The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

  1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. West Africa
  4. Mali

North Mali schools off to a hard start

The Robert Cisse Academy secondary school in Mopti (September 2012) where hundreds of children are taking remedial classes after leaving the north, where their public schools have closed
(Katarina Höije/IRIN)

The ravages of Mali’s conflict, which paralysed education for almost two years, have disrupted the start of a new school year in the country’s north, where damaged schools, staff shortages and insecurity have set back learning.

Schools reopened across Mali in October. The government and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched a back-to-school campaign to help 500,000 children and 9,000 teachers restart schooling. Bamako also set up a scheme to pay civil servants to return to the country’s north.

Northern Mali was overrun by Islamist militants and separatist rebels after the government was overthrown in Bamako in March 2012. The Islamists, who imposed a harsh form of Islamic law, were dislodged by French forces in January. However, security is yet to fully return to the region.

“Despite the measures taken by the government, many teachers have not yet resumed duty in Timbuktu,” said Mody Abdoulaye Cissé, the Timbuktu education director. He explained that some teachers considered the US$500 government incentive to return to the north too small and felt that it was still unsafe to go back to the region.

“It’s not only a question of money. It’s a matter of life too. Everybody knows that the conflict is not over and there are suicide attackers everywhere. The government is putting the lives of teachers and pupils in danger by opening schools under such conditions. That is why I have decided not to return for the moment,” said Sekou Sala Koné, a teacher in Timbuktu who is currently living in Bamako.

Years lost

The conflict and the food crisis that hit the Sahel region in 2011-2012 kept some 800,000 Malian children out of school for two years, according to the education department. Even before the conflict, education levels in Mali were already low, with an estimated 1.2 million school-age children, most of them girls, not attending school.

“The major problem is that too many children have lost two years of schooling. This can have a carry-on impact of discouraging children from returning to school,” David Gressly, the UN deputy representative in Mali and the humanitarian coordinator, told IRIN.

With the start of the new school year, learning in Timbuktu Region has resumed without severe disruptions. However, Mohamed Lamine, whose children just returned to school, said the lack of teachers has forced double shifts while the academic calendar has been skewed.

In the northern city of Gao, the teachers union has called for a strike over pay. Union leader Ibrahim Touré said that around half of the 2,597 teachers there had not been paid the return-to-work grant.

Schools have not even started in the northeastern Kidal region, where the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a separatist Tuareg rebel group, exerts control.

“Here, in fact, schools have been closed since the start of the crisis… Thousands of children are deprived of their right to education,” said Adama Kamissoko, the governor of Kidal.


Sixty-seven percent of schools in northern Mali were ransacked during the crisis. The militants occupied around a quarter of the schools in the region. A smaller percentage of school buildings was damaged or destroyed, according to UNICEF. Gao schools were looted the most.

The nine-month Islamist occupation wrecked public services, with hospitals, bank services, water and electricity only just resuming in most areas.

For Oumar Touré, a teacher who recently resumed duty in Timbuktu, “it is the future of these poor children that we should consider. They need us.”

“I am not scared of the suicide bombers. You know, whether you are in Bamako, Sikasso or Kidal, you may still die,” he told IRIN.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

Share this article
Join the discussion

Right now, we’re working with contributors on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries to tell the stories of people enduring and responding to a rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis.

We’re documenting the threats to humanitarian response in the country and providing a platform for those bearing the brunt of the invasion. Our goal is to bring you the truth at a time when disinformation is rampant. 

But while much of the world’s focus may be on Ukraine, we are continuing our reporting on myriad other humanitarian disasters – from Haiti to the Sahel to Afghanistan to Myanmar. We’ve been covering humanitarian crises for more than 25 years, and our journalism has always been free, accessible for all, and – most importantly – balanced. 

You can support our journalism from just $5 a month, and every contribution will go towards our mission. 

Support The New Humanitarian today.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.