Educational challenges in Niger

Written by Maria Popova.

Niger, a nation at the crossroads of West Africa, has recently commanded global attention for its intricate political climate. While the headlines often focus on the country’s political struggles, this article aims to delve into a critical issue that silently shapes the lives of its citizens—educational challenges. With a population nearing 27 million and a GDP largely dependent on agriculture, Niger faces a complex confluence of factors contributing to a dire state of education.

The World Bank’s stark revelation that over 10 million Nigeriens live in extreme poverty sets the stage for understanding the multifaceted hurdles obstructing the educational journey for its youth. From a fluctuating political climate and economic fragility to the struggles of child labor, early marriages, and pervasive poverty, the country grapples with a daunting array of obstacles.

Despite commendable governmental efforts, including free primary education and mandatory schooling, the persistently low literacy rates underscore a deeper, systemic crisis. This article navigates through the intricacies of Niger’s educational challenges, shedding light on the interplay of socio-economic dynamics, gender inequality, and regional violence that collectively form a barrier to the realization of quality education for the nation’s youth.

Niger is a country in Western Africa with a population reaching almost 27 million people in 2023, with the largest number of citizens located in its capital Niamey.[i] Niger’s GDP is estimated to 15 billion USD, which is largely due to poor diversification of its economy, with agriculture taking up 40%.[ii] According to the World Bank, more than 10 million people in Niger live in extreme poverty.[iii] Fluctuating political climate, poverty, bad economy, child labour and early marriages are all factors contributing to the educational challenges in the country.[iv] As a result, Niger is a country rating dangerously low with regards to quality of education with a literacy rate of 37.34% in 2021.[v]

Low school attendance

The poor state of the educational system in Niger is not evidence of lack of efforts by the government which has tried to pursue educational development throughout the years. For example, in the 2000s Niger made primary education free for students to encourage the number of children enrolling in educational institutions.[vi] Furthermore, schooling for children is mandatory until age 15, which is the end of the first cycle of secondary education.[vii] However, over 50% of children between the ages of 7 and 16 are not enrolled in schools.[viii] Pre-school enrolment rate marks only 7%, while secondary school enrolment rate is below 60%.[ix] Even for the children enrolled in educational facilities, there is a high chance of dropping out due to lack of retention stemming from poor quality of teaching, poverty, lack of infrastructure.[x]


Niger ranks at 189th out of 191 countries in United Nation’s Human Development reports and continues to be one of the poorest countries in the world according to UN’s Multidimensional Poverty Index.[xi] Violence and political instability also pose further difficulties when it comes to income opportunities.

The United Nations Food program estimates roughly 2 million people in Niger are food insecure with that number continuing to rise during lean season.[xii] Hunger poses a significant challenge to educational development. When children are not sure where their next meal will come from, their priority is not set on furthering their education, but rather on their survival. Children cannot be expected to retain focus on school when they are dealing with malnutrition. Furthermore, many parents make the decision to pull their children from school in order for them to work as for most families in rural areas, this is the only way to ensure the family’s survival.[xiii]


Since 2018 the region of Tillabéri has suffered massive attacks on civilian population as violence has overspilled from neighbouring conflicts in Mali and Burkina Faso.[xiv] The attacks led to civilian deaths as well as displacement of the population in the region.[xv] The uncertainty of the situation and the spread of violence has had negative impact on education in Niger.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council 900 educational facilities have been closed due to the attacks.[xvi] Closed schools and displacement are not the only educational challenges stemming from the widespread violence. Due to the displacement many children have no access to essential documentation required for them to start school, such as birth certificates or other identification documents.[xvii] The violence also causes severe mental trauma to children, which can then affect their ability to learn and their focus in school.

Gender inequality

While access to education is a problem for most children in Niger, minority groups face disproportionate disadvantages when it comes to their education. Young girls, especially ones living in rural areas and ones with lower socio-economic status often face disproportionate challenges due to gender inequality. Only 4 out of 10 girls reach sixth grade in Niger, before being forced to drop out of school as a result of financial difficulties.

