Attacks on education: global challenges and responses

©UNICEF/ UNI498551/Filippov

An Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) briefing on Protecting Education in Emergencies (EiE), held on 19 March 2024, looked at the state of attacks on education globally, and explored the challenges, the responses and good practices related to the protection and provision of education in conflicts. 

In this IASC briefing on education, panellists highlighted the critical importance of protecting education from attack and discussed what more needs to be done to save lives and protect learning. 

In many conflicts, schools are attacked, looted, and used for military purposes. Students, teachers, and other education personnel are often threatened, abducted, attacked, or prevented from accessing classrooms. In 2022, the UN reported there were at least 1,163 attacks on schools, noting a 112 percent increase in the number of attacks on schools and hospitals as compared to the previous year. 

Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), highlighted the worsening trend of attacks on education globally, recalling that schools should be safe places. She shared examples of recent attacks on students and schools in Myanmar, Gaza and North-East Nigeria. “We cannot live in an international world order where attacking a school or abducting girl students have become the new norm,” she said. “I am hopeful that with political pressure we can reverse this trend.” 

She also announced a US$500,000 grant to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), to strengthen systems to better protect education from attack globally. 

Two youth advocates spoke to their personal experiences, explaining how conflict and violence had affected their education, and called for the prioritisation and protection of education. 

“These days, access to school is off-and-on, there’s no stability,” said Samarre Marcelin Tecier, from Haiti. “Our education is regressing – we’re already getting close to the end of the school year, and we’ve learned nothing.” 

“In Afghanistan, I feared going to school, but feared not going to school more,” said Mina Bakshi. She reminded participants that there are millions of girls much like her in Afghanistan who currently have no access to education. 

Suzanna Tkalec, Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), underscored that, in Eastern DRC, over 1’000 schools were affected by conflict or disasters, or a combination of both, since the start of 2024. She highlighted the strong government advocacy work carried out by the UN and partners to uphold compliance with commitments towards the Safe Schools Declaration – to protect students, teachers and schools from the worst effects of armed conflict. She further explained that funding for the education sector in DRC is constantly de-prioritised in the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). “It goes without saying that the education sector needs more funding,” she said.  

Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, recalled that her Office monitors six grave violations against children in armed conflict, attacks on schools being one of them. “The Safe Schools Declaration represents a key tool to protect schools in conflict situations,” she said. She shared concrete examples of progress in the implementation of the declaration in the Philippines and the Central African Republic. “The tools in our toolbox are numerous but what is needed is that these frameworks and measures be prioritised, operationalised, and adequately funded.” 

An intervention from the floor was provided by Lisa Chung Bender, Executive Director of GCPEA. “As a coalition, we understand that everyone has a role to play in monitoring, reporting and responding to attacks on education,” she said. “We must do more together to advance prevention efforts and accountability.” 

The IASC briefing was moderated by Mervat Shelbaya, Head of the IASC Secretariat. “We need compliance, we need to hold perpetrators to account, and we need to celebrate the good successes such as the ones mentioned today,” she reiterated, in her concluding remarks. “We need to do more as an international community and in our respective roles to advocate to ensure that such attacks, such violations, are put to a stop.”