Education in emergency: a new way to heal despite Boko Haram

Children walk home from school on the streets of Maiduguri

You work in “education in emergency”. What exactly does that mean?

It is about  addressing the needs that have risen as a result of protection issues: the psychosocial environment of the child developmental and cognitive needs of the children in a way that in war can be lifesaving. We say education is not just the right of the child but in cases of emergencies and also in chronic conditions.


Education itself can serve as a way by which lifesaving life sustaining interventions are delivered. We are saying that when education can be protective, when children are in school, they are not on the streets where they can be abducted or recruited. And we are saying that education is the right of all children not just children in stable conditions but children in emergency conditions.


In fact, children in emergency conditions have become more vulnerable by reason of the fact that these emergencies had impacted on them: they have seen their parents being killed, they have witnessed loss of loved ones, they have been displaced and they cannot even make a sense of what they are going through.


Through education in emergencies,  you can begin to try to correct some of these. For instance,   we know that a child who is traumatized probably cannot deliver the best  so we try to address trauma through capacity building of teachers who are working with these children.

In every aspect of education in emergencies we try to think of coordination. We say coordination is very important because it is through coordination that we make sure that the requisite intervention meets the requisite need. We make sure that there is no duplication with partners delivering humanitarian responsibilities in the same areas. We identify what, where are the areas that education services are lacking, who among our partners has operational capacity to deliver and then we can advise.

In a nutshell our education emergencies start with coordination. Planning is also a strong event that happens because you have to plan and then we think of standards when we are planning because we have what we call the “inter agency network for education in emergency”, “minimum standard for education in emergency preparedness response and sometimes recovery”. We are saying that when you are delivering a service you have to look at the standards.

For instance, you want to support access according to what is even being requested by the Sustainable Developmental Goal and you are saying that you want to support access through provision of learning spaces. Now education in emergency is dictating that when you provide these temporary learning spaces you also have to provide toilets  and not just ordinary toilets. Inclusive toilets—by that we are talking of gender- sensitive toilets. Toilets that in which the female toilets are well distanced from the male toilets because it can become a protection issue.

We want to avoid gender-, sexual-based violence so you have to position them well away from each other. And then what are the type of toilets you are providing? Do they have features to support children with special needs? Because now we are saying in the SDG goals that we are targeting for achievement the provision of inclusive and high quality educational learning opportunities for children across and for them to also have lifelong learning experiences.

For inclusiveness for protection, you are thinking of gender. The girl child you know in this particular insurgency ongoing has been worst hit. Parents now are very sceptical, very reluctant to send their girl children especially since we can say Chibok happened a while ago but parents are still very careful.

During the need assessment, we find out what are the challenges, what are the things that are highly needed, what are parents saying and we find out that parents are putting a greater premium. A lot of parents want their children to go to school but they don’t want the western education. As it were, some of them are preferring integrated qur’anic and for us we are saying if we want to meet the SDG 4, we have to make sure that education gets to all nooks and crannies. If children who are emergency affected are not reached, the rest of the country cannot achieve it in silos. We must carry them along. No child left behind, especially children in emergencies.

The existing educational activities that we have among the internally displaced people, would you call that formal even though they may have physical structures?

Yes, but that would be formal. What we are doing in IDP camps a lot of the education is delivered through UNICEF support is formal education. However, among that partners I mentioned we have the USAID educational crisis response  who have delivered, I think in the last three years, education to at least 80,000 children. And they are particularly for the non-formal sector but what they do is that they have like an intensive nine months programme during which they deliver non-formal education, basically literacy numeracy life skills, social emotional learning. They deliver these to children under their care. And then they also prepare that after the nine months the children are mainstreamed. Some parents want their children to continue in non-formal education. It is not by force but generally the idea is that they are mainstreamed into the formal sector after nine months.

So in the north east in particular, with insurgency destabilizing the regular educational system, what alternatives are available for education in emergencies?

The non-formal is a major route.  When you look at it, that is why the non-formal and the formal, we work very well as a sector. I mentioned the coordinator structure we have non-formal and formal.

This is in terms of intervention. You did mention radio education programme.

We have this technologically enhanced learning approaches which has been undertaken by the American university in Adamawa. So those use tablets. They have a way they use tablets so there are different innovative ways. The radio one, because of the coverage we feel it can reach wider coverage, especially for those children in high-risk areas, those children who are in hard-to-reach areas. It has very strong potentials and it has been piloted by UNICEF, the regional office of UNICEF specifically in Niger and Cameroun. And it has been shown to work very well. The only thing that has been vital about it is that there must be a way to do [monitoring and evaluation] to make sure that is being received and to measure learning that has occurred. That is something that they are still working on. Beyond that they have listening groups where children come together even children that are on the streets, out-of-school children because they know the time, also they have gone as far as developing scripts. The UNICEF programme has about 144 scripts which have been translated to  Kanuri, Hausa and of course we have the English version. The scripts are available; it is just to see how we can get assistance, and that might involve you know private sector partnership with radio stations towards delivering these education. Increasing the coverage because coverage is always the issue.  

