New report finds over half of children feel unsafe at school in Sahel

By Norwegian Refugee Council

New report finds over half of children feel unsafe at school in Sahel

Relentless attacks and threats against schools in the Central Sahel are driving alarming levels of stress among children in conflict-affected areas, with 53% saying they do not feel safe at school, reveals the Norwegian Refugee Council in a new report.

The report finds that conflict is having a heavy psychological impact on children, affecting their behavior and learning capacity. Almost two-thirds (64%) of children reported having little to no hope for their future.

“The desire to learn should never be trumped by the need to hide,” says Marta Schena, Regional Education Specialist for the Norwegian Refugee Council. “These children have witnessed or endured multiple kinds of violence leading to chronic stress and trauma. It is our duty to help them rediscover the language of innocence, joy, and curiosity.”

A high level of stress leads children to underperform at school. Almost two-thirds (62%) of children reported being unable to concentrate and 9 out of 10 say they have issues dealing with their emotions. To cope, some children isolate themselves, no longer interacting with their peers or participating in class. Others express their stress through anger, aggression, or panic attacks.

“It is clear that our children are stressed and anxious: some of them wake up at night because of nightmares, others cry erratically,” says Annan, a parent representative from Tillabéri, Niger. Because armed groups often launch attacks on motorbikes, he says the mere sound of one triggers panic among some of the children. “When they hear the sound of motorbikes passing by, they immediately look for a place to hide.”

Widespread insecurity has also led over 5,500 schools to shut down in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, barring children from learning and leaving them without a much-needed support network. Despite soaring needs, funding and support for the education sector trail behind in the humanitarian response. Only 6.5% of the education needs were covered in 2021 in Burkina Faso, and 7.9% in Niger, making it the least funded sector of the humanitarian response in both countries.

Schools can play an essential role in healing the psychological wounds of millions of children and helping them regain a sense of normality. But first, they must become safe places again.

“We call on the governments, school administrations, and the humanitarian community to urgently increase resources and appropriate training for teachers. We must ensure they are fully equipped to support children who have experienced trauma,” says Schena.