Education International
Education International

Protecting schools from the perils of conflict a top priority for the global community

published 3 June 2015 updated 5 June 2015

Thirty-seven countries have joined an international Safe Schools Declaration that commits them to enhance efforts to protect students, teachers and schools from violent attack and stop schools from being targets in conflict.

In situations of conflict, widespread attacks on schools and universities, their students and staff, as well as the use of school buildings by armed parties is denying education to many thousands of people – with devastating results for individuals and their communities, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) said.

Last year’s kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, and the school massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan are two stark examples of how schools are being targeted in violent conflicts around the world.

The Declaration, adopted at a meeting hosted by the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry in Oslo on 29 May, is the result of a process initiated by the GCPEA in 2012, and led by the governments of Norway and Argentina since 2014.

The Declaration also requires countries to record casualties from attacks on education, assist victims, and support humanitarian programming that promotes the continuation of education during armed conflict.

By joining the Declaration, countries agree to endorse and use new Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, which call for armed parties to avoid using educational buildings or making them targets of attack. The Guidelines are intended to apply to non-state armed groups as well as government armed forces.

Among those at the Oslo ceremony was Ziauddin Yousafzai, the UN special adviser on global education, and the father and teacher of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl and education rights campaigner shot by the Pakistan Taliban who earlier this year received the Nobel Peace Prize. He applauded the countries that attended the conference for putting the hope generated by education ahead of the despair resulting from violence.

In a study released in May this year, Lessons in War 2015: Military Use of Schools and Universities during Armed Conflict, the GCPEA also found that schools and universities have been used for military purposes by government forces and non-state armed groups in 26 countries since 2005 – the majority of countries with an armed conflict during this period.  In an earlier study, Education under Attack 2014, the GCPEA found a systematic pattern of attacks on education in 30 countries around the world between 2009 and 2013.

Education International (EI), together with the GCPEA, seeks the affiliates’ contribution to collect information for a research into responses to attacks on teachers and other education personnel during armed conflict.

Since the adoption of the EI Declaration ‘Schools Shall Be Safe Sanctuaries’, EI has engaged in advocacy initiatives to urge the international community to act to prevent violations of the right to education, to ensure the safety and security of learners, teachers, education personnel and academics everywhere and to strengthen international law and to end impunity.

Photo: Eman Mohammed for UNESCO (2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report) -Palestinian boy passing by a grafitti as he walks to school at Jabalia area, northern Gaza Strip)