By Louis Vigneault
ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, 29 April 2011 – This week schools have slowly started to re-open in Côte d’Ivoire’s largest city, Abidjan, and across the country. But many challenges remain.
“Schools are slowly re-opening in the south, but many children and teachers are still absent where insecurity is persistent,” said UNICEF Education Specialist Jennifer Hofmann. “In the north, where schools were closed for more than four months, only half of the children have returned to school since re-opening at the end of March.”
Slow return to education
Fewer boys, in particular, have returned, so UNICEF is stepping up an awareness campaign to ensure everyone knows about the reopening of schools.
Since November of last year, the country has been beset by violence in the aftermath of disputed presidential elections. Fierce fighting in Abidjan forced all schools in the city to close at the end of March and people hid in homes. The situation has since calmed down and Education Minister Kandia Camara ordered the re-opening of schools this week.
In Abidjan, many schools still display scars of the intense fighting. The Genie 2000 school complex in the Cocody district of Abidjan is one of them. More than 500 children are registered in the two elementary schools and one kindergarten there.
Genie 2000 should be re-opening, but remains empty. That’s because unexploded ordinances – remnants of firing that took place on a nearby ammunition depot – are still in the complex and could blow up at any time. Three mortar shells ended in the school yard and there is serious damage to some of the school buildings.
Resolving pay issues
Many schools in Abidjan are in a similar situation and have suffered extensive damage. And while children are eager to return to school, teachers are waiting to be paid their due salaries before they return to work. The process is likely to last a few days, as many banks remain closed. Teachers are queuing for hours at the few banks that have opened hoping to receive their missing two months’ pay.
Then there is the challenge of providing support for children caught up in the conflict. “The population has endured months of violence and children witnessed disturbing acts that affect their development,” said Ms. Hofmann. “Schools will need to set up psycho-social support to help children recover from their trauma.”
UNICEF is working closely with the Ivorian government and non-governmental organizations to assist more than a million children as part of its ‘Back to School’ campaign. Supplies will be distributed to children and teachers to help them resume courses as quickly as possible.