International Day of Education: The obstacles to children receiving safe quality education in Niger
Rose Ramatou teaches a class at a school in Tillaberi region, Niger. Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children
Dusty, sandy roads, endless lines of commuting motorbikes and cars, roadside stalls and shops lining the streets, all filled with young children accompanying the busy adults navigating through the bustling streets. This was my first impression of Niger when I travelled to Niamey, the capital of one of the three countries in central Sahel and the wider West and Central Africa region.
Children in this region play a fundamental role in society as over 50% of the population are children. But the opportunities are not equal for all children. Here in Niger, like the other countries in Central Sahel, I’ve witnessed the many different realities children face in the same country. There are those who play, those who can access learning and healthcare, those who advocate and understand their rights and then there are those who are exposed to the worst forms of work and endless hours of begging on the streets, compromising their health, restricting their ability to attend school and access food. Many are forced into child marriage or to join a conflict that is not theirs and are exploited by those more powerful them themselves. This is the reality for many children, where the lottery of birth determines the life they have today and tomorrow.
Niger is one of the countries that conforms the central Sahel, a region which today continues to be riddled with a complex security situation. In these circumstances, children are always the worst off. They are no longer able to be children and their chance of a life out of poverty becomes even more limited as they become locked in a cycle of poverty and inequality. Without basic education and access to basic food and health, their future remains uncertain.
I remember hearing about 12-year-old Dioura, whose family was forced to flee and start a new life in Tillaberi region. Her mother shared their story:
"We were living at our village when we were attacked. People were killed, and they burnt homes and the school. They banned schools so we packed what we could and ran away.” “We always encourage her to study hard because education is important in life.”
Dioura has lost everything – except hope, and compassion for others. “I would like to become a doctor when I finish my studies, to help people.” She’s never lost belief in herself either. “I know myself: I am intelligent, a hard worker and merciful.”
A portrait of Dioura*, aged 12, in her village in Tillaberi region, Niger. Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children
And then there is Abdoul, 17 in Tillaberi, who told us about how the precarious situation pushed him to drop out of school:
"I went to school until 5th grade, then I dropped out because of difficulties. We work to survive. I work at the market. I sift monkey bread for a trader and I get paid in return. We need food”
Dioura and Abdoul’s stories are not unique to the region. Hearing their stories reminds us of the multifaceted challenges children and especially girls face today and therefore, the many obstacles children have to surpass to reach their full potential.
Education is children’s brightest hope and is fundamental for them to reach their true potential. However, education is not a certainty for all children in Niger and across West and Central Africa. In a recent brief launched by Save the Children, 7 of the 10 countries facing the highest risk of education being under collapse are in Africa, with Niger ranking as one of the countries where education is at a high risk of collapse. Conflict, climate change, displacement, and lack of digital connectivity are, combined with COVID-19, derailing children’s learning in the sub-Saharan nation.
As Save the Children in West and Central Africa continues to highlight and address the challenges of education, they recently launched a regional education policy brief highlighting the 4 major obstacles to children receiving safe quality education:
- Conflict leading to rapid and massive displacements of population
- Attacks on education and safety in school
- Food and nutrition insecurity linked to climate change and conflict
- Impact of child marriage on girls’ education
When children, especially girls, are able to access education, they can not only learn, they can be empowered to do whatever they dream. They can avoid being forced into all forms of exploitation from child labour, early marriage, begging on the street and recruitment into armed conflict as just some examples. They can make more choices about their health and future. They can be child rights champions for the next generation of children.
Therefore, on International Day of Education, we are calling for stronger stakeholder coordination to implement existing commitments on education including the Safe School Declaration and school safety framework, investment in education systems including alternative education pathways for children out of school and increased social protection to prevent children from dropping out of school.
"I dropped out of school. My mother, a widow and disabled, does not want us to beg. I am training to be a seamstress. It's a second chance for me to make my dreams come true” said Zara, a 13 years old from Tillabery, Niger.
It is clear that a lot of work is still needed to give all children a chance to make their dreams come true.