Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters / Landov

Denied education by Boko Haram, Nigerian kids make do in derelict schools

The armed group's campaign of violence has displaced 800K children and destroyed 300 schools, according to UNICEF

YOLA, Nigeria — A ragtag group of young boys sit together in a row of desks, facing one of their teachers, Misali Danladi. It’s a Saturday, but they have nowhere else to go.

Seventeen-year-old Danladi Michael and Zubaru Bala, 11, boys who left their home towns last year when Boko Haram fighters attacked, watch intently as their teacher writes on the chalk board: a3 = a * a * a.

“This is what we call the law of indices,” Danladi explains to the pupils.

The school, made up of raffia walls and a dirt floor, is a safe haven for children who ran away from Boko Haram, not only for education, but also as place to pass time, laugh with other children, play soccer and, hopefully, get a snack to eat.  

Violence from Boko Haram’s razing of villages and cities in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring countries has forced 800,000 children to flee their homes, according to UNICEF.

A growing humanitarian crisis in this region means that camps for internally displaced people are strained with limited resources. Residential homes in major cities like Yola, Maiduguri, Damaturu and Bauchi are packed full of relatives whose homes were burned down or escaped from captivity. Teachers and students are targets of the group, whose name translates roughly to “Western education is forbidden,” and schools across the region have shut down out of fear of attacks.

This picture taken on March 5 shows an arial view of the burnt-out classrooms of a school in Chibok.
Sunday Aghaeze / AFP / Getty Images

Grim statistics from UNICEF (PDF) estimate that more than 300 schools have been destroyed and at least 196 teachers and 314 schoolchildren killed between January 2012 and December 2014.

“Our children are not learning and that is one of the biggest tragedies of this Boko Haram crisis that no one is talking about,” said Rebecca Gadzama, one of the founders of the Nigerian NGO Education Must Continue Initiative.

A native of Lassa, a town where Boko Haram fighters burned down buildingsduring a December 2014 attack, Gadzama said the destruction of schools is the biggest loss of Boko Haram’s six-year campaign of violence.

Nigeria has the world’s highest number of primary-age children not attending school — 10.5 million. Nearly 60 percent of these children are in northern Nigeria, a region with the highest illiteracy levels in the country.

The Boko Haram conflict has worsened an already desperate situation.

Children are now forced to learn in temporary education centers. Almost all of the camps in the region are manned with volunteer teachers and receive government support.

Private groups are also playing a role in assisting internally displaced children.  

The Education Must Continue Initiative, (EMCI) a Nigerian NGO, is one of the groups that have stepped in. EMCI was formed in the wake of the abduction of 276 high school girls from the village of Chibok, and help send 10 of the girls who escaped to the United States, where they are currently enrolled in high schools.

EMCI is now setting up learning centers in northeastern Nigeria.

Already, one of the initiative’s schools in Yola that opened this year has 846 students — all of them and their teachers displaced by Boko Haram.

Misali Danladi, a recent graduate of the Federal University of Technology in Yola, is teaching mathematics at the school in one of the 16 classrooms.

The raffia straw walls do little to keep out the dust from the field it sits in. The roof, also made of raffia, could collapse at any time in the approaching rainy season. There are not enough seats, desks, chalk sticks, textbooks or funds to pay the teachers.

“Some teachers have already left because we cannot pay them with a regular salary. We started with 60, but now we have 49,” Gadzama said.

“I don’t have a dictionary,” said Blessing Dauda, a science teacher. “I need a dictionary to explain to my students the scientific words that I am teaching.”

At the school, Zubaru tries to improve his English.

He sits on a chair, his feet bound in plastic flip-flops scuffing the floor. He said he only has three pairs of shoes, two shirts and two pairs of pants, including the one he’s wearing. He hopes education can offer him a better future.

Zubaru and many of the students raise their hands excitedly when asked by the teacher, “Who wants to become a soldier?”

“I am angry at Boko Haram,” he said. “They killed so many people. They burned my house.”

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