Another prominent issue which consequently leads to educational challenges among girls is child marriage. In Niger, marrying very young is often interpreted as a way to increase one’s economic and financial status and to secure inheritance.[xviii] Due to poverty, many families marry off their girls to wealthy men as a form of survival mechanism.[xix]

While child marriage is a problem for both young girls and boys, it is an issue more prevalent among girls. While only 6 percent of Nigerien boys are married before the age of 18, for girls that percentage is vastly higher at 76%.[xx] 28% percent of girls in Niger are married before the age of 15.[xxi] The issue is often exacerbated by gender norms, which perpetuate that women and girls’ role is to be mothers and wives.[xxii] Therefore, the focus for young girls in Niger is not on education, but rather on creating a family. Child marriages are not only the cause for challenges in education, but are also linked to slow economic growth.[xxiii]

Students in physics class. Niger, 2017. Photo by: GPE/Kelley Lynch via Flickr

According to the World Bank, high fertility, which is defined to be five or more births for a woman, not only poses health risks for both the mother and the children, but is also linked to economic decline. For example, due to rapid population increase, the number of poor people within the state rises and consequently the state cannot deal with the higher demand for investments in education and health services.[xxiv]

Niger, however, has made significant efforts to deal with the problem. For example, they have vowed to abolish child marriages and have created campaigns promoting education for young girls.[xxv] In 2017, the Government passed a decree to keep young girls in schools. The decree allows for pregnant and/or married students to stay in school and for adolescent mothers to return to school after giving birth.[xxvi]

Child labour

Child labour is a prevalent issue in Niger, one that also contributes to educational challenges in the country. Many children are pulled from school and forced to work due to extreme poverty in the country. Child labour is common in villages where children are employed in family farms. They often perform agricultural tasks such as herding of livestock, production of vegetables and grain and fishing. Child labour is also common in the mining industry as well as in public services. According to UNESCO 42% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 work in Niger. However, only 22% combine work and school. It is reported that even children at the age of 6 are forced to work.

All of these factors pose significant educational challenges for young people in Niger. The conflicting political climate and violence spills from surrounding countries pose significant hurdles to children trying to attend schools. Physical and mental trauma from displacement and violent climate have severe negative impacts on focus in school and attendance. Attendance is further hindered by extreme poverty in the region, forcing children to drop out and work to keep their families afloat or ensure their own survival. Child labour continues to be a common practice due to the poverty levels in the country as children from all ages are pulled out of schools and forced to work. From 5 years old, roughly half of the children between ages 5 and 14 work in Niger.

Alongside all of these hurdles, certain more vulnerable groups face additional challenges when it comes to their education. Young girls face disproportionate challenges due to gender inequality. They are often pushed into child marriages as survival mechanism, meant to ensure escape from poverty. The focus of young girls is then directed towards finding a husband and creating a family, instead of receiving quality education or any education at all. It is clear that children in Niger face a lot of challenges in their daily lives which are interconnected and combined in a vicious cycle. This cycle also affects their education and can lead to detrimental impacts on their further development and adult life.

In conclusion, Niger grapples with a complex web of challenges that severely impact the educational landscape for its citizens. Despite commendable efforts by the government, exemplified by initiatives such as free primary education, mandatory schooling until age 15, and campaigns to combat child marriages, the reality on the ground remains harsh. Addressing these interconnected issues is crucial not only for the immediate well-being of the younger generation but also for the long-term socio-economic development of the nation. It demands comprehensive and sustained efforts, both domestically and internationally, to break the vicious cycle and provide the children of Niger with a meaningful chance at a brighter future.


Cover Image by GPE/Kelley Lynch via Flickr

Educational Challenges in Côte d’Ivoire: repercussions of conflicts and cocoa child labour

Written by Maja Przybyszewska

Imagine. Imagine children going to school daily and learning to read and write. Imagine young girls and boys sitting in the classroom and loudly repeating the alphabet or the multiplication table. Imagine their smiles and the opportunities education gives to all of us. But now, when you take a closer look, you realise. Realise that the classroom is small and dilapidated, and school supplies are lacking. Realise that more than half of the children do not know how to read or write. And you realise that most children are absent because they must work on the cocoa farms to help their parents.

When you eat chocolate, do you ever wonder how it was produced or who was involved in the process? Are the working conditions appropriate? What if it is forced labour? Before buying any product and supporting particular practices, these questions should come to our minds. By reflecting on that, we show our support for fair trade and protecting fundamental human rights, such as the right to education.

