By Louis Vigneault-Dubois
BOUAKÉ, Côte d’Ivoire, 9 March 2011 – Since last November’s disputed presidential election, many schools in Côte d’Ivoire have remained closed. There are now nearly 800,000 children waiting to get back to learning.
|VIDEO: 3 March 2011 - UNICEF's Jonah Fisher reports on ongoing school closures in Côte d’Ivoire and how one 12-year-old boy is coping while his school remains empty. Watch in RealPlayer|
The impact could be long-term. “This school year is seriously disrupted and if children cannot go to school during a crisis, they are more likely to drop out and never return even when the crisis is over,” said Save the Children Country Director Guy Cave.
Once seen as a model in the region for the quality of its education system, civil conflict has engulfed Côte d’Ivoire since 2002. Less than 60 per cent of primary school-aged children enrol each year.
Hostages of political crisis
The effect of the school closures can be seen around the country. In Bouaké, a city in central Côte d’Ivoire, the streets are filled with children who – faced with nowhere to learn – sell goods to earn a little money and help support their family.
|© UNICEF video|
|Arthur, 12, a student at Lycee Moderne Martin Luther King in the city of Bouaké, looks into his empty classroom. Schools across Côte d’Ivoire remain closed.|
Arthur, 12, is one of them. He is enrolled in Year 6 at the local Lycee Martin Luther King School, but it’s been closed since September. In the meantime, he has been selling toiletries from a wheel barrow. Arthur would rather be with his friends in school and continue studying to become an engineer.
“The place of children is in a school where they can learn and feel secure,” said UNICEF Representative in Côte d’Ivoire Dr. Agostino Paganini. “Children should not be held hostage of a political conflict and be exposed to recruitment by armed groups, forced labour, sexual violence, abuse, trafficking and diseases.”
Temporary Learning Centres
UNICEF, Save the Children and other partners are working to get children back to school as quickly as possible. Temporary schools have been set up in places such as Duékoué in the west, where 15,000 refugees have been sheltering since January.
|© UNICEF video|
|Arthur has been selling toileteries with his friends at the market in the city of Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire while he waits for his school to reopen.|
These cover only a fraction of the total number of children in need of education and efforts in the
north of the country have been hampered by a call for civil disobedience observed by teachers. It has made the reopening of public schools nearly impossible. An estimated 60 per cent of teachers are not in post due to the growing insecurity.
In the south, public schools have been more or less open for the last couple of months, but the on-going political crisis is causing a heavy burden on families. It’s paralyzed the economy causing massive layoffs, and with banks closed families are finding it increasingly difficult to have money to feed their children and send them to school. Food prices have also soared since the beginning of the year.
UNICEF is doing its best to lessen the burden. Public school is free in Côte d’Ivoire but families have to pay for school supplies and other miscellaneous fees. Where schools are open, UNICEF is distributing school bags filled with supplies such as textbooks, pens, pencils, eraser, pencil sharpener to support families in need.
|© UNICEF video|
|Arthur is trying to continue with his studies alone and hopes one day to become an engineer. He's one of many children affected by ongoing school closures in Côte d’Ivoire.|
Unfortunately, the education crisis in Côte d’Ivoire is compounded by chronic poverty. At the moment, families are faced with the difficult choice of feeding their children or sending them to school. It’s a decision no one should ever to have to make.