom in Dori, Burkina Faso
Students fleeing attacks by armed militants in the Sahel take part in a classroom in Dori, Burkina Faso November 24, 2020. [Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

‘A vicious cycle of violence’

Since 2015, Burkina Faso has been stuck in a war against numerous armed groups – some with links to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda – that have invaded from neighboring Mali via the Sahel, when the strip of land The semi-arid under the Sahara is known.

Schools across Mali and Niger – which have also been affected by insurgent activity – were also attacked as the conflict raged. But nowhere is the damage to the classroom more severe than in Burkina Faso, where more than 60 percent of all schools have closed in three countries, according to United Nations figures.

Across Burkina Faso and the world, alarm bells are ringing about the security challenges posed by hundreds of thousands of out-of-school children and the scale of the violation of children’s fundamental rights. education.

Yasmine Sherif, director of Education Cannot Wait, the UN’s global fund for education in crisis situations, told Al: “You don’t go to school, so if you’re a girl, you get married. early in childhood. Jazeera. “On the other hand, boys are not allowed to go to school… they are very easily forced into military service or persuaded to join armed groups. Because if you’re not educated, [if] you have nothing to do, a teenage boy is very inclined – against his will or against his will – to join armed groups. So there’s only this vicious cycle of violence going on.”

When they close, the social support that schools can sometimes provide also disappears.

Sherif added: “What you have is also a very vulnerable young population, because schools are not just about reading and writing. “[Schools provide] social and emotional skills, eating at school, water, sanitation, safety – you lose all of that.”

Schools are closed for a variety of reasons: at times, fighting between the army, militia, and armed groups is so rampant that students, parents, and teachers fear entering the classroom. At other times, teachers have faced threats from some of these groups.

Schools were also specifically targeted, experts say, being burned or blown up by the al-Qaeda-linked Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) organization because they are symbolic. state as well as secular and French education.

“Schools are often one of the first targets,” said Héni Nsaibia, senior researcher at the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a conflict research group. with town halls and mayor’s office. “They give specific targets for groups of warriors to attack as a way to put their footprints on the map. [to say]: ‘We’ve entered the area.’”

As of 2021, ACLED registered 144 schools specifically targeted in the attacks — 87 of them this year alone — almost all of which were conducted by JNIM.

And when schools closed, Nsaibia added, “the average age [of fighters] has really gone down over the years.”

Great demand, stretched resources

While the violence in Burkina Faso is often seen as a contagion from the conflict in neighboring Mali, it is deeply ingrained in the country, experts say. The eastern part of the country, along the border with Niger, has been hit hard.

As summed up in a February 2022 report by the Clingendael Institute, a research group based in the Netherlands, violent groups have “successfully rooted in eastern communities, exploiting grievances.” spread to the central state and local elites during decades of state abandonment and pervasive hierarchical socioeconomics. relationship.”

School closures have also sparked unrest of their own.

In the eastern town of Diapaga, a parent association organized a protest march in October calling for schools to be closed because teachers didn’t show up – out of concern for their safety or because they cut off contact with the city – reopened. Throughout November, schools in Diapaga continued to open and close sporadically depending on the changing security situation.

About 100,000 students miss school in the Eastern Region alone, and according to Pascal Lankoande, spokesman for the Comité engagé de réflexion pour la cause de l’Est, a local civil society group, only eight out of 27 Communes in the area have opened. their school.

In Djibo, a city in the Sahel region that has been besieged by JNIM since February, students took to the streets last month after schools failed to open on time.

While many children across Burkina Faso are no longer in school, some have moved to other schools elsewhere in the country, now facing the challenge of integrating hundreds of thousands of displaced children without Are there any other classes?

Last year, the national education ministry issued an appeal to principals to do everything possible to register and re-register internally displaced students. But for these institutions, many of which were already underfunded before the crisis, the growing student population further drains thin resources.

Education Cannot Wait says it has spent $23 million on emergency response measures since 2019, including training teachers, delivering school lessons via radio, covering tuition, providing provide supplementary courses and build thousands of classes.

But the size of the problem could be closer to $1 billion, Sheif calculates. “We are dealing with great needs and the resources need to match that,” she said.

A downward trajectory

Amid continued violence, two coups took place in Ouagadougou last year, with new military leaders each citing ongoing insecurity as the main driving factor behind the violence. surname.

However, both powers have so far been unable to end the seven-year conflict or send children back to school.

“The current trajectory is a very downward trajectory,” Nsaibia said. “Even before the coup in January, and even more now in [the] September [coup], the larger domestic effort to contain the insurgency or insurgency has been overwhelmed. This is only made possible by the latest coup.”

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