In Côte d’Ivoire, over 40% of the world’s cocoa production is produced, and the practice of child labour is unfortunately commonplace. In 2013, an estimated 1.4 million children, of which 49% worked in the agriculture sector (UNICEF, 2019).

Therefore, this article aims to raise awareness about the educational challenges in Côte d’Ivoire. Why this country? The motivation is the prolonged issue of child labour and the state’s role in the global production of cocoa. Moreover, this piece will focus on the following matters: providing a brief history of the political instability in the country that negatively affects schooling, describing the cocoa child labour, discussing the current educational picture in the country and looking for possible solutions for developing the education sector.

The brief history of political instability

Ivory Coast has suffered from several years of political instability and internal conflicts disrupting the country and changing the lives of generations. In brief, the state experienced two civil wars, in 2002 and 2011, and the instability was caused by constant tensions between two politicians with presidential ambitions, Laurent Gbagbo from the Ivorian Popular Front and Alassane Quattara from the Rally of the Republicans party. The supporters of these parties were involved in violent fights with each other as they disagreed with the results of the elections. Moreover, during the demonstrations in 2000-2004, hundreds were killed, and the government was accused of human rights abuses. In the 2010 elections, Quattara won and rules to date.

Nevertheless, in 2011 the violence escalated, and the fights were fierce; over 3000 people lost their lives. The events drew the international community’s attention, and the decision to intertwine was made. Since 2011, Gbagbo has been in the custody of the International Criminal Court and was charged with crimes against humanity (Global Security, n.d.).

Consequently, these wars take a toll on civilians and affect children’s education. Even though a conflict ends, its dramatic repercussions influence the economy of the country and its society for the following years, for instance, increasing poverty and the spread of diseases. It should be noted that children become the victims of such conflicts because they are often recruited as soldiers or experience violence. Furthermore, the schools are usually destroyed, which stops further schooling as there is a lack of appropriate infrastructure. From an economic perspective, many families lose their financial resources and need help to ensure their children a decent education. In light of Idrissa Ouili’s research, children who were about to start school during the time of instability had a 10% lower chance of beginning their education. Moreover, many students experienced more than a year’s drop in their years of schooling due to the conflicts (Ouili, 2017). Considering all of these things, they illustrate the multidimensional challenges children and their teachers experience in their education path marked by violence.

Child labour in the cocoa industry

Another critical point is the issue of the high rates of child labour in the cocoa industry. The data show that over 40% of the world’s cocoa production comes from the Ivory Coast (Busquet, Bosma and Hummels, 2021). On the one hand, this means there is a labour demand for the workforce, and some parents instruct their children to work on family farms instead of going to school. On the other hand, the cocoa industry is so deeply integrated into the lives of the local communities that they consider child labour a regular part of their childhood and culture. Research made in 2012-2015 by the ILO (2015) presents that

girls and boys are at high risk and the dangers of working in the cocoa industry due to reinforcing community-based and institutional mechanisms.

Furthermore, studies reveal that in West Africa, the levels of child labour in cocoa production have increased between 2008 and 2014 to 2 million children aged from 5 to 17 years old (Busquet, Bosma and Hummels, 2021). In addition, studies from 2018 indicate that around 90% of minors perform hazardous work, which means working with sharp tools, for example, a machete, clearing land, using agrochemicals, and carrying heavy items (Busquet, Bosma and Hummels, 2021). In a series of interviews with the farmers and their families, the importance of education is hardly discussed due to a belief that farming is an experience from

which children are assumed to benefit in their future lives and careers (Busquet, Bosma and Hummels, 2021).

In other words, many children cannot fully enjoy educational opportunities because they have to help on farms or split their time between school and demanding physical work. These activities negatively impact their lives as their intellectual growth is stalling, and a lack of basic literacy skills will cause them concerns in looking for job prospects in the future labour market.

Another substantial aspect is the child’s right to education. Children and youth in Ivory Coast should not be excluded from achieving quality education because of economic or cultural reasons. Moreover, the state has an obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil the right to education under the Convention against Discrimination in Education (UNESCO, n.d. ). Therefore, the country has to take more conclusive and adequate actions to increase children’s enrollment in schools and end child labour practices.

