Central African Republic: Improving School Enrolment and Retention of Conflict-Affected Children (Lessons Learned)
Major Area: Basic Education and Gender Equity
The ongoing conflict in Central African Republic (CAR) has debilitated the national health and social infrastructures. Mainly because of the conflict in CAR, only 51% of children currently attend primary school. The situation is far worse in the Northern conflict areas, where more than 75% of children are out of school. This is something which UNICEF is working with partners to improve through the highly successful Bush Schools Project. This emergency project builds on existing local coping-mechanisms as well as training and provision of supplies in order to provide education to displaced children. It is followed by a Recovery/Back-to-School programme. UNICEF recognizes that child survival and development, education for children in general, and for children affected by conflict in particular, are priorities that must be addressed together if human development is to be sustainable in the long term.
There is an important link between education and health provision for displaced children. It is now widely accepted that improved maternal health and early childhood health and nutrition can help improve a child’s long term education achievements. In addition, the education of children, in particular of girls, can lead to a significant improvement in health, sanitation, nutrition and family planning practices. Such efforts have a positive impact on household, village and national levels. For these reasons, child survival and development (CSD) and education are two of UNICEF’s main priorities in CAR. This also has positive implications for the CAR’s long-term economic development and recovery.
The ongoing conflict in CAR has debilitated the national health and social infrastructures, already affected by a lack of public funding that has left the government with inadequate means to deal with the on-going crisis. This has had a significant impact on the women and children of CAR, many of whom now have a complete lack of access to health and educational facilities. In addition to this, in the north, many families have moved from their roadside homes, where they are vulnerable to attacks by armed groups, and have fled into the bush, close to their fields. These families are the main focus of UNICEF assistance. The purpose is to deliver a scaled up and reliable response.
Strategy & application
The education programme is divided into three phases. The emergency Bush Schools Project works with displaced children, building on existing community-based coping strategies in order to train parent-teachers and provide much needed school supplies. The second phase includes a Back to School Programme, which amongst others things will create safe learning spaces for returning internally displaced persons (IDPs). The final phase focuses on the long term development of education and the building of local capacity.
UNICEF support in these phases is based on the requirements on the ground at the time, for example the extent of the emergency situation (if at all) in order to determine the most appropriate response. Depending on circumstance, a health facility-based approach is used in order to deliver an expanded and comprehensive high impact intervention package to the worst affected districts in CAR. Alternatively, a community-based delivery mode, through the scaling-up of high-impact health and nutrition intervention packages for under-five children and pregnant and lactating mothers is used to meet health and nutrition targets. The type of programme UNICEF supports depends largely on the context and the perceived type of education that is required. Different programmes can be run simultaneously within a region depending on the situation.
As of early 2008, approximately 60,000 children have been enrolled and retained at school. Furthermore, children in existing community schools (8-16 years) are now studying in an improved environment. This result was obtained through capacity building exercises with Ministry staff, an increase and improvement in classroom accommodation and the provision of school books for non-formal education. In the districts with a net enrolment ratio less than 40%, children are taught specific life skills, especially in the area of HIV/AIDS prevention/protection.
About 39,000 conflict-affected children have benefited from emergency educational assistance through the reinforcement of government and NGO capacity. This has allowed them to better respond to the emergency, provide school supplies, recruit and train parent-teachers, and supervise schools.
The lack of textbooks made it difficult for poorly qualified parent-teachers to teach emergency education projects: this was addressed through the purchase of 28,000 textbooks in Cameroon and where possible the use and development of locally-made teaching materials. The lack of security prevented Ministry of Education access to several project areas: in order to address this problem, supervisors were recruited and trained by International NGOs (Coopi, Caritas, DRC). Their salaries as contractors were provided within the framework of agreement between the Ministry of Education and the World Bank.
The following strategies represent necessary next steps to provide sustainability to the results achieved thus far: 1) building capacity of education partners (government and International NGOs) in emergency preparedness and response in the field of education, 2) resuming education for more crisis-affected children, 3) rehabilitation of more schools (where security conditions allow so), 4) improving access to primary school through the provision of additional classrooms and school benches, 5) implementation of a participatory communication strategy for girls’ education, 6) development of non-formal community schools for unschooled children aged 8 to 16, 7) provision of water/sanitation facilities and promoting good hygiene practices across 50 schools, 8) building Ministry of Education capacity at both the central and local level, 9) printing and distributing new life skills based curriculum and teachers’ guides to all schools, and 10) supporting the training and supervision of parent-teachers.