“When there was no fighting, we would be allowed to go to school. But when the fighting restarted we would return home. We saw the people, the destruction, and the dead. All of our relatives died”, says Raghad, 10, from Eastern Ghouta.
In a report titled "Education under attack 2018", the international umbrella organisation GCPEA, who works to protect schools, pupils and teachers against attack, have documented attacks on education in 74 countries in the period between January 2013 and December 2017. The attacks range from direct attacks on school buildings, attacks on students and teachers, military use of school buildings, military recruitment in or near schools, to sexual assault committed in schools by soldiers and armed groups.
NRC aims to transform damaged schools into "Welcoming Schools"
Raghad lost her home and many of her relatives during the conflict. Not even her school was spared by the bombs. After years, the siege of Eastern Ghouta has ended, and the fighting has stopped. Students, parents and teachers are now trying to make sure that going to school in Eastern Ghouta is safe. There are no longer corpses in the streets, but only ten of the classrooms in Raghad's school are safe to be used. Now, the kids are hoping that the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) can rebuild the school, which before the war taught 750 students every year.
Two million Syrian children out of school
Syria is one of the countries that has been hit the hardest by attacks on education. Between 2011 and 2015, more than half of the registered attacks on schools in the world took place in Syria. A World Bank report published in July 2017 found that the Syrian conflict has led to the partial destruction of more than half of the country's schools, and one in ten schools are completely levelled by acts of war.
In addition, many schools are being used as refugee reception centres. Every third reception centre in Syria is a former school. A new study including children in 171 centres shows that only one in three children attend school. Before the conflict, 97 percent of Syrian children attended primary school and 67 percent attended middle school.
An attack on education
In countries ravaged by violence, war and conflict, an increasing number of schools are turned into political battlefields or used for military purposes.
"Teaching and learning is becoming more and more dangerous, and students, teachers and academics are to a growing extent risking their lives," said Diya Nijhowne, executive director of Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) in a press release.
Below are some of the findings from the report, which covers the period 2013-2017:
• Over a period of five years, more than 12,700 attacks on educational institutions took place.
• More than 21,000 students and teachers were directly affected by these attacks.
• 41 countries saw more than five attacks on education in the period, including at least one that was with purpose or lethal. This is five more countries than in the last five-year period.
• The nine worst countries are: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), Egypt, Palestine, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Sudan, Syria, Turkey and Yemen. These countries saw more than a thousand attacks on schools, students and teachers.
• Attacks on schools were most common in DR Congo, Palestine, Nigeria and Yemen.
• Attacks directly on students and teachers were most common in Afghanistan, Palestine, Nigeria and the Philippines.
• In 16 of the countries presented in the report, there are documented cases of armed groups recruiting child soldiers
• In 17 of the countries presented in the report, there are documented cases of armed groups sexually abusing or raping girls in or near schools.
The situation is alarming
So far, 78 countries have signed a declaration for safer schools, an initiative led by Norway and Argentina. The declaration commits countries to contribute to protecting educational institutions and help avoid these being used for military purposes. Nevertheless, the report from the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack shows that the problem is escalating.
"Attacks on schools and students are attacks on the future of a country. Not only do these attacks destroy children's opportunity to learn and develop, but it can also cause psychosocial problems," says Annelies Ollieuz, Global Education Manager at NRC.