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  • Writer's pictureBy Reporter

Protecting Education from attack, ensuring continuity in education amid conflict, COVID-19

Commemorating the International Day against attack on Education, Dr Judith Giwa-Amu, National Coordinator, Education in Emergencies Coordination speaks on the impact of conflicts and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the continuity of learning and interventions of the Education in Emergency working group under the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to ensure protection against Sexual and Gender Based Violence and recruitment to non-state armed groups, access to quality education, psycho-social support

Giwa-Amu says Nigeria has done great in the implementation of the State School Declaration and has become an example to other countries.

Sept. 9, 2020

You are the National Coordinator of UNICEF office for Education in Emergencies, what is this all about and what do you do?

In education in emergencies, we have several organisations comprised of the government, so these groups called the education emergencies working groups is a coordination structure that looks at concerns that affect education continuity in the event of emergencies. So basically, this coordination structure is led in every country of the World by the Federal Ministry of Education and it is co led by UNICEF and Save the Children so what we do is look at policy issues, advocacy issues, concerns such as protection of education from attack. And we look at ways and strategies in which to address these issues, either at the level of the government and at the level of the private sector. So that is basically what education in emergency working groups does and that is the structure that I coordinate.

Looking at the system in Nigeria and the ongoing crises, especially in the Northeast, does Nigeria fall under the country that have their education system under attack and do we have policies that do not tally with your interest?

While we have a lot of cases in the Northeast, there are also cases in other parts of the country like the North-West, North Central, even in the South-East. When we talk of education under attack, we are not just talking of bombing and destruction of buildings. We are talking of access, and most importantly the lives of the children, the learners, the teachers, the non-teaching personnel in the school community. Education under attack is not necessarily when they are physically attacked. Sometimes, children as a result of psychosocial trauma, they are unable to continue education, it means education has been attacked. When a child is afraid to go to school because the part she uses to go to school is a part of danger towards Sexual and Gender Based Violence which is happening, it is an attack. When a boy is afraid to go to school because he fears been recruited into armed group and used as human bomb is an attack. Anything that would affect a child or the parents by saying I would rather have this child alive and stay at home and we keep having our numbers of out of school children increasing is an attack on education.

The Insurgency in Nigeria’s Northeast have made a lot of children out of school. Considering education is the target of the insurgents, what programmes and policies have the EIC place to ensure these children are back to school to prevent them from being radicalized?

We are very aware of the fact that education is protection. It is actually lifesaving because when children are engaged in education, they are not on the road to be recruited, to be abducted, to be kidnapped. We recognize that when you talk of humanitarian response, there is the need to capture the most severe areas. Sometimes it looks like it is only the Northeast but the cases in the Northeast are very severe, the numbers are very high. You have over 1.5 million children that are out of school and that is before COVID-19 and there are so many programmes aside UNICEF. Like I said, in this Education in Emergency Working Group, under the education sector, we have international NGOs, we have Civil Society Organisations and government Organisations. The Ministry of Defence is also part of us, and we have other groups that are part of us. We have humanitarian response programs that we come together to implement. For us to implement these programs, we have what we call a needs assessment, so it identifies what the key issues are, what the numbers are, and what will be the best strategies to address these issues. So one of the key issues in the education sector even from the Federal Ministry of Education is access to education. They look at quality and then they look at systems strengthening. So access is talking about every kind of activity that can inform the child’s going back to school and staying in school. So when you have enrolment drive campaigns, you have provision of teaching and learning materials, you have provision of temporary learning spaces when you do not have any schools when the schools have been attacked. So you have not just temporary learning spaces, you have complimentary WASH, toilet facilities. And when talking of toilet facilities, you are thinking of gender sensitivity to have one separate for the boys and another one separate for the girls. You also make it inclusive meaning, you take into consideration the children with special needs that means the fittings must be in those toilets. Also talking about access to education we talk about quality, we talk about the teachers; are they teachers available, do they have the requisite competency to be able to able to not just address the regular pedagogy? We talking of literacy, numeracy, life skills, about psycho-social needs because some of these affected children have been affected and traumatized, and it is not fair for us to imagine that they will just be tucked into school and continue the regular way. Their psycho-social needs have to be addressed for them to achieve life’s outcome. So these are things we to ensure sustainability and system’s strengthening. Considering that response agencies and organisations would not stay forever, what we do to ensure that when we leave there is continuity. To achieve this, we train, we build the capacities of the community systems around them, we call them the School Based Management Committees because the schools belong to the communities. They are always with the schools they are the ones that will be there and be able to ensure that the minimum requirement for school to continue in a qualitative manner is available. They are also the ones that will put pressure.

