CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Education against the odds

LINGUIRI, 21 February 2011 (IRIN) – Decades of political violence in northern Central African Republic have caused widespread destruction and displacement. The educational sector has been badly affected by a dire shortage of teachers and adequate physical infrastructure. For thousands of children, classes take place not in solid buildings of brick, but in rudimentary “bush schools”.

“Needs are huge and funds insufficient. More appropriate infrastructure as well as qualified teachers are needed. Because of difficulties in the conflict-affected areas of the North, disparities in terms of access and quality are deepening,” Farid Boubekeur, chief education officer with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in CAR, told IRIN.

For about 200 pupils of the primary school Ecole Ouande, in the Linguiri Village of the M’Brès Sub-Prefecture in the northeast of the country, lessons are conducted under a big tree with five pupils sharing each wooden desk.

As trees protect from the sun but not from rain, during the rainy season, mainly from May to October, lessons are interrupted. And because of a lack of space, children have to alternate morning and afternoon sessions as classes are combined.

“Since the school got burnt by a bushfire in late 2010 we decided to hold classes outside. We thought it was going to be a temporary solution. But we don’t know if and when we’ll find money or somebody to fund a new structure,” Yama Bakeret Vassor, director of the school, told IRIN.

While funding is being sought through aid agencies and local government, parents are contributing with bricks to the construction of a new facility.

“We started bringing either bricks or grass for the roof that we pile up on a site where the new school should be built. But for now, there is no water and no latrines where the kids are having their lessons and for months also the food distribution has stopped,” David, father of one pupil, told IRIN.

Many of the pupils attending schools in the area were forced to flee their homes due to the conflict between rebel groups and government forces, and are now living in informal settlements in and around the village.

“Because of the fear of rebel attacks, teachers appointed by the government refuse to be deployed here,” Vassor told IRIN.

According to UNICEF, there are more than 5,000 children of primary-school age and a total of 19 schools in the prefecture, 10 built of semi-perishable materials. Among the 76 teachers, 40 are pupils’ parents, without any sort of qualification.

In line with country statistics showing an average of one teacher for about 94 students, the Ecole Ouande has two teachers, both contracted by the government, and one trainee. Unlike the two teachers earning a wage of 60,000 CFA (US$120), the trainees work for free.

“Finding teachers who would want to work in this area is very difficult. But pupils’ parents are very supportive and voluntarily contribute with 100 CFA each [50 cents] to support the trainee teacher,” said one of the teachers.

Aid agencies have helped to build some 800 schools in the northwest, two-thirds of them “bush schools”, and have given basic teacher training to some 2,000 parents.

Source – IRIN