AFRICA Learning! – UNICEF Mali scale efforts to reach half a million displaced children

WNN Learning!

Mali schoolgirl writes on blackboard
An adolescent girl student in Mali writes on her classroom blackboard in 2012. Image: Tanya Bindra/UNICEF

(WNN/UNICEF) Bamako, MALI, WESTERN AFRICA: With the new school year in Mali starting on the 1st of October, UNICEF is scaling up efforts to give a school place to half a million children whose lives were disrupted by the conflict, seasonal flooding and nutrition crisis.

Under the leadership of the Malian government and in collaboration with partners, UNICEF is mobilizing teachers and parents  to get children back to school and give them an improved education.

Across Mali, about 9,000 teachers will receive training throughout the 2013–2014 academic year. In addition, temporary learning spaces will be set up and minor repairs undertaken while damaged schools are rehabilitated. About 15,000 of the pupils will listen to lessons at new desks as part of the refurbishment efforts.

“This school year in Mali has to be different from last one and we need to make every effort to have children back to school,” said Francoise Ackermans, UNICEF Representative in Bamako. “This is a critical moment. Less than a month after the election, Malian people are very keen on rebuilding their country and returning to their normal lives. They know education is the cornerstone of this reconstruction process. What is a more visible sign of things going back to normal than a girl and a boy walking to school in the morning?”

According to the Ministry of Education, an estimated 800,000 children in Mali have had their schooling disrupted by the conflict, the food and nutrition crisis and seasonal flooding. Displaced children fleeing conflict in the North put more strain on an already weak education system.

In 2013, UNICEF needs US$21 million to meet the immediate education needs of Malian children in Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger. As of July 2013, only 38% of this funding has been received. In Mali, only 27% of the US$12 million funding for emergency education has been received.

Additional funds are urgently required to ensure continued access to quality education for crisis-affected children in Mali. The funding shortfall may undermine the ability of UNICEF and partners to support the Ministries of Education in their efforts to bring back and maintain children in school.

Francoise Ackermans visited schools in Gao where 168 children were sitting on the floor in one classroom. “In the North, many schools have been looted and children have often no other option but to sit on the floor during class. More than half of the schools in Timbuktu and Gao are still in need of teaching, learning and recreational materials, including notebooks and desks,” she said.

“My first day of school last year, I was very happy. But now we have nothing,” said Aminata, 12, from Timbuktu. “The fear is gone but we have a lot of concerns. Classes are there, I have many classmates that have stayed and that came to school but we have nothing. The UNICEF notebooks are not enough for us. I like to be with my classmates. I like the tap in the courtyard because you can get drinking water. Our school is very old. I would like my school to get modernised. I want UNICEF to stay with us at school.’’

At the refugee camps in Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger, UNICEF is also working with governments and other partners to provide 42,973 Malian children with access to formal and informal education. In Mauritania, 7,166 refugee children received formal and informal education and almost 70 per cent of them passed their exams at the end of the 2012–2013 school year.

Throughout the summer, about 4,900 school-aged refugee children were expected to attend ‘catch-up’ courses.  UNICEF also helped bring together the Ministries of Education from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania to ensure the integration of refugee students in their school systems, which will enable them to more easily continue school once they return to Mali.

The ‘Back to School’ campaign is only the first step in getting all children in school. While the campaign targets children that are directly impacted by the conflict, we cannot lose sight that more than 1.2 million children in Mali are out of school.

For Aminata -like many other Malian children- returning and staying in school is the pathway to a brighter future. “I have thought about the future. My teacher told me: ’when you want, you can.’ I think that my future will be guaranteed,” she added.