Education for protection and development in the Lake Chad Basin crisis
On February 24 the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region will look at food security, protection and education for the millions affected by the crisis
February 23, 2017 by Caroline Schmidt, UNHCR Regional Representation - West Africa
12 minutes read
Boy standing at a blackboard in a classroom in Chad. Credit: Educate a Child

Throughout 2016, Boko Haram insurgents continued to commit human rights violations and carry out attacks against civilians. The “combined impact of deepening insecurity, rapid population growth and severe vulnerability resulting from the effects of climate change, environmental degradation, poverty and underinvestment in social services” has impacted the lives of 10.7 million people in the Lake Chad Basin region, including North-East Nigeria, Cameroon’s Far North, western Chad and south-eastern Niger (Diffa region).

Among them are 2.3 million internally displaced persons and some 200,000 Nigerian refugees. A large number of the displaced have been received by communities who count among the most vulnerable in the region. The education of more than 3.3 million children and youth aged 3 to 17 is affected by the crisis.

Neglecting education has left children and youth vulnerable

According to the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, Toby Lanzer, the current crisis is a result of the long-term neglect of the needs of inhabitants in the region.  

In the same vein, the 2016 World Bank/UNHCR report Forced Displacement by the Boko Haram conflict in the Lake Chad region concludes that among the drivers of the current conflict are economic and political marginalization, chronic poverty, and poor governance. As a consequence the region’s youth have been left vulnerable and frustrated, owing to limited education access and chronic unemployment.

“One of the messages I have heard from women all across the Lake Chad basin has been: ‘If we are honest, we all know what our boys are and we all know who they have been supporting.’ [To] take on [Boko Haram] “one of the world’s worst extremist groups” cannot revolve simply around military action.

Toby Lanzer, The Guardian, February 11, 2017

The deep impact of the crisis on schools, children and teachers

In April 2016 Human Rights Watch reported that since 2009, more than 600 teachers had been killed and more than 19,000 had fled the Boko Haram violence in Nigeria. The terrorist group has abducted more than 2,000 people, mostly women and girls, including 276 school girls in Chibok in April 2014.

Between 2009 and 2015 more than 900 schools were destroyed and at least 1,500 were closed. In Cameroon’s Far North region, some 144 schools have been closed due to insecurity, leaving 36,000 girls and boys without education or forcing them to attend school outside of their communities. In the Diffa region in Niger about 55% of children are out of school.

Children and youth have been victims of displacement, abduction, forced recruitment and marriage, physical and emotional abuse, and hunger. Children born of sexual violence are at particular risk of abandonment and violence and need specific protection and assistance in the long-term.

According to UNICEF, 44 children were used in suicide attacks across the four affected countries in 2015. As a consequence, children who are unaccompanied or separated from their parents have faced an increased risk of detention. Separated or orphaned children are increasingly placed under the care of the Almajiri or Qur’anic schools that regularly make use of child labor, often forcing young boys into criminal activities.

The scale of the impact on the lives of children and youth is unimaginable. In the classroom, displaced children who are traumatized may have trouble integrating, learning and may drop out altogether. Teachers and communities need help to deal with this situation. Lessons can be learned from projects such as Creative Associates International‘s Northern Education Initiative Plus.

Supporting communities, schools and temporary learning spaces to ensure the children’s safety and to provide them with quality teaching is an important protection tool. In north-eastern Nigeria, for example, the Safe Schools Initiative has helped more than 500 schools to better protect education from attacks.

"When some mothers complained and asked why we were enrolling Boko Haram children, I said: 'Should we exclude them, and allow them to follow in the footsteps their fathers? No'."

Headteacher Maiduguri, Nigeria, Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kieran Guilbert, January 26, 2017

Children and youth are being left behind

Despite progress, the expansion of formal and informal education programs is not taking place at a sufficiently large scale and speed. It is impacted by insecurity, protection challenges, low funding levels and pre-existing gaps in service delivery.

The lack of trained teaching staff, destruction, occupation, and closure of schools, overcrowded classrooms, and the lack of teaching and learning materials challenge the provision of quality education.

For refugee children and youth in Niger, Chad and Cameroon, language has constituted an additional barrier. In Chad and Cameroon, approximately 60% of the refugees are children. In 2015 an assessment among refugees in Chad found that more than 82% had very little to no educational experience. In Cameroon, more than 10,000 refugee children and youth aged 10 to 17 are currently left without any educational opportunities.

A large number of the displaced population is in need of flexible, accelerated education programs to either re-join primary and secondary schooling or to acquire skills and competencies for training and future employment.

Scale up the education response in affected communities

“I am convinced that education is the most important investment that we have to make in the Lake Chad region now and in the future to avoid a repeat of the events and of the horrible abuses of the last years. Parents in the region asked us to invest urgently in the future of their children and they are right – the international community needs to invest in economic and educational opportunities, in addition to meeting immediate humanitarian needs.”

Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, December 2016

Education is a right and can be lifesaving in times of crisis. It’s a tool for protection and an imperative for sustainable development. The international community through the Education 2030 Framework for Action, the Sustainable Development Goals, Education Cannot Wait and the work of the Education Commission, has adopted a broad vision for education and its role to respond to global challenges.

It highlights the urgency to keep children and youth learning during crisis while improving systems to be able to absorb the shock of crises as well as offer an education that promotes social cohesion, peace and development.

When asked, displaced persons have said that access to education plays a role in their decision to return home. Some children, youth and adults with no previous access to education have attended school for the first time in refugee or IDP camps or in host communities and want to continue. A large number of them is over-age and in need of flexible learning opportunities.

In 2017 alone, the overall need to expand education services to more than 1.9 million children and youth in the affected areas is US$80.5 million according to the Humanitarian Needs Overview. To meet the specific education needs of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon, Chad and Niger, the Nigeria Regional Refugee Response Plan prioritized interventions worth US$19 million.

“We would need government assistance to reconstruct our houses and the life we had before. And I pray that the government would provide schools. There were none in my area before, but I hope to continue to attend.”


Mohammed, 18 years old, internally displaced in Nigeria, briefly fled to Cameroon. In 2016 he was a student in primary 2; nei­ther he nor any of his siblings had ever attended school.

Leveraging efforts through partnerships

In order to coordinate the humanitarian response with early recovery efforts and development priorities in each country, strategic, coordinated, long-term engagement and funding are needed - independently from humanitarian appeals.

For this, investment in improved communication and coordination between national, state and local level education authorities, humanitarian and development actors, and donor agencies are necessary. Linking large-scale programs with community efforts and structures is crucial for sustainability and local ownership.

Existing mechanisms such as the Education Cannot Wait and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) could help to better resource and coordinate humanitarian aid and development approaches, as for example in the case of Chad. The combined expertise, capacity, funding, and modalities of a multi-stakeholder collaboration can potentially improve investment strategies. Additionally, this can ensure that the education needs of displaced populations are accounted for in national planning.

Opportunities at the Oslo conference

  • Meet the 2017 funding needs to ensure both the education and protection of children and youth.
  • Start discussions on a roadmap and commitments on how to harmonize current emergency and early recovery response with longer-term education priorities, in line with the SDG 4 principles and targets.
  • Rally partners around strategic, coordinated long-term engagement and funding to unlock the potential of quality education for sustainable, peaceful development.


Disclaimer: This is a contribution to the discussion on the education response in the Lake Chad Basin. It does not represent UNHCR’s position.


Background information:

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