But I don’t think that with the kind of resources we have in Nigeria and the political will to do it I think something can come up, maybe working with NCC I feel something can be done. I have been very excited since I heard about this. I have been in Dakar, and the pilot there was quite successful.  

And what is an “emergency curriculum” to do with with education in emergency?

There is a catchup and a learning programme for the catchup. Beyond the catchup basic education, children that have witnessed this kind of trauma you can’t really expect them to go into a normal class and just lock up their brains. So we’re saying that through this curriculum, we can address these needs that have come up, emerging needs as a result of the insurgency.

I gave an example of children who want to be soldiers. So that need for integration, that need for peace building, conflict resolution has been highlighted, the need for them to be able to build their resilience. We are talking about how the federal government is likely to send displaced persons back. What are they going back to if they don’t have capacity they are going back to the same thing capacity? Capacity in this instance can be defined as reduced vulnerability. And vulnerability becomes reduced when the children know what to do—maybe through education through learning, through exercises. Through education in emergency, the same education that was the object of attack can also be a solution provider. It can give life saving and life sustaining skills and this is also in line with our SDG4. We look at the chibok girls, If some of these girls had  these life skills, skills like decision making, goal setting, value clarification assertiveness. Assertiveness makes the difference between the children that were in the lorry and those that decided to jump. Those that jumped critically thought about it and decided, “this kind of movement in the night is strange it is better I jump and face whatever I face”. And that was how they did it. So life skills is a major one.

Through this standalone curriculum, we realize that emergency is something that needs to be addressed. As we go along we could integrate some of the components into the regular curriculum but for now we need a curriculum that immediately goes straight and address these needs even in the course of teaching the children while waiting for the insurgency to be over and normalcy to return.

Judith Giwa-Amu, education officer at UNICEF

When you look back on your work for the past two three years in education emergency what would you say have been the biggest challenge that you need to overcome?

The biggest challenge for us is availability of partners to deliver humanitarian response for education. You know, the challenge has been that we have national partners that is national NGO’s. However, the issue is that donors because of governance accountability issues are a bit reluctant to deal with the national NGO’s and they are more comfortable to deal with bigger organization like UNICEF, USAID that already have a brand and that is because they have known systems for monitoring the financial transaction.

Now the advocacy for me is how some of these bigger organizations can partner to mentor these smaller ones so that these smaller ones, having worked maybe one year or two years under their care, can show a score card to show: “I have worked with you, and have been able to show that I am credible, I am transparent, these are my systems”. And  then hopefully the donors will now feel confident to give them. That has been the major challenge. We are looking at how we can advocate for more partnering, more mentoring between “the big and the small”. I want to call it that way big and small because I feel that the more we are the more we can cover. You know, the national partners mind you they have their own strong point, the strong point is that they have presence in the local government areas that some of our partners cannot go to. There are some areas we are restricted from going to because of our organizational rules and regulations.

The challenges you mention for education in emergency also stands true for the general education system nationwide. There isn’t then any difference, is there?

Well you can’t say that there is no difference. There was a time when we had a massive flooding in 2012 that affected 31 states of Nigeria and that was when our education emergency working group was actually birthed and I was asked to go to Ochuchu in Kogi state. We had to go there to do some monitoring. There was this information that came to my colleagues that a lot of their schools have been destroyed by the flood. There was also this information: were they really destroyed by the flood or have they been like that? I went on a fact finding mission and it was a very interesting one because it resolved everything. As I entered one of the classrooms what does a teacher do first, write date. So this was you know let’s say today or even this month and we are having date of two years back so that showed that that had been abandoned. That solved it. Of course we got to see the ones that were really affected but all were not.

So you are right prior to this insurgency we had all these issues dilapidated buildings and infrastructures were there but we tried to differentiate them and we had that data from those that were damaged by the insurgency. This is what we are calling school attack on schools. And it might interest you to know that we are working on what we call “safe school declaration”. It is about how a school can be made safe for children to receive education. One of the ways it is being implemented is to maintain schools at zone of peace or children of peace. The children’s own is called “schools at zones of peace” while the UNICEF own is called “children of peace”. Basically it is  building the capacity of the teachers and the children to know the possible risk that could happen in that environment and what are the ways avenue to mitigate those risks.

Overall, safe school declaration is also talking about so many things it is also talking about the fact that we really don’t want military. Internationally, globally, military are not supposed to be in the classroom. We know that in Nigeria we have a kind of complex situation whereby some states are even calling the military. Some parents don’t even feel comfortable when the military is not there. We are saying that that being as it may, military should not carry guns in classes.

Two years ago I was at Saint Theresa’s IDP camp in Yola. We had people from the regional office [of UNICEF] in Dakar, we had colleagues from the other states as well as myself from national and we just asked a question, “what would you like to be?” to a classroom filled with children at least 200. And they all shouted that they want to be soldiers to shoot Boko Haram. So you can imagine if children from one part of the country are all soldiers and the other ones are doctors and lawyers, you know it gives you an idea of what needs to be done even in terms of the election as well.

Another thing I mentioned with the curriculum is accelerated learning package. It is a way to see how can we catch up children that have missed WAEC. Is there any way they can catch up? Yes. We know there is a gap but they can’t be so behind. So that is something we are also looking at.            



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