|© UNICEF video|
|A girl at Dar Es Salaam school in Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire where education has been severely disrupted by three years of civil and ethnic conflict.|
By Bob Coen
BOUAKÉ, Côte d’Ivoire, 22 December 2005 – More than two months after the start of the school year, the classrooms at Dar Es Salaam primary school are half empty. In one typical class, pupils sit at broken desks under a collapsing ceiling while the teacher copies the day’s lesson from the only tattered textbook.
The three-year-long civil and ethnic conflict that has divided Côte d’Ivoire has thrown its schooling system into chaos. Since the crisis erupted in 2002, more than half of all school-going children, over 700,000 in all, have been forced to abandon their studies.
“It makes me ill,” says the school principal, Assita Traoré, “I just want school to function. School has nothing to do with war. I want school to work and for people to send their children to school.”
|© UNICEF video|
|A burnt and looted school in Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire. Scores of schools have been destroyed or damaged during the three-year-long civil and ethnic conflict.|
Schools in the northern half of the country have been especially hard hit. Most of the teachers were forced to flee together with other government workers and many schools were damaged during fighting or burnt and looted in the aftermath.
Further complicating the situation, national exams have not been held here for more than two and a half years, trapping more than 60,000 children in a state of educational limbo. As a result many parents have chosen not to send their children to school. Others simply can no longer afford to as a result of the collapse of much of the region’s economic activity.
“We have a serious, serious problem. I think that for me, it’s a tragedy,” says Youssouf Oomar, UNICEF’s Representative to Côte d’Ivoire, speaking about the disruptions that the crisis has brought to the education of so many children.
|© UNICEF video|
|More than half of school-going children in Côte d’Ivoire have been forced to abandon their education because of the crisis.|
Getting Cote d’Ivoire’s educational system back on track is one of UNICEF’s most urgent priorities. UNICEF is re-habilitating 200 damaged schools and is supporting the training of 4,500 teachers countrywide. Together with its partners, UNICEF has also launched a massive back-to-school public information campaign and is distributing over half a million school kits.
In recent weeks there has been encouraging progress with Cote d’Ivoire’s United Nations sponsored peace process, which had been stalled for months. A new Prime Minister has been appointed which now allows for the disarmament of armed forces to move forward and for elections to be held in October 2006.
UNICEF is calling on all parties to make sure that education receives urgent attention. “We have to get all the children to school,” says Youssouf Oomar, “We have to get all children back to where they belong – on the school bench!”
Educational stability can only be guaranteed once a lasting peace is achieved. Until then many Ivorian children continue to be denied their fundamental right.
22 December 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Bob Coen reports on how three years of conflict have disrupted the education of more than half of Côte d’Ivoire’s children.