|© UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire/2005|
|At Abidjan’s Abobo primary school in Côte d’Ivoire, a young boy holds up his slate with the words ‘la paix’ (French for ‘peace’).|
By Sarah Crowe
ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, 11 May 2005 – Not far from scenes of war and conflict, which arise from the civil unrest that currently divides Côte d’Ivoire, children in Abobo primary school in the capital city of Abidjan are learning about peace.
Pupils in a class taught by Florence Abo Kossia have just written words of peace on their slates. ‘Forgiveness’, ‘reconciliation’, and ‘peace’ are just a few. The pupils eagerly await their teacher’s approval.
Armed conflict is not the only affliction that has ravaged Côte d’Ivoire in recent times. The pupils’ books are open to a lesson about locusts, a common plague with effects almost as deadly as the war.
“What is the most important thing for the crops when the locusts come?” the teacher, Ms. Abo Kossia, asks. Hands shoot up. “Protection,” answers a dewy-eyed 10-year-old in a blue gingham school dress.
The talk of protection brings the class to the theme of the rights of the child. “What is the most important thing for a child?” the teacher asks. A bold little boy volunteers the first answer: “The right to have fun.”
A new programme to teach peace
With their country bitterly divided by war, children in many classrooms in the south of Côte d’Ivoire are now being taught about peace and reconciliation through a new educational programme.
Working with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF and partners introduced a new curriculum late last year seeking to promote peace by instilling peace within the children’s minds. The curriculum also teaches that protection, peace and tolerance are not just words.
“Because of this war in Côte d’Ivoire, we thought that if people were taking up arms, it’s because they had no sense of peace. We, as teachers, are in charge of the children and we must promote this culture of peace so they can grow up and flourish,” said Ms. Abo Kossia.
“They are still little. But they are the citizens of tomorrow and maybe even the [future] president of the republic is in my class right now. If the president doesn’t know about peace, how can he run his country?”
|© UNICEF Video|
|A young girl holds up her slate with the words ‘le pardon' and 'la reconciliation' (French for ‘forgiveness’ and 'reconciliation').|
Reconciliation: Not just a slogan
Teachers have already seen the fruits of peace education among their students. Not long ago, the ethnic divisions that fuelled Côte d’Ivoire’s civil war spilled over into the classroom. Children from neighbouring countries Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea tended to stick together, speaking only in their own local languages, and isolate themselves from their Ivorian classmates. They were taunted and teased about being foreigners.
“Now, it is really amazing to see how they have come together. They play nicely and all speak French together. They even tell their parents about reconciliation,” remarked Ms. Abo Kossia.
“Through the Peace and Tolerance curriculum, we have been able to reach thousands of children who otherwise only know messages of hate and distrust. This curriculum allows us to counteract those messages in every lesson in the classroom,” explained the UNICEF Representative in Côte d’Ivoire, Youssouf Oomar. “This way we’re hoping that reconciliation and peace are not just slogans on their classroom walls.”
Delays in implementation for the northern region
To date the curriculum has only been implemented in the south. In the northern region, which has been hit especially hard by the conflict, education has been at a standstill. Schools have been closed down and some 72,000 students are currently unable to take their final exams this year.
Some older students who have lost vital years of schooling have taken desperate measures.
“The students do anything. They sell things and some are even forced into prostitution to be able to come to school,” said 16-year-old student Sarah Kulibali. “There is no one else to look after their needs and pay for school fees. This is all because of the war.”
Earlier this year, former UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, along with UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland, sent an urgent letter on behalf of the students to President Laurent Gbagbo. The letter asked the President to intervene and ensure that the exams be held. In addition, Ms. Bellamy and Mr. Egeland emphasized the importance of education as a tool for tolerance and reconciliation.
One encouraging achievement is the signing of the Pretoria Peace Accord, brokered in April by South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki. The Peace Accord paved the way for elections to be held in October, which will allow the exiled Ivorian opposition leader Alassane Outtara to stand as a candidate.
It is expected that, with a peaceful resolution to the Ivorian crisis, the exams will finally be conducted, and the new curriculum will be rolled out in the north as well.
11 May 2005:
UNICEF’s Sarah Crowe reports on a new curriculum for teaching Côte d’Ivoire’s children peace and tolerance.