Fifteen children per table at the Alpha Moya school in northern Mali
Post-war reconstruction efforts should begin with the education system. At the Alpha Moya school in Timbuktu, learning conditions are precarious. Following the crisis, one of the first steps in the ‘Back to School’ campaign is fitting schools out with furniture and equipment. The approach aims to improve children’s day-to-day lives whilst reviving the local economy in a region that has been severely affected by the conflict.
The conflict in Mali has decimated schools and weakened the education system. Since the crisis in January 2012, it is estimated that over 800,000 children have seen their education interrupted. Schools in the North have been the worst affected and have either been closed, destroyed or pillaged, or are still showing the signs of the explosive remnants of the war.
The Alpha Moya school in Timbuktu now has just 725 pupils compared with 1,100 before the crisis. In total, the school has only around 50 tables, i.e. a ratio of 15 children per table. In addition, classes are overcrowded. “We have between 90 and 120 children per class. We’re managing to get eight children round a table, if there are any, whereas normally there would be just two,” laments Hamoudi Kalil, head teacher at the Alpha Moya school.
In the first-year class, 140 pupils aged six and seven sit on mats on the ground. “Such overcrowding helps the spread of common illnesses such as acute respiratory illnesses and skin conditions,” comments the head teacher. Girls in the secondary school system, aged 13 to 16, also sit on the ground. To get one of the eight places at a desk, “You have to be one of the top students in the class or rely on the law of the jungle to get your own way, using your fists,” explains Fatouma, one of the girls sitting on the ground.
Improving pupils’ day-to-day lives and reviving the local economy
The most urgent action required to improve the living and learning conditions of children who have already been severely affected by the war is to equip schools that have been the victims of pillaging or partial destruction with furniture. The average cost of a combined table and bench made locally is estimated at USD 100 and should last three or four years; which equates to just USD 50 per pupil. Carpenters in the region capable of making this kind of item have been identified as part of an approach that is also designed to revive the local economy.
So far, UNICEF has sent school packs containing exercise books, pens, pencils, bags etc, as part of the Back to School campaign. In addition, a school canteen has been set up in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), which will considerably improve children’s day-to-day lives.