Chad: Education on life support in Eastern Chad
Goz Beïda, Eastern Chad—The town is surrounded by camps for Sudanese refugees and displaced Chadians, bare hills on which a few bushes struggle to survive, shrivelled by the sun. Beyond lies the desert, which now is only crossed by armed men: bandits, soldiers or rebels.
In January and June 2008, soldiers of the National Alliance occupied the town briefly, before resuming their offensive against the government army. Nobody wants to stay in Goz Beïda. People just end up here. People like Djibril Meina, a young teacher from the south of Chad. He never stops counting the days that he has spent here since he took up his duties at the Karaï State school. His monthly salary is 108,000 CFA, the equivalent of 164 €, but he has yet to see a paycheque. “It was four months ago that I was assigned to this place and I have still not received any pay,” Meina said. “We live in poverty, my wife and I. The cost of living is very high. It is impossible to rent a room for less than 20,000 CFA (30 €). A chicken costs 4,000 CFA (6 €) in the market. It’s outrageous!” Faced with the same difficulties, Evariste Togue, the school headmaster, confirms that there are serious problems with the functioning and administration of the school and payment of salaries. The young teachers are the first to suffer. “The newcomers’ files go off to Abéché and then to the capital,” he explained. “It is very hard for them, even though we too are sometimes affected by delays in the payment of salaries.” Of the personnel at the school at present, only Togue is a member of the Chad teachers’ union SET, an EI affiliate. He says he would like a little more support from the organisation, even though he recognises that he is a very long way from the capital if he wants to have his voice and demands heard. “As teachers, we have no choice. We have a moral duty towards these children, in order to help the country’s development,” Togue sighs. The remote location, terrible lack of security, long delays in payment and high cost of living discourage more than one teacher, admitted by Mohamed Youssouf Bachar, a departmental inspector of the national education system. He said 79 teachers with diplomas have been assigned to the 104 schools in the Dar Sila area, but many don’t report for work. The last count revealed 46 teachers and 55 community teachers for the entire department. The community teachers receive a meagre salary of only 28,000 CFA, or 42 € per month. Even so, with eight trained teachers for 720 pupils, 200 of whom live in a nearby refugee camp, the Karaï school almost seems like a “centre of excellence.” Chad has been an oil producing nation since 2004, but petroleum has not provided manna for the people. Asked whether industry profits have been reinvested in public services such as education, the inspector is evasive in his reply. “There are a few new school buildings. This year we have also received a hundred or so tables and benches,” Bachar said. With or without petro-dollars, education has never been a priority for successive Chadian governments since independence, particularly in this region adjacent to Darfur where until recently the rate of illiteracy was one of the highest in the world. Paradoxically, the trend in Eastern Chad, rocked by inter-ethnic conflicts and cross-border raids, is being reversed. The forced grouping together of populations and the fact they have been taken over by United Nations agencies and NGOs – which finance the school canteens and pay the community teachers – enables more children to attend school. The education inspector says that in 2005 school attendance in the department was 37% at the beginning of primary school. But now it is almost 100% on the sites taken over by humanitarian organisations, at least for the first and second years of primary school. The enrolment rate for higher grades is still much lower, however. Discrimination against girls reduces their chances of finishing school to almost zero. For girls, and especially for boys, there is also the risk of being recruited by the national army, by rebel troops or by a self-defence militia. By Jacky Delorme This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 27, September 2008.