In times of conflict and war, school-aged children could have their futures defined by whether or not they can access education amid ongoing violence. 

Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray is in the midst of a war that has impacted millions of lives and affected neighboring regions, Amhara and Afar. The war — which has forced citizens to flee, has tipped the region into famine, and has barricaded humanitarian aid from reaching the most vulnerable — has now been going on for about 11 months. 

As the beginning of the school season draws nearer, safely reopening schools, making education accessible, and protecting children from the impacts of violence in the affected regions is a priority for aid agencies. 

Children in Tigray have remained out-of-school since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, and as a result of the ongoing violence, school infrastructure has not only been destroyed and looted, but it has also been exploited by all sides throughout the conflict.

3 Key Things to Know About the Education Crisis in Ethiopia’s North

  1. Children have been out of school since March 2020. 
  2. An estimated 1.4 million children in affected regions have missed out on education. 
  3. Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education estimates that 7,000 schools have been damaged. 

What Impact Is the Conflict Having on Children’s Education? 

According to the United Nations, an estimated 1.4 million children have not been able to access education since March 2020, as a result of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war. Not only have they missed out on school, but they are also missing out on other essential benefits that schools provide. 

UNICEF highlighted this at a media briefing in April, with spokesperson James Elder adding that the crisis in Tigray is resulting in a “disturbing picture of severe and ongoing child rights violations.”

What Will It Take to Get Kids Back in Schools? 

Getting children back to school is a multi-pronged issue that not only involves restoring resources and infrastructure destroyed in the war, but most importantly, protecting children and prioritizing their safety. 

According to Ethiopia’s Minister of Education an estimated 7,000 schools in Tigray have been damaged in the war so far. Human Rights Watch also reports that several schools in the area have been looted, and some have even been occupied by perpetrators of the conflict. 

It’ll take a great deal of funding, planning, and cooperation to make sure that children can access school, and for immediate re-opening of schools, temporary learning centers would need to be established in place of wrecked school infrastructure. To resume learning in crisis areas, several things are needed, including: 

  1. Globally, all countries need to sign and implement the Safe Schools Declaration to protect children, teachers, and other education personnel in conflict-affected areas, to ensure education can continue unhindered, and to deter the military use and occupation of schools.
  2. The relevant authorities must protect schools in Afar, Amhara, and Tigray from coming under attack.
  3. Education authorities must expand alternative learning pathways for out of school girls and boys, including adolescents, while also supporting safe school reopening protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

How Do School Closures Contribute to Extreme Poverty? 

Children being unable to access school is a direct violation of their right to education. The UN’s Global Goals — 17 goals that work together to end extreme poverty and its systemic causes — recognize the right to education through Global Goal 4, to ensure education for all. 

Children also depend on school for so much more than education, however, including safety, nutrition through school feeding programs, and mental health support. Education helps to define children’s futures and shape them into contributing citizens, who have the potential to lead the world and help tackle some of its greatest challenges. 

What Action Can We All Take to Promote Education Amid Conflict and Crisis, Both in Ethiopia and Globally? 

We can all take action to support efforts to curb the Ethiopian conflict by keeping the conversation alive and sharing the stories of citizens in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar who are still experiencing the humanitarian crisis. You can also follow OkayAfrica’s Crossroads series on the civil war, and amplify the movement calling for peace and the protection of all people’s rights amid the conflict. 

Take immediate action by joining us here and taking action to call on world leaders to help children in conflict and crisis areas resume their education.  

This article is a part of OkayAfrica's Crossroads, a special series supported by Global Citizen examining Global Africa at critical moments. For the first part of the Crossroads series, Global Citizen is joining OkayAfrica in four weeks of coverage examining Ethiopia through a deep dive into music, politics, and culture.

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Tigray’s Conflict Has Forced Schools to Close. Here’s What That Means for Ethiopia’s Children.

By Khanyi Mlaba