– H.E. Mr. Stanislas Ouaro became the Minister of National Education and Literacy of Burkina Faso in February 2018 after a long academic career. Between 2012 and 2018, Mr. Ouaro was the President of the Université Ouaga II. Prior to that, the eminent mathematician held several teaching and administrative posts with Ouagadougou University. Mr. Ouaro is widely published, and has also served as the President of the Réseau pour l’Excellence de l’Enseignement Supérieur en Afrique de l’Ouest (Network for Excellence in Higher Education in West Africa). A leading advocate for education and equality, Mr. Ouaro has been awarded several academic awards in Burkina Faso and elsewhere.
In this incisive interview, the minister explores the upcoming Education Cannot Wait-financed multi-year resilience programme and the triple threat of Conflict, COVID-19 and the Climate Crisis, which have come together to displace over 1 million people in Burkina Faso. Learn more about ECW-financed programmes in the Sahel and Burkina Faso.
ECW: Please tell us about the situation in the education sector in Burkina Faso. What are the key challenges and priorities?
H.E. Mr. Stanislas Ouaro: In Burkina Faso, the education sector is suffering the negative effects of the security and health crises. The security crisis is characterized by terrorist attacks resulting in the deaths of students and teachers, as well as the destruction of education infrastructure. This has resulted in the closure of more than 2,300 schools and a massive displacement of populations estimated at more than one million people, including school-age children and youth. As for the COVID-19 health crisis, this resulted in the closure of all schools in Burkina Faso for several months. The education system is therefore faced with many challenges, including the reopening of closed schools, the schooling of displaced children and maintaining the continuity of education for all learners.
To meet these challenges, a certain number of priority actions are envisaged within our department through the National Strategy for Education in Emergency Situations, which is our reference framework for education in emergencies (EiE). This involves promoting access and retention through (i) the reopening of closed schools, (ii) increasing the capacity of schools in areas hosting displaced communities, (iii) the rehabilitation of damaged buildings, (iv) the establishment of temporary learning spaces, (v) relevant supplies to school canteens to take into account internally displaced students, (vi) the provision of textbooks and school kits for schools hosting displaced children, (vii) increasing coordination and steering capacities of the education sector, (viii) training teachers on the EiE/INEE standards approach and on education curricula in emergency.
In addition, the operationalization of “Educational Radio and Television” will ensure the continuity of education in areas that are hard to reach or with poor infrastructural coverage. In addition to this, the creation of an emergency fund for EiE will increase the resilience of the education sector in the face of these crises.
ECW: Your partnership with Education Cannot Wait has been instrumental in delivering emergency responses in the education sector. As we now move forward with a multi-year education investment that addresses both humanitarian and development needs in the education sector, what are your expectations on the ECW Multi-Year Resilience Programme (MYRP) which will be launched soon and why is it so crucial today.
H.E. Mr. Stanislas Ouaro: I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Education Cannot Wait for their unwavering support in our efforts to support education in emergencies. As for our expectations, we would like the multi-year programme to help improve access, quality, and the management and resilience capacities of communities. Regarding access, we hope this programme can help to diversify learning opportunities in areas affected by insecurity through the creation of temporary learning spaces and the promotion of education alternatives. These interventions should also facilitate access to school for many children from vulnerable households, minority groups, children living with disabilities, girls, etc. In addition, through interventions adapted to the emergency context, we would like to improve the quality of learning, protection and retention of students. Strengthening the technical and logistical capacities of state actors responsible for coordinating EiE activities is also a key expectation. Finally, the multi-year programme should help strengthen the resilience capacities of local communities. Indeed, due to the scarcity of resources and the recurrence of humanitarian crises, it is important to equip beneficiary communities with essential skills to prevent the occurrence of crises or to respond to them effectively.
ECW: Burkina Faso is facing the terrible triple threat of Conflict, COVID-19 and Climate Crisis. There are now over 1 million internally displaced persons and 20,000 refugees in Burkina Faso. Knowing what you know now, what is your message to children and youth in Burkina Faso?
H.E. Mr. Stanislas Ouaro: My message to children and young people in this context of both security and health crises is to have faith in the future. It may seem difficult, if not impossible, to hold on to hope in a context as complex as that of insecurity, but I would like to point out that faith is a powerful springboard for overcoming the trials that life places on us at times. While protecting us from relinquishing, it pushes us to cling to life, to dream of the world we aspire to and to fight to make our dream come true: a world where everyone occupies their rightful place in terms of the education they have received. Moreover, education can equip individuals with the knowledge essential to their permanent adaptation to an increasingly changing living environment. Conversely, the lack of education can plunge many children and young people into a certain vulnerability that could benefit terrorist groups who dream of embroiling them in their murderous madness. It is in this perspective that the State, together with its technical and financial partners, is doing everything to ensure quality education for all despite the specific circumstances of the emergency situation.
