Challenges facing the Education system in Mali

Written by Ruth Lakica



Education is a fundamental right for all humans around the globe. Regardless of one’s economic or social status, they should be able to have access to Education. Even though this seems obvious and like common knowledge, it is not the reality for many Malians. Nevertheless, the government has and is making significant efforts to cab illiteracy.  For instance, the government split primary education into two cycles which allowed Malian students to take examinations to gain admission to secondary, tertiary, or higher education.  However, Mali has still been facing a security crisis for several years now, which has severely compromised access to education for thousands of school-age children, particularly in the north.

Threats against schools and destruction of school infrastructure and equipment led to a shortage of teachers in affected areas and a breakdown in the pedagogical support system due to massive population displacements[i].


School children in a classroom in Gao, Mali – Photo by UN/Marco Dormino

Conflicts and insecurity

The country is increasingly recording serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations. Violent attacks by armed groups now affect civilians throughout most of the country.

Threats from armed groups remain the main factor behind the closure of 1,700 schools in Mali today[ii]. Over the past two years, the country has been among the three African countries whose schools are most attacked, along with Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).

In addition to insecurity, emergency education in conflict zones is severely underfunded. Since the beginning of the year 2022, 1 in 10 schools in Mali has remained closed due to a lack of infrastructure and school equipment. Mali’s national budget cannot cover the needs and education is one of the least funded sectors in the humanitarian response, accounting for only 2 percent of funds received in 2022.

For schools in conflict areas that are struggling to stay open, having funding to build and rehabilitate school infrastructure is vital. According to the Norwegian Refugee council article about the insecurity in Mali, “In some schools in the region, a single classroom can often accommodate up to 300 children due to a lack of infrastructure,” said Ibrahim Ag Bijangoum, Acting Director of the Ménaka Education Academy. It is impossible for school-going pupils and students to have a taste for learning in such a condition.

Household poverty

Access to and completion of schooling is inequitable, with girls and children from the poorest families at highest risk of school dropout: According to UNICEF in 2020, only 73.8 percent of girls are enrolled in primary basic education, compared with 85.8 percent of boys. By the time they reach secondary education, the proportion of girls enrolled is only 15 percent, compared with 21 percent of boys.[iii]

Among children that do attend school in Mali, the absence of qualified teachers, textbooks, and low-quality school environments all adversely affect learning outcomes: most students in fifth grade in Mali are not able to master basic mathematics and reading skills.

A classroom full of students engage in class and look toward the teacher while seated at their desks
Credit: GPE/Michelle Mesen

Impact of Covid-19

The school closures and the loss of household income, particularly in rural areas, restricted access to education for school-aged children. Many students abandoned school permanently due to their parent’s loss of income. Girls did not reintegrate back into schools and were exposed to early marriage and pregnancies. According to the world bank, in Bamako August 2021, a senior poverty economist at the World Bank and co-author of the report, who adds that school-aged children today are likely to experience lower lifetime income due to the pandemic[iv].

Water, sanitation, and hygiene

Access to safe and sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene protects children against common water-borne diseases such as diarrhea and reduces stunting, which affects more than 26% of children in Mali.

According to UNICEF in 2015, in Mali, only about one-half of schools have an improved water point, and less than 20% of schools have functional, separate toilets for boys and girls. In addition, more than one million people in Mali still practice open defecation, which has a direct impact on the health and safety of communities. While 80% of Mali’s population now has access to improved sources of drinking water, this number drops significantly in rural areas, where it is only 70%[v]. Displacement in conflict-affected areas of Mali has further limited the access of families on the move to clean water and sanitation.



In conclusion, despite the challenges facing the education system in Mali, the government of Mali and other organizations have been working hard to improve education. UNICEF in Mali and other partners have been working in communities, schools, and health centers to improve access to clean water, hygiene, and sanitation in all areas of children’s lives.

According to European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, the EU has provided more than €472 million in humanitarian aid in Mali since the beginning of the crisis in 2012. It is currently a leading donor of assistance in the country[vi].

[i]Global Partnership for Education. (2021). Education in Mali. Retrieved from:

[ii]Norwegiann Refugee Council. (2022). Mali: Insecurity and lack of funding force over half a million children out of school.  Retrieved from:[iii] UNICEF (2020). Harnessing children’s potential through quality education for every child. Retrieved from:

[iii] UNICEF (2020). Harnessing children’s potential through quality education for every child. Retrieved from:

[iv]The World Bank. (2021). Mali: Understand COVID-19’s impacts for better actions. Retrieved from:

[v]UNICEF. (2023) Water, sanitation, and hygiene: Improving children’s lives through clean water and clean environments. Retrieved from:

[vi]European Commission. (2023). European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations: Mali. Retrieved from:

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