THE BLOG
13/09/2012 07:57 BST | Updated 13/11/2012 05:12 GMT

Sahel Food Crisis Diary - Children Find Unexpected benefits in Crisis

Lena Thiam, Plan's Education in Emergency Specialist, explained that the majority of children in this and other Malian refugee camps never went to school. In Class 1 were all the students who were learning for the first time while Classes 2 to 4 each contained students with varying levels of education.

The unmistakeable happy voices of children floated across the arid desert air in the Tabarey-barey refugee camp in Niger.

As I got out of the car, I followed the sound to some buildings made of straw. The makeshift structures were schools set up by Plan International. Inside the first class there were 284 children - the majority under the age of 11.

As I entered, their attention turned from the teacher to me. They all stood and in their native language, Bambara, they all greeted me with "Good morning Sir".

Lena Thiam, Plan's Education in Emergency Specialist, explained that the majority of children in this and other Malian refugee camps never went to school. In Class 1 were all the students who were learning for the first time while Classes 2 to 4 each contained students with varying levels of education.

In October, the new school year will start and these students will be allocated to their classes based on their performance during the summer catch-up classes, which were funded by Germany and Sweden.

The first opportunity to ever attend school for 12-year old Zeinabm

One Nomad, Hamadou Dangui, whose 12 children had never been to school, told me that he was extremely happy for them to be in class and he was considering staying put just so that his children can have an education. Asked why, he said the way in which they spoke and behaved since they were in school had changed for the better and he liked it.

"In an emergency sparked by conflict, education is a child protection mechanism," explained Lena Thiam, "or example, it protects them from violence and being recruited by armed groups."

At the Mangaiza Refugee Camp also in Tillaberi, displaced children are integrated into schools in the community, which allows them to interact with a different group of children.

Lena lamented that education in emergencies was always poorly funded. Even though there is greater recognition of its value today and funding has increased over the last decade, the amount of money remains small.

The education of Malian children here in Niger is not as straightforward as it may appear. One issue is the language that they should be taught. French or Bambara? And who will teach them? Malian teachers? (There are many in each camp) or Nigerien teachers?

This leads to the all important question: whose curriculum should be used? Malian or Nigerien? If it is Malian and the children remain as refugees in Niger for many years, will the Nigerien society accept Malian certificates? If they use Niger's curriculum and they return to Mali, will the Malian society accept Niger's certificates?

The ministries of education of both countries are discussing these issues.