An additional 1.2 million children and young people were pushed out of school in Niger at the peak of the restrictive COVID-19 measures in the country, bringing the total number who were not receiving an education to 3.8 million[i].
Although schools have now reopened, many of these pupils may never go back into education, Save the Children warned today. The organisation said the barriers in some parts of the country included insecurity and attacks on education, poverty, child marriage and child labour.
Children in Niger run the highest risk in the world of not returning to school after COVID-19 lockdown measures are lifted, Save the Children concluded in its recent report Save Our Education.
Even before the outbreak, the country had the highest rate of children out of school and a sharp divide in school attendance according to affluence, gender and whether they live in rural or urban areas. At the start of 2020, 2.6 million children in Niger were already out of school[ii].
“In some regions like Diffa and Tillabéry, schools were closed because of the grave insecurity – that’s the biggest threat to education in Niger. The second is the situation of girls' rights – sometimes girls drop out of school early to be married,” said Rasha Muhrez, Country Director for Save the Children in Niger.
Ms. Muhrez continued: “The government asked schools to reopen after a few weeks so that children could catch up on lost learning. But I have spoken to teachers in Diffa who had to travel 120 kilometres to teach – even after schools reopen, it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be teachers. Children may have fallen too far behind, or they may have started working to help with the family income.”
During the COVID-19 outbreak, many of Niger’s out-of-school children did not have access to distance learning. One of them was Haouaou, 17, who lives in a rural area of South West Niger. Her school was closed for ten weeks due to COVID-19.
Haouaou told Save the Children: “When the schools were closed, we did not have the opportunity to study by telephone, television or radio.”
Falling behind in education can have severe consequences for children in Niger, especially for girls. Haouaou continued: “If a girl doesn't do well in school and drops out, the parents marry her off. The risk for a girl who is not in school is that she may find herself in difficult situations.”
Save the Children is helping to address the problem of children out of school in Niger by offering catch-up classes and literacy courses to girls from 9-13 years old. In these classes, girls also learn about the devastating impacts of child marriage and early pregnancy.
Ms. Muhrez added:* “When I talk to these resilient girls, they all say they want to learn. But often they cannot afford to travel to the nearest school, especially to schools for higher education as they are usually in the next big town. One girl I spoke to had to walk 20 kilometres to school, with the risk she might get harassed on the way.*
“Education is one of the biggest factors in the fight against child marriage and early pregnancy, but it has currently fallen away. This is a risk we cannot take.”
Save the Children warns that school closures in Niger and in other countries also take away safe places where children can socialise, have meals and access health services.
The organisation is urging governments and donors to make sure that children who are out of school have access to distance learning and protection services. Children must be able to return to school as soon as it’s safe to do so, and catch-up classes need to be provided for children who have fallen behind, it says.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Save the Children.