In Niger, UN deputy chief highlights power of partnership to forge schools for the future
Schools made of straw, can be transformed into tech-savvy classrooms fit for the future through cooperation and innovative problem-solving, the UN deputy chief declared on Wednesday, speaking at the site of a national tragedy in Niger, which has now become a beacon of hope.
Amina Mohammed was visiting the École Pays-Bas, in a suburb of the capital Niamey, which less than two years ago, burned to the ground, after the straw it was made from caught fire, amid searing temperatures and a suspected electrical wiring fault. A total of 21 children died in the inferno - nine boys, and 12 girls - mostly pre-schoolers.
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“The trees we see planted in the schoolyard honor the memory of these young children”, said the Deputy Secretary-General.
Rising from the ashes
The newly rebuilt school was repaired by the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, with 21 new classrooms provided. Five classrooms were also renovated in the nearby school, École Gamkalé.
“In response, we worked together, Government, the community, the UN and other partners to renovate the school block at École Pay-Bas, build additional classrooms here at the École Gamkalé, provide essential furniture and learning materials, and ensure psychosocial support for affected teachers, families and students", said Ms. Mohammed.
The rebuilt school of Pays-Bas reopened for 1,800 students, easing congestion at the neighbouring site.
She said that thanks to the “One UN” approach, and galvanized by ambitious Government thinking in the wake of the disaster, innovative solutions were embraced in the form of a hotspot digital community centre, providing “a safe space for students and the community to gain relevant knowledge of digital skills.
“This includes office automation, computer graphics, social media management, cybersecurity, computer maintenance and 3D printing”, she added.
The centre was fitted out last year by the UN development agency UNDP, and Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in partnership with the National Agency for the Information Society (ANSI).
Now, she said, “the Government aims to gradually install such innovative solutions in all schools of Niger, an inspiring vision that will require resources and unfailing partners’ support.”
She praised Nigerien authorities for taking “significant decisions that shows its commitment to improving children’s learning”, by committing 20 per cent of the overall national budget to education.
“While straw classrooms are used to accommodate the 500,000 new students who begin primary school each year, they are neither a safe space, nor a conducive environment for developing the skills needed in today’s world”, Ms. Mohammed said.
There are around 36,000 straw classrooms remaining across the country, and the challenge of replacing them cannot be addressed by one partner alone, the deputy UN chief stressed.
Safer, smarter learning
“École Pays-Bas serves as a model for what can be achieved when key actors come together to support the Government in promoting creative and bold approaches to ensure all children have access to a safe learning environment which prepare them for the future.”
The UN not only helped with classroom rebuilding at the two schools. Some 900 school benches were provided, tables for students, more than 50 desks for teachers, and 30 blackboards.
She added that a holistic approach that goes beyond just providing infrastructure and equipment, is essential, to reach education targets.
“It requires enhanced curricula, sufficient teachers with enhanced skills, school health and nutrition in schools including school meals”, she said at the site visit, attended by top government and UN officials in Niger, as well as international representatives.
Education for all
“It requires also to take integrated and efficient resilience and poverty reduction programmes to scale. It also requires ensuring that generation of students are not left out of education in fragile areas.”
Ms. Mohammed also took part in discussion with a group of students during the visit, to talk about their challenges, the opportunities that are open to them, and their hopes for the future.