Mali: Education on the path to recovery

15 May, 2014
December 2013, Timbuktu: Two children on their way to school in Northern Mali. Credit: MINUSMA/Marco Dormino
December 2013, Timbuktu: Two children on their way to school in Northern Mali. Credit: MINUSMA/Marco Dormino

Destroyed classrooms and not enough qualified teachers: these are two of the challenges faced by thousands of displaced children in Northern Mali when trying to go back to school.

A food crisis coupled with violent conflict had kept some 800,000 Malian children out of school for two years according to the country’s Department of Education. Most schools were looted or torched, and 80 per cent of the education staff had fled to the south of the country. Security in the north has improved in the past few months but reviving the region’s crippled education system remains a massive challenge.

“The fact that so many children have lost their right to get an education as a consequence of the crisis that started in January 2012 is unacceptable,” said Ms. Ute Kollies, OCHA Head of Office in Mali. OCHA continues to support the advocacy efforts of the authorities and to mobilize humanitarian organisations to gather the required resources for the rehabilitation of schools, the return of teachers to the north, and the reopening of all schools with adequate learning conditions in northern Mali.

“I have encouraged parents to be involved in the repairs of some schools to allow minimum learning conditions so that children can learn under acceptable conditions,” said Achkounine Ag Idalyallah, Director of the Académie d'Enseignement de Ménaka, in the region of Gao. His efforts have already helped 8,000 children get back to school but, he explained, more needs to be done so all destroyed schools can be rehabilitated, and qualified teachers can return to their classrooms.

Yehiya Intalkass is a school counsellor in Ménaka. He regrets that despite the Government’s cash incentives for the return of civil servants, more than 20 per cent of the full-time teaching staff has not returned to work in the north. This is particularly true in areas  where safety is still a challenge.

"Many schools would be functional if there were teachers,” Mr. Intalkass deplored.  

As of March 2014, in Gao and Timbuktu regions, 77 per cent of the schools reopened. However, in Kidal, only seven of the 62 schools that existed before the crisis are operational.

To help rebuild the educational system in the north, humanitarian partners including UNICEF, the International Rescue Committee and the Luxembourg Agency for Development Cooperation, have distributed school kits and more than 1,500 table benches to at least 157 schools. They have also organized training with over 1200 teachers to provide them with the psycho-social skills to better support children affected by the crisis and to promote education for peace.

In the Ménaka district alone, 53 schools received table benches, and 50 teachers received the training. 

Mr. Idalyallah said this support “has given new hope to pupils and parents who thought that they would never return to school.

“My strongest wish is that all the children of my community go back to school", he said. Progress towards that goal is being made: UN agencies estimate that, as of March 2014, 80 per cent of children in northern Mali have returned to school.