However, this dream cannot be realized without taking responsibility at the individual and collective level; that’s why I invite everyone to fully play their part. Moreover, our steadfast determination is to fight to guarantee them a quality education because it is the most powerful weapon to overcome ignorance. I firmly believe that by increasing the level of knowledge of individuals through education, we can bend the curve towards violence and hatred into the direction of a world of peace. Of course, it is a long-term struggle that requires us to dig deep within ourselves for the necessary resources to move forward, but together we will achieve it. We will certainly stumble, sometimes even fall, but we will always stand back up stronger, more determined and more convinced because we are fighting a fair fight.
ECW: During the Central Sahel Ministerial Roundtable convened in October, ECW pledged important seed funding to cover one-third of the total budget of the upcoming Multi-Year Resilience Education Programme in Burkina Faso (and Mali and Niger). What message would you like to share with donors in relation to the remaining $94 million funding gap and why is it urgent to fill the gap?
H.E. Mr. Stanislas Ouaro: Education cannot wait, as the name of your organization says. This is even more true in areas affected by crises such as in the Sahel, which is facing a gradual deterioration of the security situation. This has caused an increase in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and also refugees, and created huge gaps in terms of access to basic social services such as education and health.
In Burkina Faso, the number of IDPs increased from 779,741 in March 2020 to 1,049,767 in November 2020, an increase of approximately 34 percent. Children, who should benefit from basic social services in order to grow up in optimal conditions, constitute nearly 60 percent of IDPs. Unfortunately, resource mobilization does not keep pace with increasing needs. According to an overview of humanitarian needs published by OCHA, as of 30 July 2020, out of a total requirement of US$424.4 million, approximately 32.4 percent of resources have been mobilized, i.e. a funding gap of US$287 million needs to be filled.
When we compare the proportion of children in urgent need of education with the resources available, it seems imperative to once again seek support from donors. The need to fill this gap stems from the fact that if nothing is done urgently, more than 600,000 children will be deprived of education, protection and health. And, there is no need to explain how this could negatively impact the social equilibrium in this region and in the world in a few years. If we fail to create the conditions for the optimal and equitable development of children today, especially those who suffer the brunt of insecurity on a daily basis, it is the society of tomorrow that we are jeopardizing.
ECW: From your unique vantage point as Burkina Faso’s Minister of National Education and Literacy, do you have any words of advice for our readers around the world, who are committed to education for countries affected by crisis, like Burkina Faso.
H.E. Mr. Stanislas Ouaro: We are delighted to know that there are people around the world who are committed to the education of children and youth in areas affected by crisis situations, such as those in certain regions of Burkina Faso. It seems very easy to destroy; but building, and above all, educating girls and boys to become productive, responsible adults, is a long-term endeavor which requires a lot of love, patience, selflessness, self-sacrifice, etc. We would like to assure ECW’s readers that we are doing everything we can to ensure that children and youth in areas affected by crises and other natural disasters in our country can benefit from an accessible, safe, inclusive, protective quality education. We would like to point out that taking an interest in, and learning about, the education situation in areas affected by the security crisis in Burkina Faso is already a significant step. This is support that we appreciate, applaud and encourage! Talking about it with friends and relatives is already taking a form of action. This is how we will establish a chain of solidarity on an international scale to overcome the destructive forces which try to destroy what is the best in humanity: brotherhood and sisterhood. Together, we are never alone.
ECW: In conclusion, we would like to learn a bit more about you on a personal level. We know that you are a mathematician and graduated with your doctorate based upon your thesis, ‘Etude de problèmes elliptiques-paraboliques nonlinéaires en une dimension d’espace’. Could you tell us about the three books that have influenced you the most, and why?
H.E. Mr. Stanislas Ouaro: I will cite two books that have really influenced me in my life. These are the books “A quand l’Afrique” by Joseph Ki-Zerbo, and “Il s’appelait Sankara” by Sennen Andriamirado. For me these two books mainly have two things in common. First, they talk about two illustrious African politicians, President Thomas Sankara and the historian Joseph Ki-Zerbo. These two characters constitute benchmarks for the youth of our countries through the journey of their careers – and for their love of the African continent in general and for their country Burkina Faso in particular. Secondly, these two works tell us that Africa cannot be developed by people other than by Africans themselves, hence the famous statement of Joseph Ki-Zerbo: “One does not develop X or Y, one develops oneself.” According to both of them, Africa must conquer its identity and be proud of its contribution to the human adventure.