War hurting learning in Africa

Monday March 14 2011

By SCOLA KAMAU

Armed conflict is the biggest threat to education in Africa, a new Unesco report shows, while painting a dim outlook on aid inflows in the coming years.

Apart from increasing the number of school dropouts across the region, conflict is diverting millions of dollars in public funds from education into military spending.

As a result, sub-Saharan Africa now has the largest financing gap that is frustrating the achievement of Education for All (EFA) programme.

In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 10 million children are dropping out of school every year, the report released last week shows.

Disbursements in the region fell by four per cent, the equivalent of a six per cent drop in aid per primary school age child, signifying the impact of armed conflict on education at the household level.

Twenty-one African countries have been mentioned as the highest spenders of gross domestic product on military globally compared with the amount directed towards education.

Burundi is ranked second, spending 4.9 per cent of its GDP on the military while Uganda follows at position 13, with two per cent of its GDP expenditure going to the military.

The report points out that if countries resolved conflicts and cut military spending by 10 per cent, 350,000 extra children would attend primary school in Burundi, and 180,000 in Uganda.

Failure to completely resolve conflict in these countries has also seen children abducted and forced to become soldiers denying them a right to education.

The use of child soldiers is reported in 24 countries including Uganda, the Central African Republic of Congo and Sudan.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2008 showed in Uganda, when the Lords Resistance Army waged war against the government, tens of thousands of lives were lost and approximately 1.6 million people were displaced over two decades.

In Rwanda, Unicef notes there were 5,000 child soldiers during the 1994 genocide.

If each of the countries including Ethiopia, Angola, Mali and Togo cut military spending by 10 per cent, a total of 9.5 million children would access education.

Displacements from armed conflicts have also forced children to remain in camps for the internally displaced or flee to neighbouring countries where in most cases their guardians are unable to fund their education.

In Kenya, after disputed national elections in December 2007, civil unrest displaced over 250,000 people and affected a total of 500,000 persons.

The Ministry of Education statistics indicate 62,848 of primary school going children were affected by the ensuing violence.

Recent data outlines a worrying trend regarding aid directed towards education.

After gradual aid flows to basic education, the funds stagnated at $4.7 billion in 2008.

Unesco estimates overall aid levels will experience a shortfall from pledges by the group of eight (G8) countries and the European Union, amounting to $50 billion, half of it earmarked for sub-Saharan Africa

The shortfall in aid is estimated at $20 billion, with sub-Saharan Africa accounting for $16 billion.

Italy, Japan and US continue to invest low levels of their gross national income to aid while Italy cut spending by a third in 2009, seemingly abandoning its EU commitment to reach a minimum level of 0.51 per cent and further deeming Africa’s hope to increase education funding.

Of all countries facing armed conflict, the low income countries suffer the most compared with their developed counterparts, with 43 per cent of the 28 million children of primary school age out of school, living in sub-Saharan Africa.

This signifies the dire need to end conflict and increase aid to the education sectors.

The rising number of children out of school can partly be resolved through finding a solution to shortfalls in funding.

According to the report, the global financial crisis increased pressure on national budgets, undermining the efforts of many developing countries to finance education.

“An education system that catered for 30,000 children in 2005 is struggling to provide for 60,000 school age going children,” it notes.

The report sets out an agenda for fixing the international aid structure by suggesting the International Finance Facility be raised from $3 billion to $4 billion annually between 2011 and 2015.

In the first half of 2011, all donors should submit indicative timetables setting out how they aim to make up for shortfalls including the $16 billion delivery deficit for sub-Saharan Africa.