Physical and sexual violence in some of West Africa's schools is hindering children's educational performance and leading to high drop-out rates, according to the group Plan International.  

The non-governmental organization Plan International has released a report about its 'Learn Without Fear' campaign, which has been responding to violence in schools in West Africa, and globally, for the past two years.

The deputy director of programs for Plan International in West Africa, Stefanie Conrad, says the campaign is protecting hundreds of thousands of children from violence in countries such as Senegal, Mali, Guinea-Bissau and Liberia.

Violence in West African Schools Disrupting Educat
Violence in West African Schools Disrupting Education

"We have had horrendous cases here in West Africa where children were severely affected; both physically as well as pyschologically traumatized," Conrad said. "We understand also that school violence has a direct impact on children's ability to concentrate at school."

Conrad said that violence in schools comes in three forms; physical violence from teachers, sexual violence from teachers and bullying from other children.

She said the impact on the children's future is often under-estimated, particularly that of girl children who drop out of school as a direct result of violence.

"There is consequently also an economic impact because children who drop out of school have less chance of making a good living and have less of a chance of contributing to society," Conrad said.

As part of the campaign, nearly 20,000 teachers around the world have been trained in non-violent discipline techniques.

Radio campaigns are being used to reach people in rural areas and child-led lobbying is helping to empower students.

In Liberia, there has been a reported increase in school enrollment in the campaign areas.

Conrad said there is a clear link between the impact of the Learn Without Fear campaign and the Millennium Development Goal for education, which aims to ensure that all of the world's elementary school age children are enrolled in school by 2015.

Although the Millennium Development Goal focuses on getting children into school, Conrad said that keeping them there is just as important.

"If you look at international aid efforts they generally focus on getting children into school, on making sure that schools are being constructed and that there is greater access," Conrad said. "But now is the time to concentrate on making schools better and safer places in order to keep children in school."

In Togo, Plan International staff report girls who have dropped out of school because of violence are beginning to return to school thanks to the campaign.

In Burkina Faso and Mali, children are being trained in online communications and media liaison in order to inform other children, as well of adults, of their right to learn without fear.