At the end of 2015, a report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated more than 2.1 million people in Nigeria had been forced into internal displacement camps. Deadly attacks by Boko Haram and inter-communal clashes among displaced people are among the driving forces leading to increased displacement in northeastern Nigeria. The disruptions to families’ lives that follow from this violence, loss, and instability may also be the greatest attack on children’s right to quality education and the longterm future of these communities. But there are individuals working toward solutions to bring stability and hope to a generation of Nigerian youth.

Away from home

In the late hours of March 14, 2014, violent attacks on Angwan Gata, Angwan Sankwai and Angwan Kura, killed at least 100 people and left as many as 2000 without homes.  Residents of the three villages have their own inklings about the assailants and reasons for the aggression. Some claim cattle rustlers in search of grazing lands were responsible for the attack and others say they were targeted by neighboring Fulani communities because of their fertile farmlands.

John Yunana, a teacher from Angwan Sankwai, who was there at the time of the attacks recounts his experience.

Since the attacks, Yunana and his family have returned home to his village. But many others who lost family members and their homes said they are still not ready. Instead, they remain in the nearby towns of Manchok and Kafanchan, where they said they, and their children feel safer.

“The crisis affected the children badly. A good number of them were killed. Some of them lost their parents. Some ran away with their parents who survived. They were all scattered. People you see in the village now, are only a few adults like me. And even when it is night they don’t sleep inside the village, they have to go to the bush because they are scared. This is what happened after the crisis. It was very much later that we started trying to bring the children back to the community.”

– Pius Nnas, village head of Tekum in Angwan Gata

Pius Nnas poses next to his granary, one of the few structures that remained after the attacks

Pius Nnas shows off his granary, one of the few structures in his home that remained after the attacks.

Mass burial grounds built by residents following the attacks

A mass burial grounds built by residents following the attacks.

Education takes a backseat to safety

While the government’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) stepped in to provide temporary support for the internally displaced, Nnas said he used a room in what was left of his house to host children who had lost their parents. Later, he began to run classes for them to try and help minimize the disruption to their education.

Residents said the attacks in 2014 brought on a total collapse of their villages’ educational infrastructure. The jarring sight of students still left using charred classrooms has captured public policy debates in state government. Governor Nasir El-Rufa’i declared a state of emergency last year in the Kaduna State education sector, saying, “Education is freedom from want. The provision of free basic education in decent schools, with skilled teachers, this is one of the priorities this government will accomplish in its four-year term.” ‎

With government-led initiatives such as the DFID-funded Education Sector Support Program in Nigeria (ESSPIN) and School Based Management Committees (SBMC) already in place, it’s tempting to think these communities are on their way to solving the educational challenges they face. But for internally displaced students and their teachers, restoring the quality of available education to levels found before the attacks will require long-term planning and support for solutions that will continue into the future.

School children in the village of Ubeme-Sankwai, a part of the larger community of Angwan Sankwai

Children in a classroom in Ubeme-Sankwai, part of the Angwan Sankwai village which also suffered from the 2014 attacks.

Restoring the right to learn

So what does a plan to support the aspirations of young students and integrate a lasting message of cultural tolerance into the educational curriculum look like?

Local NGOs like the Gantys Aid for Widows, Orphans & Needy (GAWON) Foundation and the Fantsuam Foundation  are two organizations  that are partnering with the Kaura Local Government Education Authority (LGEA) to explore what a plan like this requires.

“Children are my best friends because they are leaders of tomorrow. You see them so innocent, you get them so young and some of them have gone through some trauma and terrible experiences. But you can still work on them. Let them see it as an accident, as something they didn’t deserve. Teachers have to work with the children at this level to get them right so they have positive thinking in life.”

– Grace Abbin, Project Manager at GAWON Foundation

13-year-old Blessing Joseph attends a school set up by the GAWON Foundation to help meet the needs of students whose families have been victims of violence.

13-year-old Blessing Joseph attends a school set up by the GAWON Foundation to help meet the needs of students whose families have been victims of sectarian violence.

For Joyce Elemson, a UK-based vocational college teacher and education consultant with the Fantsuam Foundation, the solution comes in the form of focusing on the immediate needs of internally displaced teachers through Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training. She describes it as a “gold standard for teachers all over the world”. Elemson said internally displaced teachers often remain traumatized from the attacks they have endured and often do not go back to work for long periods of time. Even for those that do return, Elemson said they are not able to provide comprehensive teaching services because they have not had the opportunities to keep up their skills or learn new ones.

“Teachers are the backbone of the economy. And we know that there is hardly any profession that anybody can boast of without  having been taught by a teacher. When teachers are empowered it reflects in the quality of the learning. At the moment, the needs [of internally displaced teachers] range from raising the profile of the teachers in Africa to meeting the pedagogical skills of teachers. Many of these teachers have been neglected by the government at their lowest points. There’s hardly any capacity programs for these teachers. Many of them are emasculated and sometimes their salaries are not paid. Their profiles are really, really low because of a very low morale they suffer from. They need to be professionally developed from time to time.”

– Joyce Elemson, education consultant

Since 2013, Elemson has worked with more than 2000 teachers and said her sessions can include from 50 to nearly 400 teachers at a time. Each CPD session follows a specific model developed by Elemson and her partners on the ground. When preparing for a session, Elemson said it is important to remember the goal is not only to address the needs of teachers and students but also foster community development. Some training sessions will focus on advancing ICT skills and e-learning, others examine modern teaching techniques and ways teachers can incorporate lessons on equality, diversity, and sustainable development into their plans.

l to r: John Dada (Fantsuam Foundation), Joyce Elemson, Theresa Tafida (Fantsuam Foundation), Yakubu Kajang (Kaura LGEA) following CPD training in December 2015. Courtesy: Joyce Elemson

l to r: John Dada (Fantsuam Foundation), Joyce Elemson, Theresa Tafida (Fantsuam Foundation), Yakubu Kajang (Kaura LGEA) following CPD training in December 2015. Courtesy: Joyce Elemson

The most recent CPD session was held in the local Kaura government area in December 2015. Elemson said she was most intrigued by how passionate the teachers in attendance were. The day-long training was well received by teachers in the affected villages.

In order to reap the full benefits of CPD training sessions, Elemson suggests they need to be held more frequently and be built into the annual academic calendars of government and private schools across the country. In many schools in the UK, these type of CPD events are held twice every half term. Elemson also said government schools need to follow the example of private schools by putting in place metrics to measure the impact of CPD training,

“Many of the private schools we’ve worked with have actually established quality assurance units where teachers are observed at least twice a term to ensure they are using all the skills they were taught during the CPD trainings.”

Just as the private sector is making an effort to secure a change in the educational system in northeastern Nigeria, philanthropic organizations are also contributing. Fantsuam Foundation’s volunteer CEO, John Dada, has introduced the idea of ‘mobile parks’. Moving in a circuit through communities where internally displaced students and teachers are located, these mobile parks provide customized CPD sessions, counseling, a mobile library, recreational facilities, and support on good nutrition, primary healthcare, psychological, and social services support.

Though it’s still in its conceptual stages, efforts like Dada’s mobile parks and other innovations aimed at improving the availability of educational resources are giving hope to leaders in the different IDP communities, teachers, children and their families.