Crisis in Burkina Faso has left millions of children without formal education. The schooling system has been targeted by armed groups: teachers have been assaulted and killed, and schools and educational resources have been destroyed.
Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in Western Africa, home to over 20 million people. It gained independence as Upper Volta in 1960 from colonial French. The land of honest men has a young population: over half its citizens are under the age of 18 and thus considered children under the terms of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Meanwhile, the country has ratified all key international agreements on child protection and child rights. With this positive legal framework, children are exposed to a wide range of violations of their rights. The humanitarian situation is deteriorating quickly in Burkina Faso and there has been massive population shifts. It has in recent years been gripped by escalating violence that has spread across some West and Central African countries.
Long period of political instability led to the crumbling of a 27-year regime in 2014. Since then, the country has suffered recurrent attacks, including on schools, by armed groups. As the security situation deteriorates, some 900,000 people have become internally displaced.
Education Act makes schooling compulsory from age 6 to 16 in Burkina Faso. By law, education is free, but the government does not have adequate resources to provide universal free primary education.
Covid-19 and insecurity linked closure have forced 3.8 million children in Mali, 5.1 million in Burkina Faso and 3.8 million in Niger out of school. This is a total of 12.8 million children. This figure is sourced from humanitarian education experts in each country.
Insecurity has forced 4,127 schools in the Central Sahel to close for the school year 2019-2020 and 2,423 for 2018-2019.
Education response plans for the Central Sahel are critically underfunded: Burkina Faso: 20 per cent; Mali: 17 per cent and Niger: 9 per cent.
According to a study performed from 2005 to 2009, more than 45% of Burkinabe children are not educated. However, it should be noted that Burkina Faso has made a number of efforts to improve the situation in the last decade.
However, education in Burkina Faso is making important advances under difficult situation. The increase in primary school enrolment from 60% in the early 2000s to 88% today is particularly significant. The progress seen, especially in the last decade may be attributed to the Ten Year Plan for Development of Basic Education, put in place from 2002 to 2011.The progress is considerable, notably concerning the gender balance in schools with nearly equal female and male primary-education rates.
Despite strong increases in school attendance, the country faces many pressing educational challenges. Educational materials available to children are terrible and educational structures are deplorable.
In West Africa, millions of children do not complete elementary school. Some have never been to school. Huge numbers of young people work in sectors as diverse as cotton picking, mining and street selling in Burkina Faso where 44% live below the poverty line. Children have long been expected to help support their families by joining in the process from an early age.
Education in Burkina Faso has been under attack since violence engulfed the country after the ouster of longtime President Blaise Compaore in 2014, which left a security vacuum. Armed conflict is driving many children out of school, and it has only been exacerbated by pandemic school closures.
As of June 6th, 2019, 2,024 schools have been closed in Burkina Faso. The country has faced recurrent and growing attacks by armed groups. Burkina Faso experienced the highest number of attacks with over 40 reported incidents, including arson, looting of schools, abduction, threats and killing of teachers. Ninety attacks were reported on education in the Central Sahel between January and July 2020 alone. Meanwhile, out-of-school children are particularly at risk of sexual exploitation and violence.
During the pandemic, children living in rural areas are less likely to have resources to adapt and implement measures needed to continue education during school closures, including access to the internet and flexibility to shift school calendars, which have been adjusted to fit seasonal harvests. A teacher in Burkina Faso expressed concern that altering the school term to make up lost time would exclude children if it clashed with crop cultivation.
“Some children will no longer return to school, because they’ll prefer to … help their parents cultivate so they can eat. So, many students won’t even come.”