Addressing the urgency of education in emergencies
When people think about the humanitarian challenge posed by the violence in the northeast, we do not often think about education, but we should.According to the Humanitarian Response Plan, there are about 2.9 million children in the country’s northeast affected by conflict in some way. Around 600 schools have been destroyed partially or completely. The scale of the challenge is dizzying for even the most competent of governments, and coordination and achieving scale is key.
It probably does not help that the region already had its work cut out in terms of education even before the insurgency; approximately 52% of children in northeastern states were not attending school even before 2012. The challenges to education access for children in conflict-affected areas are even grimmer now, but the government’s job to reach more children with education is key to providing the springboard for economic empowerment and financial inclusion that will be key to ensuring the region’s future, not to mention that of the country as a whole.
Among the major challenges to improving education is achieving scale. Education in emergencies is not like the normal educational system that most of us know; it focuses heavily on life skills, literacy and psychosocial care, especially when the children being taught have experienced great trauma and have often never been to school. Of the children in need of assistance, only approximately 88,000 have been reached with education. If that sounds like a drop in the bucket, that is because it is.
The government has improved coordination between international organizations, federal ministries and state governments by organizing working groups to tackle education and health, among others, but there is still work to be done to improve the flow of information needed to ensure coordination and joint action. It is no accident that the only time we hear of education is when government unveils shiny new model schools; the most important aspects of an education system are arguably not the physical structures, but the curricula, development of manpower and structures that do not lend themselves to ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
The impact of the violence on children goes even beyond the immediate conflict-affected areas, as it creates a climate of fear around education outside affected states. In a recent interview, Dr. Judith Giwa-Amu, Coordinator of the Education in Emergencies Working Group that facilitates coordination among several humanitarian organizations and federal government towards improved access to education for displaced children in the northeast, shed some light about the impact of the violence on education even in states not directly affected by the conflict.
“In neighbouring states like Taraba, Bauchi and Gombe, there was an influx of displaced people in their local government areas. This meant you have host community children who were not directly by the conflict but could not access education because their classrooms were being utilized as shelter for displaced people. In other states like Kano, for example, we have an ongoing campaign to encourage school enrolment.
According to a 2012 UNESCO report, at least 60% of out-of-school children are in the north, and this was before the conflict-related emergencies and now we do have some parents not sending their children to school because of fear. Once parents do not feel the schools are secure, they are not going to feel confident sending their children to school.”
With education in conflict-affected areas, the immediate concern is often for the children, but teachers are often survivors of violence as well and also need support. Teachers for these children need different set of skills from teachers who teach elsewhere, and cannot be paid the same as their counterparts elsewhere. As is the case with reaching children, Nigeria is also not reaching as many teachers as it needs. Currently, the military fills in the gap with its corps of teachers where there are not enough civilian teachers to attend to the students. This, however, comes with its own risks, among which is increased militarizing of the school environment and the increased presence of armed men, which could discourage parents and guardians from sending their children to school.
In all this, there is the problem of availability of money. In the recently-passed 2017 budget, only 56.72mn was approved for Ministry of Education for the entire country, and 45bn was passed for northeast recovery. To put the figure in context, the humanitarian working group needs U.S.$56.3mn to adequately reach 1.6mn people. Worth remembering that, of the figure budget, we do not yet know how much of the figure in the Nigerian budget will be disbursed as a general matter, and specifically how much of this will go to Education in Emergencies. Funding for education is typically low on the list of budget priorities in Nigeria, and that must change if we must adequately deal with the challenges before us.
If done right, the structures put in place to provide education to children in conflict-affected areas will fill the gap to ensure that these children can access more formal education schools. Education for children is often interrupted in times of emergencies that happen every year in Nigeria, from community clashes to flooding that happen across Nigeria, often causing loss of life and property. Ensuring that the children who get caught in the middle should not merely be an afterthought, but part of a coherent strategy for long-term development of our country.