Then with the COVID-19, what we have done in Borno, we do radio education programme. This radio education programme is able to get to children in the safety of their homes. So wherever they are, as long as they have a radio, they are able to hook up and then their parents can also support them to continue education. They are other forms of education but like for the IDPs camp, we use radio education. Also we have what you call the modular approach, where we have packets that we can give to the children so that they do not have to wait in case sometimes they do not have batteries for radio, they may not have electricity. They may not have mobile phones but they have the packets, so they work on the packets and of course the packets are identified week after week for their assignment.

How effective have these programmes been, and can you put a statistics to how many children in these communities have benefited from the programs?

We have brought in so many programmes not only in the Northeast and in the North-central. In the North-central which is specifically Benue, where we have issues of communal clashes between herders and farmers as a result of climate change related competition for natural resources. I want to talk about UNICEF as one of the key responders. We have been able to reach out 11,000 people out of a target of 12,000. That is to say about 99 per cent were reached in that particular intervention which was looking at restoration of educational opportunities to children that have been affected by conflicts in the North-central zones. But in the North-east, with a target of over 1.5, we have reached over 1 million children with support to access to quality education in the safe environment and also sustainability towards continuation beyond the end of the programme.

There are concerns by mothers in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Camps in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) that their children cannot sit for national exams like WAEC and NECO because learning Centers in the camps are not accredited, in what ways can you intervene on this?

All these times I have not really talked about the FCT and for the FCT, I tell them that the UN have to be invited by the authorities. The UN does not just go in to respond. So if the Minister of State for the FCT approaches the resident Coordinator, he is in charge of the UN system then the UN can come in. I am aware that we have individual organisations that reach out to different camps even in the FCT. It is actually the responsibility of FCT Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB) to register them. For us, a lot of focus has been in the Northeast because of the severity of the impact of the insurgency there. However, it does not stop the awareness creation of FCT UBEB. I think that basically, it has to do something with the linkage with the Federal Ministry of Education as a parent body and also FCT UBEB as the responsible education authority here in Abuja. I think we have to look for more ways to increase lobbying for them to be able to make sure these children are also captured because it is also their rights. If they have studied, they need to be tested. Another thing that needs to be done is to find out if they have enough teachers, and is they having a comprehensive education package delivered to them,

You mentioned that in the North-east, you reached 1 million children out of 1.5 million children last year. What were the challenges encountered that you were unable to reach the target numbers?

In the Northeast we have our humanitarian Response Plans and the Humanitarian Response Plans is developed after a needs overview has been conducted. You have the populations that are in need, and then you have the population that can be reached, and the target population. The responders, even though we know they want to reach these audience, sometimes they don’t have those capacity. They may not have the capacity because of funding, human resource, and technical issues so they are limited to address what they have the capacity to address. For instance, at the end to the humanitarian response planning process, we say we are going to reach maybe 1.5 million people and out of the 1.5 million people UNICEF will say Ok I can reach this fraction, this proportion of it, Save the children will say I can reach this one and I can only reach it through provision of teachers capacity building. Another one will say I can reach it through provision of learning materials so they are different activities that make up Education in Emergency targeted activities. It is what the partner has capacity to do or to reach that he will do. We all want to do 100 per cent but we are limited by our capacity.

Endorsing the implementation of Safe School declaration by the UN and all countries that are supposed to be signatory, where is Nigeria?

Nigeria is very, very high. You know that endorsement began of the 29th of May 2015 at Oslo and Nigeria was one of the first 37 countries to endorse and now we have 104 countries that have endorsed. I want to say since endorsement, which means commitments to ensuring schools are kept safe and protected for children to be able to receive education in them. And that commitments means that even in terms of our Military, there is an engagement that understand the children related issues and so, in countries like Nigeria where without the Military in some parts of the North-east, nothing can happen in education. We appreciate the military as our partners, in fact, they are actually our members, In view of recognizing the role they play in maintaining the peace and integrity, some of them also provide teaching services because we have Ministry of Education Corp so they are also very good. But we are saying that we want a situation that even with the military the schools does not become a target. Because with the military there, sometimes it affects the civilian nature of the school. And we want to be very confident that even after the military goes, school will not be looked as a target. The Safe School Declaration is also looking at a plan of action which has eight key actions that need to be undertaken and one of the major one is to ensure that even at the state level we have a policy which is like a single reference document that spells out how school should be protected from issues that constitute insecurity, natural hazards, violence, conflicts, everyday hazards and even school infrastructure. Sometimes these constitute reasons for schools not to be safe and secured. So, that policy is a key instrument which came out from the ratification, the President signed this on the 31st of December last year and gave approval for the domestication of safe school declaration at the state levels, so this is part of what we are doing. We are also not restricting ourselves to safety from conflict. Even in the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been able to be involved in coming up with key guidance documents that will inform the way education continues post COVID-19 pandemic.

