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BLOG - Providing education for displaced children in North-East Nigeria

30 August 2016

Chris Joynes, a Senior international advisor for Education Development Trust, visited Nigeria to review UNICEF's work in the North-Eastern states, providing education to children affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

In early May this year, after many years of working in West Africa, I made my first visit to Nigeria. I was working on behalf of the Norwegian Aid Agency (NORAD) to undertake a review of the UNICEF education programme they are currently funding.

The UNICEF programme is working to provide basic schooling to children displaced by the conflict in North-East Nigeria. Since 2009, the North-East has experienced levels of conflict and insurgency that have disrupted the lives of millions of people and lead to mass migration of communities across the region. The on-going attacks by the Boko Haram militia group on military and state targets, as well as on local communities, led in 2013 to the national declaration of a state of emergency in the affected states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. The situation came to international prominence following Boko Haram’s kidnap and abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April 2014.

Boko Haram present themselves as primarily religious group, seeking to establish sharia law at regional level. However, from a developmental perspective, what marks Boko Haram out from other groups is their particular focus on education. While it has been translated in a number of ways, the movement’s name itself (meta-link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-27390954) indicates a direct opposition to state-sponsored forms of education and their association with Nigeria's colonial history. More concretely, schools, teachers and school-children have been specifically targeted by Boko Haram attacks. A conservative estimate is that some 425 schools have been singled out for destruction during the insurgency, and a similar number of teachers have been killed or executed.

The motivators behind the rise of Boko Haram are complex and operate at many levels. However, many analysts agree that poverty and lack of opportunity are the major factors. Decades of underinvestment in the region on the part of government, including a failure to provide basic civic amenities for health, education and water, have resulted in a social context of political powerlessness, high levels of unemployment and rural destitution, in a region facing the increased environmental impact of desertification.

The evidence of this was brought home to me most clearly as I took the 2-and-a-half-hour UN flight from Abuja, Nigeria’s political capital, to Maiduguri, the main city of Borno, the largest state in the NE region. Despite the length of the flight, we crossed less than half the country, but in that time the landscape changed from the dusty green hills of the Midlands to the featureless desert of the North-East, a flat yellow landscape with no visible evidence of water or vegetation. Arriving at midday on the tarmac at Maiduguri airport, I stepped out of the doorway and into a wave of 40-degree hot dry air.

The city of Maiduguri, and Borno itself, have been most effected by the on-going conflict. Approximately two-thirds of the state’s rural districts are still under control of Boko Haram and inaccessible to state representatives or NGOs. Maiduguri itself is where Boko Haram have their headquarters, and the city has suffered numerous armed attacks and suicide bombings over the last 4 years.

Despite this, Maiduguri appeared much like any other West African town I've visited in the last 15 years: busy, dusty, cheerful; bustling during the day and sociable in the evenings. Only the occasional military checkpoints stood out, plus the large posters hung from railings that showed multiple thumbnail images of wanted Boko Haram recruits – when I stopped to study the faces, for the most part they appeared to be young boys caught in mobile-phone snapshots, proudly or shyly smiling for the camera.

But Maiduguri is also hosting a large number of people who have been displaced from their home communities by conflict, and have moved to the city either to stay with relatives and friends in local neighbourhoods, or have been accommodated in one of the IDP camps set up around the edge of the city.

Included among these groups of people are large numbers of out-of-school children, and it is the educational needs of these that UNICEF's NORAD-funded programme is seeking to address. The majority of IDP children are living with family in host communities, and are able to enrol at the local school. For those children based in IDP camps, UNICEF is seeking to establish camp schools using tents and porta-cabins for classrooms, and providing basic resources such as boards, pens and exercise books.

However, in both schools, the numbers involved place great strain on the schooling facilities: in the one host community school I visited, the school had 1700 children enrolled, of whom 850 were registered IDP children. The camp school in Bakasi IDP camp had a similar number of children enrolled, and were running a double-shift system to accommodate them. Yet there were still 80 to 120 children in classroom tents designed for 40.

Despite the demand for resources, the programme has been hugely successful in encouraging IDP children across the region to return to school. In September, they co-ordinated a Back To School enrolment campaign, which combined public service broadcasting with community-level advocacy through community and religious leaders. The campaign was accompanied by the distribution of UNICEF school bags containing pens, pencils and exercise books to all enrolling children, and the provision of school uniforms for girl children in particular. As a result of this approach, they have succeed in reaching not just those IDP children whose schooling had been interrupted, but also a small proportion of the estimated 80% of school-aged children in the North-East who have never attended school.

As part of on-going activities, there is a continued need to provide basic educational facilities and resources to all schools, and to the under-resourced host community schools most particularly. IDP camp schools are led by teachers displaced by the conflict, and also have volunteer teachers on hand to assist: both groups need further training and support. Finally, there is also a need for the government and state authorities to provide the curriculums, text books, teachers’ guides and other educational content that will help ensure that any schooling is in line with the national curriculum.

In general terms, there are initial signs that the regional situation is changing. Government forces are reporting they can now access many areas that were previously controlled by Boko Haram, and were off-limits 6 months ago. In Adamawa and Yobe, many people displaced by the conflict are leaving IDP camps and host communities and returning to their own villages. The state authorities are now planning in anticipation of the increased numbers of Nigerians returning home from across the borders in neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

From an educational perspective, for those IDP communities who choose to return to their own villages, there will be an urgent need to provide them with the resources to support school reconstruction and refurbishment, as well as the technical skills to manage the schools and ensure educational quality.

However, those on the ground assume that the current situation for many IDPs will only consolidate over the coming months. In conversation with community representatives at Bakasi IDP camp on the outskirts of Maiduguri, they mentioned that they anticipated the camp would remain in place for 'at least two more years', a view echoed by the camp school’s military co-ordinator. In this context, investment and support in schooling for IDPs in camp schools and host communities will need to continue and expand.

And on a bleaker note, despite public statements from the national government and the military, very few assume that Boko Haram have been defeated. As has been seen on many occasions over the past few years, when under pressure their strategy is to lie low and regroup, or temporarily disband their militias and return home. Many predict that Boko Haram will re-emerge again once the current military pressure is reduced, and continue their war against a largely distant national government by attacking and destroying state facilities within their own communities.

Chris Joynes, Senior international advisor for Education Development Trust

425

The number of schools that have been signled out for destruction during insurgency, with a similar number of teachers having been killed or executed

"Maiduguri itself is where Boko Haram have their headquarters, and the city has suffered numerous armed attacks and suicide bombings over the last 4 years."

Maiduguri

...Busy, dusty, cheerful, bustling during the day and sociable in the evenings. Only the occasional military checkpoints and the large posters hung from railings showing thumbnail images of wanted Boko Haram recruits...

"Included among these groups of people are large numbers of out-of-school children, and it is the educational needs of these that UNICEF's NORAD-funded programme is seeking to address."

80 to 120

The number of children in classroom tents designed for 40

"The programme has been hugely successful in encouraging IDP children across the region to return to school... As a result of this approach, they have succeed in reaching not just those IDP children whose schooling had been interrupted, but also a small proportion of the estimated 80% of school-aged children in the North-East who have never attended school."

"From an educational perspective, for those IDP communities who choose to return to their own villages, there will be an urgent need to provide them with the resources to support school reconstruction and refurbishment, as well as the technical skills to manage the schools and ensure educational quality."