Answering big questions about schools in CAR

Four months after the new school year was meant to start in Central African Republic in October, we knew very little about what was happening in classrooms throughout the country.

Since December 2012, the ongoing ethnic and religious fighting has decimated the school system.  The chain of reporting between principals, school inspectors and Central African Republic’s Ministry of Education has suffered as well.  We knew from a survey carried out in August 2013 that 70% of primary school students had not returned to school, teachers had fled and many schools had been occupied and looted since the conflict.

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Marc Tamara, French teacher at the Etat des Rapides High School in Guango after it was looted. ©UNICEFRCA/Matas/2013

In February this year, we faced the questions: Had the situation improved or worsened? How many students were enrolled? And how could we find reliable information?

It was too dangerous to travel to schools by road and carry out a traditional survey (only a few main roads in the country are safe enough to travel on – and even these can be closed unexpectedly if fighting breaks out).

A telephone survey was the only option. We had a list of telephone numbers from the Ministry of Education but out of the 150 contacts we needed for school inspectors, 100 were either missing or wrong.

That’s when seven people from the country’s Education Cluster volunteered to spend 10 grueling days to find the phone numbers, and more importantly find the answers to what was going on in schools throughout the country.

They called every person on the list. School inspectors were asked not only the survey questions, but also for the contact details of their colleagues. This way, we slowly re-built a database of education workers throughout the country; and built a clearer picture of what was happening in classrooms in the interior of Central African Republic.

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Children in a temporary learning space in Central African Republic, one of nearly 100 throughout the country. ©UNICEFRCA/Grarup/2014

 

We just released the results of the survey, which found that:

  • 65% of assessed schools were closed.
  • On average, schools have only been open four weeks since October last year.
  • 37% of students enrolled in school during the 2012- 2013 school year are not enrolled in the 2013-2014 school year.
  • A third of 355 surveyed schools have been attacked in recent months – struck by bullets, set on fire, and looted or occupied by armed groups.

Re-starting education is critical for children trapped in the middle of a conflict. It gives them a sense of normalcy, stability, and a safe space to learn – away from the risk of recruitment, child labour, sexual abuse or other forms of exploitation. If education is not re-started early in a crisis, an entire generation can be left uneducated and unprepared to contribute to their society’s recovery.

Knowledge is power, and we will use this information to better support the schools that have stayed open and work with the Ministry of Education to re-open the schools that are still closed.

UNICEF was joined by the World Food Program, COOPI, Cordaid, Danish Refugee Council, and local NGO JUPEDEC in carrying out this survey for the Education Cluster in Central African Republic.

Madeleine Logan is the Communications Specialist at UNICEF Central African Republic. Madeleine arrived in Bangui in mid-January and will be reporting from CAR for a year.

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