The 4th International Conference on Safe School is going to be in 2021 and Nigeria has been chosen to be the host of that conference, can you tell us what we can expect from that conference and what the target is?

So this is the fourth conference and Nigeria is going to be the first African Country to be selected and already, the International planning committee being put up by the Federal Ministry of Education is also working on the planning committee. This is going to give us an opportunity to showcase Nigeria, showcase what we have done because between May 29th 2015 till date. Nigeria has done so much that a lot of countries draw from what we have done. They keep asking us to share our documents and they are also using our documents to guide on how they implement safe school declaration. So, we would be working under a particular theme and that theme will reflect on the different sections. It is going to be a two major day event and there would be other days for site seeing and also to promote the culture of Nigeria. But basically, we are going to have intellectuals who are going to discuss key issues that pertain to protecting education from attack, key issues on how to move forward, and how to ensure that the system is in place. So that it is not as if you are doing only how to protect education from attack, it is mainstreamed. We are not only looking at just mainstreaming into the education sector but even mainstreaming into the security document, their doctrines so that as somebody in the security agency is being recruited, he is trained on what it is. To ensure that if you are posted to work anywhere around the school, you are guided by the norms, you are guided by the minimum standards, because there are minimum standards to define a safe school. Even the way the military also engage while they are protecting that school is very critical. So at this conference, we are going to be discussing all the best practices, what has worked in Nigeria, and this is the best time to showcase that to the world because we always say that when you have best practices you give opportunities for people to also roll out. Then we talk of lessons learnt, what hasn’t quite work. I know people don’t talk about this but it is very important so that by that way you are able to guide other people not to fall into the same trap. So this will be a lot of sharing best international practices, how can we improve by these best practices in a way that we ensure that education is safe for children of Nigeria.

Tell us more about the International Day for the protection education from attack and activities to commemorate this day in Nigeria.

On Thursday 9th of September, we would be commemorating the International Day for the protection of education from attack and basically this day has been selected to draw to our attention we the duty bearers that it is our responsibility to ensure that children are able to receive education. Because we know that education is a huge equalizer so if the children are able to engage in education, they will acquire knowledge and be able to play their role in the society. Now, anything that is to keep children from going to school is affecting them. This year is the inaugural celebration because the date was just announced at the UN General Assembly. We would be holding key activities at the Northeast level and at the national level. I will start with the Northeast level. At the Northeast level, we are going to have high power delegations from the Federal Ministry of Education led by the Permanent Secretary, and at that level, they have series of activities and one of the key activities would be involving children. We have child participatory activities where the children will use art works, they will use poetry to express how attacks have affected them. These art works would be presented at some points to the governor of Borno State. Also, we are looking at communities that have been attacked and how they have being able to build resilience, how they have being able to resume school after the attack through encouraging the continuity of education. So we want to recognize those communities that refuse to stay down even though they have being attacked. Also, there would be a visit to the House of Assembly at the State level and also the Federal Ministry of Education and they are looking at having a quiet match and this match will be done by the children who are the rights owners. They are the ones that have the rights to education supported by their teachers , supported by their community members. There will also be a webinar and the webinar is opened to international audience as well as national audience and it would also be led by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education. The idea of the webinar is to talk about a particular topic and the topic is “strengthening communities to prevent education from attacks”. Why that topic? We are looking at the fact that the communities are the ones in immediate physical contact with the schools and with the children when they are attacked. Before he security comes from the state, the perpetrators have attacked and moved. So we are saying, how can we use the communities as strong partners to be able to strengthen education from attacks, how can we build their capacity so that within what they can do, they can do something to avert a very severe impact. Like there are things as simple as early warnings. We are also talking of the fact that in building capacity of the communities, they are also going to ensure that those marauders can send out notice of such attacks to who is responsible through partnering with security agencies at even local levels vigilantes and even at state levels. These are a few of the activities that we have planned to commemorate the International Day to protect education from attack.

The End

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