By Nelly Muluka, IFRC
Armed clashes in several parts of Central African Republic (CAR) continue to have grave consequences on the education sector, more than one year after the start of the ongoing civil unrest. Vandalism, looting and displacement of teachers and school children are all affecting the education system, with several schools closed indefinitely.
“We recently reopened our school for the new term but several students are not yet back. In fact, some students and teachers have been displaced since December 2013,” says Norbert, a teacher in Bangui. “It’s not right. Children should not have to bear the consequences of this civil unrest.”
“It is unfortunate that we are missing out on an important stage of our lives which cannot be redone,” adds Obed, a 15 year old student. “On several occasions, we have not made it to school due to blocked roads or periodic shooting. If we do reach school, we either find very few teachers or none at all due to the insecurity.”
The ongoing violence is undermining gains made in the country’s education system over the past several years. More children were going to school; almost 40 per cent of youngsters completed primary school in 2011, up from 27 per cent in 2008. The youth literacy rate was up to 65 per cent in 2010, although the number of out of school children remained high at 66 per cent. (Global Partnership for Education)
Teachers strive to continue providing what schooling they can under extremely challenging circumstances, merging several schools into one, an arrangement which comes with its own challenges. Gombet teaches where six schools have combined into one for the sake of security. He cites overcrowding, lack of water, limited sanitation facilities, and insufficient teaching materials as immediate challenges for the institution.
“We have several displaced teachers and students in this school. When security allows, we come here, but when it doesn’t, we stay at the camp. Walking to school and back on a daily basis is very risky, especially for young children,” says Gombet. “We are lacking a lot including adequate learning materials, sanitation facilities and water.”
At another school, Albert, a teacher of students who have been displaced, shares Gombet’s sentiments.
“My students are all at different levels of learning. I have actually divided the classroom into three rows, each representing a different class. I engage each row with different tasks in order for them all to benefit at the same time. It is not easy but education is very important and must be given under all circumstances,” says Albert.
The Central African Red Cross Society, in collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has been supporting the critical issue of education over the course of the past year. When it is safe to do so, volunteers are actively visiting schools, promoting hygiene and peace. Other volunteers have helped construct latrines, damaged during the clashes. To date, 500 latrines have been built at schools in Bangui, reaching at least 35,000 school children and teachers.