May 24, 2019

Five things you need to know this week about global education

“I go to school so I can learn because I want to be a nurse," says this girl at a school in DRC's Kasai region

Photo credit: UNICEF / Rose

Attacks on schools in several countries, innovative ways to teach children to read and the amazing "walking school bus" are in our weekly news roundup.

Hundreds of schools attacked in DRC

Hundreds of schools were attacked and schoolgirls were raped, forced into marriage and used as human shields by militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That's the shocking picture revealed in a report on the 2016-17 conflict in the Kasai region by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). 

Testimonies from survivors and witnesses told of gunmen storming schools and kidnapping girls for sexual slavery, forced marriage and to serve as child soldiers.

"Militias believed in girls' magical powers and often used them as the first line of defence to rustle their skirts to ward off soldiers with guns," said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA's executive director.

Armed only with a broom or kitchen utensil, young girls were placed on the frontlines, as they were believed to possess powers which would stop bullets and protect the whole unit in combat. Many children were killed in this way, it added.

The Kasai conflict in Kasai killed up to 5,000 people and forced 1.5 million people from their homes, according to the United Nations.

Schools are meant to be safe places for children to learn. 87 countries have now signed the Safe Schools Declaration - a commitment to protect education in conflict. Theirworld's report Safe Schools: The Hidden Crisis revealed that between 2013 and 2017 there were more than 12,700 attacks on schools, harming more than 21,000 students and educators in at least 70 countries.

Attacks on schools in Syria and Ukraine too

Attacks on schools also continue in other countries. In northwest Syria, at least 38 children have been killed and 46 injured in shelling since the start of April - nine of them at school, according to Save the Children

More than 65% of schools in Hama have been forced to close, say the charity’s partners in the area. The escalation in violence came during the final exams for the school year, stopping 250,000 students from finishing their exams. They will subsequently lose a full school year.

Nine-year-old Hasan, from Idli, fled with his family after his school was bombed and one of his friends was killed. He said: “We were in the middle of the day when the bomb was dropped so we went running.  We were afraid and the ground below us was shaking.”

In Ukraine, schoolchildren in the conflict-hit eastern part of the country have suffered a four-fold increase in attacks on schools during the first four months of this year compared to 2018. There were 12 attacks on schools, said UNICEF.

“Schoolchildren are bearing long-lasting mental and physical scars of eastern Ukraine’s conflict,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Daily life at school is disrupted by shelling and shootings, forcing children to take cover in school basements and underground bomb shelters. In many cases, children have become too terrified to learn.”

Two teams share Global Learning XPrize

A $15 million prize to advance education among some of the world's poorest children has announced a tie between two winners. The Global Learning XPRIZE set innovators the task in 2014 of developing scalable solutions that enable children to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic within 15 months. 

After being selected as finalists, five teams went on to field test their education technology solution in Swahili, reaching nearly 3,000 children across 170 villages in Tanzania. 

The two winners have been announced and they will receive $5 million each. Onebillion.org, which is based in the UK and Kenya, developed a learning programme with a game-based core and flexible learning architecture aimed at helping children learn independently. KitKit School from South Korea and the United States merged numeracy content with new literacy material to offer directed learning and creative activities.

Before the Tanzania field test, 74% of the children taking part had never been at school and over 90% could not read a single world in Swahili. After 15 months of learning on tablets preloaded with one of the five finalists' learning software, the 90% had been halved.

“Learning how to read, write and demonstrate basic math are essential building blocks for those who want to live free from poverty and its limitations," said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE.

Education aid for thousands of refugee children in Greece

Syrian brothers Zanah and Judi from Syria take part in a stencil art workshop for refugee and migrant children in Athens, Greece

Photo credit: UNICEF / d'Aki

Funding from the European Union has meant UNICEF has helped more than 40,000 refugee and migrant children and women in Greece with vital education, health and other services.

The UN agency revealed that over $25 million has financed work on more than 20 locations in Greece.

Key results include:

  • Supporting the enrolment of 11,500 refugee and migrant children in Greek schools by the education ministry
  • Providing more than 12,000 children with homework support, language and remedial classes through non-formal education programmes to support their smooth integration into Greek schools
  • Training 1,200 teachers in 17 cities on teaching Greek as a second language, intercultural communication and children’s rights

"I am very proud of our joint achievements in Greece. More than 40,000 vulnerable refugees were supported with vital services, helping them regain a sense of normalcy," said Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.

Last week Stylianides announced the EU was increasing its share of humanitarian aid spent on education to 10%.

All aboard the human school bus

While many schools are being attacked, for some children the journey to school can be deadly. Intimidation and gang violence were such a problem in one South African township that the community decided to take action. Watch what they did.

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