Children in a school in Burkina faso
Photo: Lefasonet

School impacts of violent religious extremism

Research project
Active research
Project size
4,7 million
Project period
2022 - 2024
Project owner
Department of Economics

The Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet)

Short description

In this project we will study how the spread of violent extremist groups, and resulting school closures, affect the acquisition of quality education, and whether girls’ and boys’ educational outcomes are affected differently.

Incidences of militant Islamic violence have been increasing in the Sahel region in the last few years, with Burkina Faso particularly hard hit most recently- This despite the fact that Burkina Faso, as late as 2013, did not have problems with domestic religious extremists and was not a focus for violent extremist groups wishing to recruit, according to a report from the U.S. State Department.

Neighbouring Mali, on the other hand, had experienced increasing extremist activity, culminating in a military intervention from first France and then the United Nations. Following this intervention, different extremist groups, with links to al-Qaeda and ISIS, were pushed across the border into Burkina Faso, where they began to establish a foothold. Hence, Burkina Faso can now be added to the list of African countries, including e.g. Nigeria, Somalia, Niger, Chad, Mali, Cameroon, and Mozambique, with a presence of violent Islamic extremist groups.

Violent extremism a threat to prior progress

Prior to the most recent developments, Burkina Faso had made considerable progress in terms of improving access to education in general, and for girls in particular. Over the past 20 years, enrollment in primary schools has increased by more than 40 percentage points, resulting in the country almost achieving gender parity at the primary school level in 2015.

This progress is now being threatened, as one consequence of the surge in armed violence by extremist groups has been a longer period of educational disruptions due to conflict and insecurity. The situation has been described as a ‘war against education’, with armed Islamist groups targeting students, teachers and schools, citing their opposition to Western-style education. Moreover, these attacks have a gender dimension, putting women and girls at increased risk of physical and sexual violence.

Before the government closed all schools nationwide in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 2,500 schools had already closed in response to attacks or insecurity, depriving nearly 350,000 students of access to education. Those schools that aimed to host the displaced students suffered from overcrowding, resulting in them being unable to accept all additional students.

Schools with different denominations

Both Christian and Muslim schools have long existed in Burkina Faso, in addition to public schools. At the same time as schools are closing due to violence, new private religious schools have opened. This is particularly the case for new Muslim schools. The result of the establishment of new schools in parallel with other schools closing is that the composition of
Christian, older Muslim, newer Muslim and public schools is changing over time. Therefore, we will also be able to study how schools of different denominations interact with, and possibly mitigate, the impacts of violent extremism.

Violent extremism and the acquisition of quality education

Education is key for economic and social development. Our general purpose is to enhance knowledge on how the spread of violent extremism affects the acquisition of quality education, and the potentially gendered differences in these effects. As mentioned above, one consequence of the spread of violent extremism is school closures. These have occurred non-uniformly across the region for some time, which allows us to better study their impact compared to contexts where all schools have been closed simultaneously. In order to answer our broad research question, we will address the following specific questions:

  1. What is the impact of violent religious extremism on the supply of education (school closures, opening of new religious schools, teacher characteristics, hours of teaching)?
  2. What is the impact of violent religious extremism on the educational outcomes of boys and girls?
  3. What is the impact of school closures on the educational outcomes of boys and girls?