Oludoun Mary Omolara, the assistant Director at the Nigerian federal ministry of education, attended the International Summit on Balanced and Integrated Education in Djibouti. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS
Oludoun Mary Omolara is an assistant Director at the federal ministry of education in Nigeria. The West African nation has been hardest hit by the terrorism unleashed by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, which is vehemently opposed to school education.
The country’s northern provinces have faced several violent attacks, including the kidnapping of 276 girls from their boarding school in 2014 — who are now known as the Chibok girls.
The region is reported to have the world’s highest rate of schoolgirl dropouts and the country itself has over 13 million out-of-school children — the largest in the world.
Though Nigeria has a universal education system, Omolara said that the national policy in border areas could be more inclusive, making it capable of addressing additional, crucial, life skills needed by people in conflict and border regions.
“The borders are porous (in northern Nigeria) there is constant cross-border migration and frequent terror attacks. In such situations, we need to provide an education that can enable both teachers and students the knowledge to tackle these issues. For example, the locals need to know safety skills, which should be infused into the education policy so that teachers know how to safeguard their students in the face of an attack,” Omolara told IPS.
On Jan. 28, UNICEF issued an emergency alert stating that nearly 5 million children in central Sahel, particularly Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, will need humanitarian assistance this year. Violence in the region has surged, including “attacks against children and civilians, abductions and recruitment of children into armed groups”.
“When we look at the situation in the Central Sahel, we cannot help but be struck by the scale of violence children are facing. They are being killed, mutilated and sexually abused, and hundreds of thousands of them have had traumatic experiences,” Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement.
Nigeria, according to Omolara, has drafted a document to introduce this training in all the schools. So far, 400 people have been trained, and they in turn will train others. However, it is yet to be integrated into the national education policy, she said.
The country is also considering introducing multiple languages in its schools, especially in the border areas that continue to receive refugee students who speak different languages.
“We are an English-speaking country, but our neighbours speak French. A lot of migrants and refugees are Arabic speaking. So, we need a multi-lingual education environment.
“Also, if people are not able to understand the language of the terrorists or conflicts, they are also unlikely to deal with them. So, while we need a lot of sensitisation of people living at the conflict areas on peace education, we also must help them understand the situation and reject the terror ideologies,” Omolara told IPS.
However, there are still areas where private investment could be of help. This includes rural electricity and support for the disabled.
“Our government is doing all it can, but there are areas where we need help. For example, lack of electricity in the conflict region is a huge challenge. Some people are buying generators, but it could help to have more private investment,” she concluded.
The 3-day summit, organised by the Education Relief Foundation (ERF), will conclude on Jan. 29 with signing of a Universal Declaration on universal inclusive education by state leaders.
** This story contains an update including information on the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) alert about millions of children in the Sahel in need of emergency humanitarian assistance this year.