Nine-year-old Marguerite Doumkel sits among other children in a classroom in Paoua, a sub-prefecture of Ouham Pende, in the Central African Republic (CAR).
With a smile on her face, she writes down the lesson for the day in her book. “I like to study history and French,” says Marguerite.
Education for children in communities such as Paoua has on several occasions been disrupted by military unrest and armed groups interventions leaving hundreds of children like Marguerite out of school for months.
“When there are soldiers, we don’t go to school. We stay at home. But I am happy I can continue my education now,” Marguerite tells IPS.
According to the Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) CAR 2022, at the end of the 2020 – 2021 school year (July 2021), 27% of schools were not functional, and 65% of children aged 3-17 were not attending school regularly (38% not enrolled at the beginning of the school year, 7% dropped out during the year, and 20% not attending regularly).
In this grim picture, there is some hope. Marguerite and thousands of other children are able to return to school to continue their education thanks to the investments of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises.
Through its multi-year resilience programme, delivered by the Norwegian Refugee Council, Plan International, UNICEF, and UNHCR, ECW is funding interventions that ensure access to education in safe, inclusive, and protective learning environments for displaced and returnee children in CAR.
ECW has been supporting communities in CAR for the past three years, reaching over 126,300 children – out of whom 41 per cent are girls.
“The children and adolescents in CAR are among the most vulnerable in this world. They have endured years of conflict, violence, human rights violations, extreme poverty, and repeated displacements,” says Yasmine Sherif, the Director of Education Cannot Wait. “Education is crucial to protect them and empower them to become the generation that will support a more peaceful and prosperous future for the country.”
The programme improves learning environments with the rehabilitation and construction of classrooms and school infrastructure. It also provides training for teachers, learning materials for school children, birth certificates for children, dignity kits to improve access to education for girls, psycho-social support activities, and skills training for the youth in the beneficiary communities.
“I had no school supplies at the beginning of the school year, but with the distribution of learning materials by UNICEF in our school, I have books and a slate to write on,” Marguerite tells IPS. “I have learned to write correctly, and I play teacher at home with my sister.”
ECW funds have also been essential to respond to a critical time of school closure and disruption of education at national scale caused by Covid19 as well as post-electoral security crisis, says Noemi Robiati, Education Manager at UNICEF CAR
“ECW’s support helped to scale up radio education, including through airing lessons on radio stations across the country and distributing radios with pre-registered lessons to households and schools. Education is a human right, and ECW funds have been critical to support such a fundamental right for the children of CAR,” she says.
Education specialist at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Chanel Ntahuba says that with ECW funding, NRC provides education for out-of-school children.
“We have been able to support students in school. We also support students who are out-of-school through the Accelerated Learning Programme for over-aged children, catch-up programmes for children who have missed a few weeks or months of the school year due to the conflict as well as through professional education that we call the Youth Education Package (YEP),” he adds.
Ntahuba tells IPS that the public budget allocated to education is low representing 1.6% of GDP and 13.3% of public expenses in 2019. Therefore, communities hire teachers to ensure that their children go to school.
These teachers, he says, are not paid by the government but through the contribution of the population. But, in situations where families struggle to make ends meet, they can’t afford to pay the teachers regularly.
“This is why with ECW funding, we support the payment of the teachers who are supporting the Accelerated Learning Programme, Catch-up class as well as those in the youth class,” he adds.
Ntahuba further notes that the program supports the training of teachers to improve the quality of teaching.
“We train teachers on the content of the teaching, also on how to prepare and present their lessons,’ he indicates.
ustine Banguereya, a teacher at Paoua, says apart from the training she received, the money the programme offers to teachers has greatly impacted her livelihood. It also removes the financial burden from parents who do not have the means to pay for their children’s schooling.
“Today, I am paid up to 35,000 FCFA (about US$60) by month as an incentive bonus. This program has helped us meet the challenges of the inability of parents and the state to take care of the schooling of Central African Republic children,” Banguereya tells IPS.
She also mentions that she has become a better teacher after attending the ECW funded training. “I can prepare a lesson plan for any subject, and I have also learned how to provide psychosocial support and other forms of support in school to vulnerable children, especially girls and those with disabilities.”
Ntahuba says the financial assistance to teachers is one of the program’s greatest achievements, “it is why teachers come to school every day.”
ECW funds also support awareness campaigns to mobilize parents in sending their children to school. “Many parents do not send their children to school as they prefer to have them working on household tasks, gardening and farming, hence depriving them of an education,” says Ntahuba.
This is particularly important to get more girls in the classrooms. “The education of girls is not prioritized as compared to the boys. Keeping the school operational and encouraging parents to send them to school is one of the ways girls can escape early marriage and teenage pregnancy,” he explains.
He adds that the target of ECW is to reach 60 per cent of girls as beneficiaries.