October 04, 2017

Teachers on tricycles give lessons in Nigeria's danger zones

Teachers go into communities to give lessons and leave after school finishes

Photo credit: Plan International

Billy Briggs

Education in emergencies writer

"Mobile schools" are being used to take education to children in small communities in parts of the country that are under attack from Boko Haram.

“These areas have not been safe for teachers so we hire teachers who go into communities and teach - and then they go back to where it is safe,” said Alfred Hangus.

An education in emergency specialist for the charity Plan International, Hangus is based at Maiduguri in Borno state, northeastern Nigeria.

It’s a place that’s been under attack for years now from the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, which has wreaked havoc in the region through a wave of bombings, school attacks, assassinations and abductions.

Loosely translated from the region's Hausa language, Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden".

As a result of its terror campaign against education, the Islamist group has murdered thousands of people, killed teachers, attacked schools and left three million children needing emergency support on education. As the new school year began, 57% of schools in Borno state were shut.

But a new pilot project is helping children get back to education, with mobile schools going into dangerous areas.

Poor roads mean schools are not accessible for everyone

Photo credit: Plan International

Plan International has been working closely with communities under attack and - with the help of local people - teachers are brought in on motorised tricycles to give lessons for up to four hours a day.

After school finishes, the teachers leave the area quickly so they cannot be targeted by Boko Haram. The learning materials are kept in a secure location.

Hangus said Plan International is the only organisation using this approach.

He added: “These projects target small communities that have no access to education. There are no schools but sometimes the buildings are there, although they are dilapidated. 

"There are no teachers and existing schools are quite a distance from where these communities live.

“Teachers have particularly been targeted by the insurgency because the initial idea was to fight western education, and teachers were seen as agencies of western education. 

"Many of them have been killed because of that and many others had to relocate.”

Plan International has established mobile education units in four communities.

The project is funded by the Norwegian government through Plan Norway and targets 1000 children. The project is running for six months.

In the first two weeks of the new school year, Plan enrolled 620 formerly out-of-school children in the mobile units.

The initial idea was to use a bus equipped with teaching materials but the NGO decided that this was not feasible for security fears.

Hangus said: “During our community engagement we realised that a school bus carried a great risk because it is big and teachers inside it could be targeted. A bus frequenting any place could become a target.

The children get at least three to four hours of schooling every day

Photo credit: UNICEF / Tremeau

“Also, a school bus has limitations on poor roads, many of which are not accessible, so we use tricycles to transport the teachers - so the mobility comes with the teacher and not a structure."

The local communities offered to keep the teaching materials in a safe place.

Children in the primary one, two and three age groups are currently being taught Nigeria’s standard curriculum by the mobile schools, which includes maths, science, social studies and English.

There is a strong focus on literacy and numeracy, Hangus said.

He added: “We have a target of 1000 children with one of our projects and we have just completed teacher training.

“The mobility aspect of this project helps with security. We seek security clearance and share information and we listen to what communities suggest. 

"We try to keep a low profile by using motorcyles. We also try and ensure that children going to school do not stay late. We try not to have both children and teachers staying late.

We work very closely with communities for information sharing and so the community can own the project.

Alfred Hangus, education in emergencies specialist with Plan International

“We are looking at three to four hours learning in one day ... so by the time they are assembled in the school it’s around 9am and they have all left the schools and areas by 4pm at the latest. We work very closely with communities for information sharing and so the community can own the project.”

Hangus added that local people and the government have really welcomed the project - with some communities even offering to train their own children to become teachers so that Plan would not have to risk bringing teachers in from elsewhere.

Regarding the current security situation, Hangus said there are still many attacks in northeastern Nigeria, with explosions targeting markets.

“The attacks have increased, so we had to suspend our operations,” he said.

Last month, UNICEF said the number of children, mainly girls, used by Boko Haram had  quadrupled this year.

The UN's children's agency said that in 2017, 83 children have been used by the group to carry out bomb attacks in north-eastern Nigeria - four times higher than for all of 2016.

"UNICEF is extremely concerned about an appalling increase in the cruel and calculated use of children, especially girls, as 'human bombs' in northeast Nigeria," said UNICEF. "The use of children in this way is an atrocity."

Boko Haram violence has also spread to neighbouring countries, leading to the closure of more than 2000 schools in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, according to a 2015 UNICEF report.

We are a children's charity committed to ending the global education crisis and unleashing the potential of the next generation.

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