Bullets and books

Violent conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa have choked the growth of literacy in the region, a major Unesco report released this week says.

Titled The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education, the report is Unesco’s 2011 “Education For All” (EFA) global monitoring survey, which was launched in New York on Wednesday.

The report says 66% of young people and 55% of adults are literate in conflict-affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This compares poorly with an average 93% and 85% in countries across the globe that are not afflicted by armed conflicts.

Unesco’s “EFA Global Monitoring Report” is published annually. The 2011 edition analysed education in 35 countries including Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Iraq.

Four Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, contributed to the 2011 report. In the report’s introduction, Tutu writes: “[This report] documents in stark detail the sheer brutality of the violence against some of the world’s most vulnerable people, including its schoolchildren, and it challenges world leaders of all countries, rich and poor, to act decisively.”

Nobel laureates Oscar Arias Sanchez (1987), José Ramos-Horta (1996) and Shirin Ebadi (2003) also provide special contributions to the report, as do Queen Rania of Jordan and Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Violent conflict has interrupted school progress in several countries, the report says. Mozambique’s civil war has resulted in an average loss of 5,3 years of schooling per child and the four-year civil war in Rwanda translated into a loss of 1,2 years of schooling.

“Armed conflict also undermines economic growth, reinforces poverty and diverts national resources from productive investment in classrooms into unproductive military spending,” the report says.

“Chad, which has some of the world’s worst education indicators, spends four times as much on arms as on primary schools. If the 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa spending more on the military than on primary schooling were to cut military spending by just 10%, they could put 2,7-million more children in school.”

Education itself is “seldom a primary cause of conflict, [but] it could be an underlying element in the political dynamic pushing countries towards violence”.

This is because “limited or poor quality provision leads to unemployment and poverty. When large numbers of young people are denied access to decent quality basic education, the resulting poverty, unemployment and sense of hopelessness can act as forceful recruiting agents for armed militia,” the report says.

One survey of former militia members in Sierra Leone found that almost 80% had left school to a rebel group, in many cases because their schools had been damaged.

Partly educated but unemployed youth figure prominently in some armed conflicts. In north-east Nigeria, the Islamist movement Boko Haram — meaning “Western education is forbidden” — began a campaign of violence in July 2009.

“Many young people who joined the uprising were unemployed secondary school dropouts and university graduates. Underlining the link between the economic situation and wider grievances, young people in the movement blamed their circumstances on a failure of government to manage its resources to the benefit of all,” the report says.

Urgent measures to reconstruct strife-damaged education systems include introducing free education, supporting community education programmes and rebuilding schools and other education facilities destroyed by protracted conflict.

for the full report visit www.unesco.org

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David Macfarlane
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