We must work to protect our educational institutions
International Day to Protect Education from Attack was celebrated on September 9.

“Learning is strengthened and solidified when it occurs in a safe, secure, and normal environment.” — Jean-Bertrand Aristide

September 9 is commemorated as the United Nations (UN) International Day to Protect Education from Attack. All across the world attacks on educational institutions continue to occur. From the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Ukraine, from Cameroon to Syria, from the West Bank to Yemen, from Nigeria to Somalia the need to galvanise efforts, energy, and commitment behind the protection of education in the context of armed conflict is sadly more urgent than ever.

According to UNESCO, in most countries with armed conflicts, the military use of schools and other educational institutions remains a constant feature, depriving students of their right to access quality education and teachers of the ability to deliver learning adequately. Over the past six years the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) collected thousands of reports on education or military use of educational facilities worldwide. More than 25,000 students, teachers, and academics have been injured, killed, or harmed in such attacks, carried out in situations of armed conflicts or insecurity.

In recognising the importance of raising awareness on the dire need to preserve education and protect it from attack, the UN resolution designated UNESCO and UNICEF to serve as co-facilitators for the yearly observance of this day. The day also calls upon stakeholders to keep this issue at the top of the international agenda and duly act to alleviate the plight of students affected by armed conflicts.

Schools, universities, and educational dwellings should always be havens to foster peace and development. Their civilian nature should be recognised and protected, never targeted. Undoubtedly, armed conflicts bring many devastating barriers to learning. The protracted nature of conflicts today negatively affects the future of entire generations, particularly that of children and most vulnerable populations. The right to education must be respected, upheld, and enjoyed by everyone, especially in situations of armed conflict and insecurity.

SAFE SCHOOLS DECLARATION

The right to education is not waived during armed conflict.

In 2015 the governments of Norway and Argentina led a process among UN member states to develop the Safe Schools Declaration dedicated to protecting education in armed conflict. The Safe Schools Declaration, an inter-government political accord dedicated to protecting education in armed conflict, outlines a set of commitments to strengthen the protection of education from attack and restrict the use of schools and universities for military purposes. It seeks to ensure the continuity of safe education during armed conflict.

The right to education is not waived during armed conflict. States are bound by international law to uphold the right to education during these conflicts. To date, some 114 states have signed the Safe Schools Declaration, which is a vital step in committing to upholding the right to education for their citizens and signalling accountability.

The declaration was opened for countries to endorse at the First International Conference on Safe Schools in Oslo, Norway, in May 2015. In March 2017 the Government of the Argentine republic hosted the Second International Conference on Safe Schools, further building upon the development of a global community dedicated to protecting education in armed conflict. In May 2019 the Government of Spain hosted the Third International Conference on Safe Schools in Palma de Mallorca, and in October 2021 the Government of Nigeria hosted the Fourth International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration in Abuja.

The declaration builds a community of nations committed to respecting the civilian nature of schools and developing and sharing examples of best practices for protecting schools and universities during armed conflict. It offers guidance on concrete measures that armed forces and armed non-state actors can take to deter military use of educational facilities, reduce the risk of attack, and mitigate the impact of attacks and military use when they do occur.

Many countries have also committed to collecting or facilitate the collection of data on attacks on education, investigating and prosecuinge war crimes involving education, and providing assistance to victims. There are numerous barriers surrounding access to a quality education. A new UN report has cautioned that, at the current rate, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) will not achieve the education goals set by the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The report by UNICEF and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean notes that, while achievement of the education goals established in UN Sustainable Development Goals 4 (SDG4) of the 2030 agenda was not assured before the novel coronavirus pandemic, "it is much less so now". The agencies emphasised that the targets will not be met without a change in the direction of policies and resource allocation for education.

Unquestionably, the global community already has more than enough on its table regarding ensuring students have access to education which is inclusive and equitable. The attack on education comes in various forms. For example, when those who are misguided burglarise our schools or chain the gates and in the process prevent students and teachers from accessing institutions of teaching and learning, those actions are also attacks on education.

The powers that be must be mindful that teaching and learning cannot take place in an atmosphere which is violent and toxic. No one wins when attacks are orchestrated against educational institutions. No one wins when schools are closed and students roam the streets. It is the responsibility of the international community to recommit to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially goal number four, which speaks to the provision of learning opportunities for all.

Now is the time for nation states to reaffirm their commitment by taking all the necessary measures in order to safeguard educational institutions from attack.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, "It is not beyond our power to create a world in which all children have access to a good education."

Wayne Campbell

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and/or gender issues. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer and waykam@yahoo.com.

Wayne Campbell

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