Efforts to secure children’s rights in a conflict-torn context are still insufficient. Photo by: ©EC/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie

Current educational picture

The educational picture in Ivory Coast is unfortunately upsetting. Even though the government spends more money on education compared to other sub-Saharan African countries, the results are not satisfactory as there are still immense inequalities between rural and urban regions and basic literacy skills are continually neglected (Finch, Wolf and Lichand, 2022). According to a report by the OECD in 2015, every second young person is illiterate, and more than half of children cannot read and write, with the majority of girls, about 60% (OECD, n.d.).

However, on the bright side, in 2016, the government ruled on making school compulsory and accessible for all children aged 6 to 16 and increased the full-time employment age from 14 to 16. In addition, the decision was preceded by an awareness-raising campaign about child trafficking, exploitation, and hazardous work (The Guardian, 2022).

Moreover, international organisations, such as UNICEF, have greatly helped by strengthening the educational infrastructure and organising extra classes for children. Some initiatives focused primarily on girls because of persisting gender inequality in schooling and high dropping-out rates.


In short, education is crucial for the children’s well-being and the country’s further development. Among farmers, there is no understanding of long-term and harmful consequences, which means disrupting the healthy development of many youths and producing future generations of the unskilled workforce in the national economy. From an economic perspective, circumstances negatively affecting schooling, political instability, or child labour can hamper the state’s economic growth. The primary aim of the government of Côte d’Ivoire should be the protection of children and securing their education.

First, the authorities should pay more attention to early childhood education and effectively raise societal awareness. Free and early schooling may incentivise parents to send their children to school instead of the cocoa fields. Also, appropriate monitoring tools and transparent allocation of funds would increase the educational standards in the country.

Secondly, providing the infrastructure. After years of conflicts, many schools were destroyed, and many continue to be ramshackle buildings. Rebuilding and adequately equipping them would allow students and teachers to enjoy learning and teaching much more.

Lastly, as society strongly supports the educational value of work, it would be an excellent initiative to open more vocational centres. Such centres help maintain the primary education path and equip youths with practical skills and abilities needed for the changing labour market.

The consequences of civil wars, the deeply rooted cultural importance of work, and the child labour in the cocoa industry influence education in the Ivory Coast. With the support of international organisations and improved governmental policies, hundreds of Ivorian children could spend more time learning and playing instead of working.

But what can we do about it? Some may say that we do not have any power. Yet, we often forget that we are the consumers and the power is literally in our hands. The next time you buy chocolate, look for a “FAIRTRADE” Mark. Buying those products means safer working conditions for many children.

Every child deserves a safe childhood and quality education.


Busquet, Milande, Niels Bosma, and Harry Hummels. 2021. “A Multidimensional Perspective on Child Labor in the Value Chain: The Case of the Cocoa Value Chain in West Africa.” World Development 146: 105601.

Finch, Jenna E, Sharon Wolf, and Guilherme Lichand. 2022. “Executive Functions, Motivation, and Children’s Academic Development in Côte d’Ivoire.” Developmental Psychology 58, no. 12: 2287–2301

Global Security. n.d. “Ivory Coast Conflict.” Accessed April 6, 2023.

ILO. 2015. “Creating a Protective Environment for Children in Cocoa-Growing Communities.” Accessed April 6, 2023.—dgreports/—exrel/documents/publication/wcms_409587.pdf.

OECD. n.d. “Key Issues affecting Youth in Côte d’Ivoire.” Accessed April 6, 2023.

Ouili, Idrissa. 2017. “Armed Conflicts, Children’s Education and Mortality: New Evidence from Ivory Coast.” Journal of Family and Economic Issues 38, no. 2: 163–83.

The Guardian. 2022. “How Ivory Coast is winning the fight to keep its children out of the cocoa fields.” Accessed April 6, 2023.

UNESCO. n.d. “State obligations and responsibilities on the right to education.” Accessed April 6, 2023.

UNESCO. n.d. “Convention against Discrimination in Education.” Accessed April 6, 2023.

UNICEF. 2019. “Promoting the Rights of children in the Cocoa Producing Areas in Côte d’Ivoire.” Accessed April 6, 2023.

