Why Africa needs to prioritize education for displaced populations

There is not enough reference in Africa’s regional frameworks to protecting and educating children, in particularly girls and women, who suffer the most from displacements and conflicts.

September 02, 2019 by Juliet Kimotho, Forum for Africa Women Educationalists Regional Secretariat
5 minute read
Children in a temporary classroom in the Lake Chad region.
Children in a temporary classroom in the Lake Chad region.
Ministry of Education, Chad

During conflict, education is disrupted and education institutions often become targets, leading to a nose dive in the continuous socio-economic empowerment of the population.

In a typical scenario, this disruption is characterized by the destruction of land and physical infrastructure, the displacement of students and teachers due to insecurity, recurrent closure of schools, no teaching and learning, and worst, learners’ exposure to all forms of violence such as recruitment to become child soldiers, kidnappings, rape, forced marriages, early pregnancies, long lasting trauma and even death.

African education systems suffer greatly due to conflicts

The report Education under Attack 2018 issued by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack reveals the harrowing destruction that education systems face in the recent wars and conflicts in 18 African countries between 2013 and 2017.

The report indicates that these countries (Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan and Zimbabwe) had more than five cases of violence against their education systems within the reporting period.

In South Sudan, approximately 800 educational institutions were targeted in attacks and more than 900 students and education personnel were harmed, including several hundreds of students who were forcefully recruited into armed groups from their schools.

In Nigeria, more than 1,500 schools and universities were reportedly attacked, mostly by Boko Haram, or used for military purposes by Nigerian security forces. These attacks led to the abduction, killing or injury of more than 1,000 students and educators at all levels of the education system.

The report also illustrates the double tragedy that women and girls face, targeted because of their gender, not only as victims of sexual violence but also by armed groups opposed to education.

Regional frameworks don’t mention displaced and refugees’ needs

Even with enough evidence on the magnitude of the destruction in the education systems, regional frameworks that are developed to guide the restoration of these systems fail to adequately address how to reintegrate surviving learners.

As these gaps in regional frameworks surfaced, the African Union declared 2019 the year of forging durable solutions for refugees, returnees and asylum seekers. The EAC Gender Policy 2018 launched by the East African Community (EAC) does not address the place of women and girl refugees and IDPs in education.

Article 5.2 obligates EAC member states to “increase access to education and training opportunities for women, men, girls and boys and ensuring elimination of all forms of discrimination in the sector in order to enhance human capital development in the region.”

In particular paragraph 5.2 b asks members states to “Develop mechanisms to ensure equal enrolment, retention and transition of all girls and boys including those with special needs in education at all levels”, but it fails to mention vulnerable groups (IDPs and refugees).

The ECOWAS Protocol on Education and Training also excludes vulnerable groups in obligating Member States to guarantee their integration into education. The protocol refers to special groups as those who are ‘socially’ and ‘physically’ disadvantaged evident in article 5 (4) on Cooperation in the provision of basic and secondary education “Member States shall undertake to give special assistance to the most socially disadvantaged and physically challenged groups in gaining access to basic education, however this measure shall be without prejudice to the normal admission requirements.”

The 34th Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) held in June in Niamey, Niger, discussed other regional frameworks that don’t mention the inclusion of IDPs in education efforts, for example the SADC protocol on education and training, the SADC Gender protocol, the SADC model law on eradicating child marriages, and the ESA commitment on Comprehensive Sexuality Education.

Input from civil society is important to plan well

Governments need to extensively involve civil society organizations in the development and review of national and regional action plans and budgets to get insights and gather intelligence on what can work.

Governments should host national dialogue forums to enable the state, CSOs, the private sector, professional bodies and bodies representing the interests of vulnerable groups to have a dialogue on policy and advocacy issues on matters including the inclusion of women and girl refugees. This would then inform similar forums at sub-regional and continental levels.

A good example of such a collaboration is the Conference on girls’ education in conflict and post-conflict situations convened in May 2019 by FAWE and hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kenya in collaboration with the AUC Peace and Security Office and the Canadian government.

The conference saw the development of a common African position on deployment of education for women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations, the Nairobi Call to Action on Education of Girls and Women in Conflict and Post Conflict Situations in Africa. It details the good practices, mechanisms and approaches that AU members states can apply to ensure full integration of displaced, returnee and refugee women and girls, in host countries’ and home education systems.

Strategies and tools such as the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25), Gender Equality Strategy for CESA 16-25 and the guidance for gender-responsive education sector planning by GPE and UNGEI, provide guidance on addressing gender needs for an inclusive education system, including in particular the needs of the vulnerable groups.

Planning for better integration of IDPs and refugees’ needs

We suggest that governments should invest in research, not only on the number of people affected by conflict, but also to understand the underlying needs of victims and survivors of violence during and after the conflict. A return to normalcy after violence, such as having a place to live and food to eat doesn’t address the other important needs of these populations.

Governments should move away from simply catering to the physical infrastructure and invest in the psychosocial and economic support of these disadvantaged communities.

Moreover, there needs to be strong prevention and disaster preparedness mechanisms at both sub-regional and national levels. Policies and strategies need to be developed with a multi-sectorial approach whereby the education units of regional economic communities (RECs) collaborate with their peace and security colleagues in order to increase preparedness.

There is need to establish a regional financing system for conflict/post conflict preparedness whereby the REC member states would contribute to a common fund that could be used as seed funding to mobilize additional resources internationally through a multiplier effect.

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A comprehensive article covers all aspects of the problem with some practical suggestions. Inclusive Education systems that are able to address educational needs of all learners beyond infrastructural accessibility is rhe way forward to make education for all a reality and achieve SDG-4.

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