The occupation of parts of northern Mali by armed groups earlier this year had an alarming impact on the region’s education system, concluded a mission to the region by UNESCO and the government of Mali, which took place from 18 to 23 October. It found that schools in and around Timbuktu were barely operational, while those in Gao and Kidal had not been able to reopen at all.
During the occupation, many schools in Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal were destroyed. The mission observed that much of the educational infrastructure was vandalized or pillaged. School furniture was destroyed and used as fuel; electric and digital equipment (generators, cables, servers, computers, and printers ), books and laboratory material were damaged or burned.
“The state of education in northern Mali is a source of grave concern,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “By attacking schools, extremists tried to undermine the foundations of society, as I was able to observe when I visited the country in February. Everything possible must now be done to get children back into their classrooms. The future of the entire region hinges on this,” she said.
The occupation also led to the displacement of many teachers, as well as primary and secondary school students. Some moved further inland while others left for neighbouring countries such as Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Algeria. In Timbuktu, the mission noted that most teachers were still away.
In the Timbuktu administrative area only 52% of primary school teachers have returned to work and 1,197 teachers are still missing. In secondary education, only 8% of teachers are at work while 150 are still away. In technical and vocational schools, only 7.5% of teachers are at work and 134 teachers are missing.
Only 60% of pre-school and primary school children have returned to the classroom while 3,200 out of 3,616 secondary school children remain absent. Only 167 out of 1,412 technical school students have returned.
In the areas administered by Gao and Kidal, schools have not been able to reopen due to the non-payment of teachers’ travel and housing allowances.
In view of this alarming situation, UNESCO and Mali are launching an appeal to raise funding for a public awareness campaign and bonuses to help teachers return to their posts in the north. An inventory of damage to education facilities will also be undertaken. The mission recommended the establishment of social and psychological support services for teachers, parents and students who have suffered trauma because of the crisis. It is also recommending the launch of a national literacy campaign, with a specific focus on women, to help them understand the importance of sending their children, notably girls, to school.