Educational Challenges in Syria

The Borgen Project: ‘The Education Crisis in Syria’ accessible in <>

Syria’s educational system has faced challenges for a long time, but the situation improved before the war’s outbreak in 2011. In the decades that preceded the crisis, the educational sector in Syria was witnessing improvements concerning school and university enrolments. Nevertheless, the Syrian government was, at the time, taking initiatives and showing interest in fighting illiteracy as well as increasing the number of primary and preparatory schools throughout the country. 

Following the outbreak of the civil war, Syrian children of all ages were left without access to education. According to recent data published, there are more than 2.4 million Syrian children currently out of school.


Syrian children are currently facing several challenges that make it extremely difficult to attend their school or continue their education. The conflict has led to people’s displacement from their homes, poverty, and the inability of families to pay for school materials. In addition, the Syrian civil war has dangerously normalized and dramatically increased the issue of child labour. The stories shared by some of the affected children highlight the gravity of their situation. Issa, a 12-year-old boy, expressed his feeling of bitterness when he could not attend school for years after his family was displaced due to the war. Or Salim, a victim of displacement and child labour who was forced to seek refuge in Lebanon, where he currently works daily carrying potato bags. 

Albeit the employment of children under the age of 15 is illegal under Syrian legislation, no prominent governmental initiatives have been taken in the past few years to address this issue. However, UNICEF is taking steps to tackle the problem by adopting and implementing friendly policies designed to assist Syrian children in the enjoyment of their rights. 

A 2012 International Labour Organisation report recommended the Syrian national legislation to reform and impose further regulatory norms in the field of children’s work. The report also highlights how Syrian penalty laws are not severe enough to prevent employers from hiring children. Although the Syrian crisis slowed down the ILO’s work, in 2018, it adopted a ‘multi-sectoral approach’ to prevent child labour. This approach is meant to protect children’s rights to education and livelihood. It is also led and coordinated by several parties, including the Syrian Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, as well as the United Nations. Perhaps this multi-sided tactic, including a governmental representative, will reduce the number of children who are working rather than attending school. 

Unfortunately, Syria’s educational system faces other challenges as well. One of these is the limited access to electricity. The electrical energy infrastructure in Syria was damaged severely after the crisis, leaving most cities in the country, such as Aleppo and Damascus, without electricity for most hours of the day. Most schools in Syria were affected, and students had to struggle in dark classrooms. However, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and UNICEF intervened in some places and saved the situation. For instance, in Aleppo, ECHO and UNICEF supplied 30 schools with solar panels, a successful step that positively changed the situation for students and teachers.

Nonetheless, implementing solar panels in all schools throughout the country is lengthy and costly. Since students of all age groups need electricity at home to prepare for exams, it would also fail to solve the issue in its entirety. The situation is undoubtedly precarious, but the government can take initiatives to assist students to study in more adequate conditions. Both the UN and ECHO could provide public city libraries with solar panels for electricity generation. This would allow students to learn in quiet and well-lit surroundings, thus contributing to their educational success. 

Another major challenge in Syria’s educational sector is the severe lack of fuel which directly affects students’ capabilities to access educational institutions. The Covid-19 pandemic, in addition, forced schools and universities to shut down for months, leading to the dropping out of a vast number of students. 

As mentioned above, UNICEF is taking several steps to improve these circumstances and combat the so-called ‘lost generation’. According to recently published data, UNICEF has not only been active in Syria throughout the past ten years but has also helped over 1.5 million children since 2016 by providing them with study materials and better chances for education. Furthermore, UNESCO has played an active role in Syria by launching several platforms to support Syrian children, psychologically as well as educationally. An example of this can be seen in the creation of “The Second Chance Program” by CapED, which assists the students who failed their final exams in retaking these during the summer, thereby providing them with a second opportunity to move onto the next grade. 

Overall, the situation in Syria is chaotic and complex, and governmental administrations fail to prioritise education. According to a report published by The Middle East Institute in 2022, the limited and short-term nature of the funding, insufficiency and inefficiency of data collection, and the delays in the embracement of new approaches are significant factors hampering Syria’s educational success. Education in Syria is in dire need of funding and rebuilding to improve students’ situations and guarantee their basic human rights. 

Cover image -Photo by Omar Ram on Unsplash

Written by Noor Mousa 

Edited by Olga Ruiz Pilato