AfricaArmed Conflict in TigrayEducationEthiopiaHorn of AfricaSecuritySocial AffairsTigray Interim AdministrationTigray regional stateTPLFUnited NationsWorld News

Analysis – Is Tigray’s plan to resume schools soon far fetched?

After ensuring the school was cleared of mines, Mengi Primary School in Tigray was reopened in October 2021 with the help of UNICEF (Photo: UNICEF)

By Mihret G/kristos @MercyG_kirstos

Addis Standard – A month ago, the Education Bureau in Tigray region announced a plan to resume schooling, which had been shut down as a consequence of the two-year-long war in the region between the federal government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). 

Yet, authorities in the region have been obliged to indefinitely postpone the start of classes for some 2.4 million students who have dropped out of school since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the Tigray war, due to complex and multilayered problems that occurred as a consequence of the devastating war.

The region had scheduled to start classes around mid-April 2023, Shushay Amare (PhD), who was replaced by Kiros Gu’ush (PhD) as head of Tigray Education Bureau last week, told Addis Standard, however, due to the current circumstances in terms of facilities, the plan couldn’t be carried out.

The two-year war that ended in November last year has resulted in over half a million deaths according to some reports, displacement of four million people, hundreds of thousands of victims of rape, and destruction of economies and livelihoods. 

A recent report by UN OCHA released on 03 April stated that almost 85 percent of schools in Tigray are either partially or severely damaged and need rehabilitation. 

All warring parties in Tigray have been implicated in the attacking, pillaging, and occupying of schools since the war started, according to a statement by Human Rights Watch in May 2021.

Data from Aste Yohannes High School in the capital Mekelle, which formerly hosted 1,800 pupils and a staff of 131, is not now accessible, destroyed during the conflict.

Astibiha Abrha, principal of the school, told Addis Standard that most of the school’s data and resources, including computers, plasma, textbooks, and laboratory instruments, have been looted and destroyed; “We left with an empty building.”

According to him, federal government forces used Atse Yohannes preparatory school as a barrack after taking control of the city in late November 2020, and continued to use the school through mid-April 2021. 

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Astibiha urged that students should begin attending school as soon as possible since doing so will rebuild the connection between them and their future.

“Waiting until all destroyed schools are rebuilt wouldn’t be an option; instead, we’ll start the learning and teaching process with everything we have available,” Shushay noted.

Yet, there are other factors preventing its implementation that are a direct outcome of the war. The majority of the schools are preserved to host the Internally Displaced People (IDPs), and teachers have been scattered without receiving their salaries for two years, according to the former bureau head.

Thus, the regional bureau is collaborating with non-governmental and humanitarian organizations to facilitate return of IDPs back into their areas, reimbursements for teachers, and purchasing textbooks, which are major roadblocks to restart education on top of the need to urgent restoration of destroyed schools infrastructures.

Further complicating the problem, most of the IDPs who are sheltered in the schools compound are displaced from Western and Southern parts of Tigray which remain under the occupation of Amhara forces. For the IDPs to be able to return to their homes the issue of disputed areas must be resolved.

Another impediment to the resumption of education had been the delay in the recently concluded establishment of the Interim Regional Administration. 

The Tigray Education Bureau has drawn up a strategy to proceed with the restart and rehabilitation project of schools, but it needed financing and for the finance to come, the interim regional administration must have been established.

Now that the problem is resolved, the first task after getting a green light from the newly formed regional interim administration is to gather and issue payments to about 55,000 teachers whose whereabouts and current status are unknown because of the war, Shushay noted.

Meanwhile, some private schools in the region say that they are ready to start teaching and learning activities with resources at hand despite the crisis and the need for basic infrastructure.

“All it needs is the regional government’s approval,” Siyum Tesfay, management member at Abba Gebre-Michael Catholic Elementary & High School, a private school in Mekelle, told Addis Standard.

Siyum noted that “schools should start as soon as possible for the sake of the kids”. 

“Children that had enrolled in our schools are now traumatized by the war’s results; some of them have lost their parents and other family members” he added. 

Siyum said his school would work aggressively to resume classes and provide tutorials for kids in kindergarten and elementary classes pending approvals from the regional administration.

“For children, the best option for the trauma recovery process would be this,” he said.

In February, UNICEF Ethiopia said together with the regional education bureau it is providing informal education services to  countless children who have been deprived of school due to Covid-19 & the conflict in northern Ethiopia, and facilitating the progressive return of students to school until classes resume.

The UN said accelerated learning activities are required for children who have been out of school for more than three years in war torn areas.

According to Shushay, the Tigray Education Bureau has recently sent a team to discuss particular issues with the federal government and conducted a “fruitful discussion”. 

On 06 April Samuel Kifle (PhD), state minister of Ministry of Education accompanied by Prof. Tasew Woldehana, president of Addis Ababa University, Firew Tegegne (PhD), president of Bahir Dar University, and other stakeholders traveled to Mekele to discuss with regional interim authorities about the possibilities of resumption of education. 

The federal government is resolutely working to resume a formal schooling process in the area, according to a report by ENA, which also added that the Ministry of Education is preparing a curriculum and teachers to start education across four universities and pre-primary educational institutions in the region. 

The report also stated that the Ministry has commenced preliminary preparation to resume education after studying the extent of damage done to educational institutions and identifying the issues needed to start education. AS

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