Credit: africaecnetwork.org
Credit: africaecnetwork.org

Burkina Faso: Unions call for stronger, sustained governmental measures to protect students and teachers from terrorist attacks

published 11 March 2019 updated 3 April 2019

Although they welcome the governmental measures taken following the terrorist attacks against teachers and schools in Burkina Faso, teacher trade unionists call on the public authorities to strengthen and improve these measures so as to be able to provide quality education under safe conditions.

Insufficient government measures

“As regards insecurity in some communities in our country that affects education, the government has taken measures to ensure the safety of teachers and students and the entire community concerned,” acknowledged Anatole Zongo, General Secretary of the National Trade Union of Secondary and Higher Education Teachers (known by the French initials SNESS), a member organization of Education International (EI). The measures entail, essentially, patrols by the defence and security forces (known by the French initials FDS) in areas where security is lacking, especially around schools.

Mr Zongo notes also that at one point “the State introduced a curfew from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM with a prohibition to go around by tricycle and motorcycle in certain provinces of the Sahel region which has come under repeated attacks. But this measure has been lifted. At present, apart from patrols, there is a process to reduce the distances between the different security check-points, namely from one police station to another or gendarmerie or military base.”

Nevertheless, he added that “it is difficult to say whether these measures are satisfactory, because more than 5,000 teachers are staying away from schools at this time because of the lack of security, and about 1,135 schools are closed, so that more than 154,200 pupils are temporarily unable to attend school.” He stressed that two teachers have already been killed by these terrorists and others have been whipped and prohibited from teaching in French and ordered to teach in Arabic.

Mr Zongo, however, comments progress, saying that the FDS “are waging an unflagging struggle against the forces of evil because there have been results recently: terrorists have been killed, jihadist nests have been dismantled, and arms and ammunitions seized.”

He also insisted on the fact that the education trade unions “are clamouring that schools have to be safe in order to be able to teach. As we are not part of the security apparatus, our actions are limited. Ideally, every school should be guarded by FDS personnel; but we know that this solution is utopian, because Burkina Faso simply does not have the means and resources for such an action.”

We have already condemned the attacks against teachers through statements to the press and a silent march ending at the competent ministry, calling for protection to be provided so that teachers can do their job.

He continued by pointing out that the ministry of National Education, Literacy and the Promotion of National Languages (known by the French initials MENAPLN) wishes to experiment with education strategies in high risk areas for the benefit of students that have fled their classrooms, so as to avoid lost years. A five-year plan is to be implemented.

Strengthening partnership base with the State, civil society and others in education

The education sector has suffered terrorist attacks and threats since academic year 2017-2018, and the situation is getting worse. These attacks have come particularly in the form of physical assault and killing of teachers, setting classrooms and teaching materials on fire and destroying them, and threats against teaching staff and officials of parent associations.

This situation has led to an interruption of learning activities, the closure or destruction of several schools, the destruction of materials, the forced abandonment of classes by teachers, an aggravation in the dropout rate at the national level and a massive fall in enrolment, as well as population displacement.

The closure of schools disproportionately affects girls, more, 46% of whom are deprived of their right to education, although they were already starting from behind:  the security context could fuel kidnappings, early marriages, sexual abuse and other degrading treatment of girls. Furthermore, the risk of recruitment by terrorists of out-of-school young people remains real.

Faced with this situation, with the support of its technical and financial partners, the government of Burkina Faso has organized a special session of examinations for candidates for teaching posts from the North and the Sahel. This strategy has made it possible to continue teaching/learning activities over a period of two months for the benefit of said students, and to organize a special session of examinations,  with a satisfactory outcome in terms of the way it was conducted and the results obtained.

This operation to save academic year 2017-2018 showed that it was possible to continue with education in high risk areas if strong measures are taken. This is why the Ministry of National Education and Literacy decided to chart an action strategy 2019-2021, under the auspice of Prime Minister Christophe Joseph Marie Dabire, which was approved on 21 February.

The different educational guidelines and approaches of this strategy for schooling pupils in areas faced with serious security challenges have been agreed by all stakeholders at the decentralised and central levels, technical and financial partners, and NGOs and associations active in the education sector.

The attainment of the strategy’s objectives requires a stepped up partnership-based strategy by and between the State, civil society and all other education partners.  It will be implemented in close cooperation with the FDS and should ultimately make it possible to:

  • secure education facilities, rehabilitate the infrastructure and equipment of schools that have been abandoned, closed or destroyed;
  • mobilize all the communities to secure educational structures so as to prevent attacks and/or limit their impact in cooperation with the FDS,
  • improve the communication network between the participants in the areas concerned; and
  • bolster the resilience of people who have been displaced within the country, asylum seekers, returnees, guests, refugees (in outside camps), those who have stayed put (affected, but not displaced), or those who are still at risk (areas not yet hit).

EI supports teachers in Burkina Faso in their struggle to provide quality education for all. It calls on the public authorities to redouble their efforts to provide security for teachers and learners, and will continue to monitor the situation in the country.