©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

On the occasion of the International Day of Education, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) calls for intensified effort to get children back to school in conflict-affected areas. War in the Northern part of Ethiopia and conflicts in Oromia and Benishangul Regions have impacted civilians and residents in terms of massive internal displacements, loss of life and livelihood as well as destruction of public and private properties, among others. Destruction and looting of educational institutions have, in turn, resulted in school closures further aggravating the challenges on an education sector which has not yet fully recovered from the devastating impact of Covid-19.  

As noted in the November 2021 joint investigation report of EHRC with the United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights into alleged violations of international human rights in Tigray Region, destruction and looting of public infrastructure due to the conflict in Tigray has significantly impeded the ability of individuals to access public services including educational institutions. With several schools sheltering internally displaced person (IDPs), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 3 million boys and girls across Afar, Amhara and Tigray regions have been deprived of their right to education since November 2020.  

A report by the Ministry of Education also shows that the war has resulted in the complete destruction of 694 schools and partial destruction of 65 schools in four zones of Afar Region alone as of September 2021, leaving more than 1.2 million students out of school. The Ministry estimated that the rehabilitation of damaged and looted schools in Amhara Region alone could cost approximately ETB 11 billion. 

In its January 6, 2022 Northern Ethiopia Humanitarian Update Situation Report, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also confirms the impact of the conflict on schooling has deprived millions of children of education for over a year in some areas. In Amhara Region, for example, 4,107 schools (3,823 primary and 284 secondary schools), accounting for 42 percent of the schools in the region, were reportedly totally or partially damaged and looted according to an initial assessment by the Ministry of Education’s Regional Bureau. More than 1.9 million children, 116,939 teachers, 9,583 school leaders and 1,941 Zonal and Woreda Education personnel were directly affected as a result. Similarly in Tigray, more than 1,000 schools were damaged or looted and need renovation or clearance from explosive devices; while in Afar, 203 schools were damaged (32 per cent completely), affecting more than 150,000 students.

EHRC is concerned by the short and medium term ramification of the continued closure of schools on children and their future. Basic education is recognized as a right both under international human rights instruments adopted by Ethiopia as well as the FDRE Constitution. The right to basic education is, among others, enshrined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which calls for free and compulsory elementary education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, goes further to stipulate that governments should make higher education accessible to all. By pledging to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, Ethiopia recognized that education is essential for the success of all 17 of its goals. Sustainable Development Goal 4 in particular aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030. 

While EHRC welcomes reports of the reopening of schools in South Wollo and North Shoa zones of Amhara Region, Kamashi Zone of Benishangul-Gumuz Region and Tigray Region and the placement of university students from conflict affected areas to other  places, it is concerned that this measure has not been consistently applied to all  conflict affected areas and IDPs hosting communities. Calling for concerted efforts on the part of the government and other partners to reopen schools and get students back to schools, Dr. Abdi Jibril, Commissioner for Civil, Political and Socio-Economic Rights at EHRC, said “getting children back to school needs a multi-faceted intervention.” He added that such intervention involves rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure and ensuring the safety of students as a matter of priority, both of which require considerable resources and time. In light of this, Dr Abdi also underlined that “to bridge the gap while also respecting health and safety protocols, alternative teaching avenues such as the establishment of temporary learning centres, distance learning and other technological solutions, such as radio and satellite teaching must also be explored.”