Education under attack

When students and teachers become targets

More than 22,000 students and teachers have been injured or killed in attacks on education over the past five years.

According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) and the report Education under Attack 2020, there are widespread attacks on education worldwide.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) works in some of the hardest hit countries. Our colleagues see every day how attacks on education not only harm individual students and teachers, but also how they affect communities for years afterwards.

“Attacks on schools and students are attacks on the future of a country. Not only do they destroy children’s opportunities to learn and develop, but they can also cause psychosocial problems,” says Annelies Ollieuz, Global Education Lead at NRC.

With buildings and teaching materials destroyed, and students and teachers living in fear, schools and universities in conflict zones are often forced to close. Some students never resume their education, impeding their long-term development.

Read more about our education work.

How you can help:

With your support, we can renovate damaged schools and build new ones. At the same time, we work to create safe spaces for learning, prevent attacks on schools and keep schools from being used for military purposes.

Here are ten things you should know about attacks on education:

Read caption GAZA. Palestinian students inspect a classroom destroyed by Israeli air strikes during the 11-day escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas in May 2021. Some 66 children were killed during the bombing. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock/NTB

#1: Bombing, killing and rape 

The Education under Attack report tracks seven types of attacks on education:

  • attacks on schools
  • attacks on students, teachers and other education personnel
  • military use of schools and universities
  • child recruitment at, or on the way to or from, school
  • sexual violence at, or on the way to or from, school or university
  • attacks on higher education
  • targeted attacks on girls and women
Read caption AFGHANISTAN: Nazir, 13, rides past his school, which was destroyed by a car bomb in November last year. NRC rebuild the destroyed classrooms, but the school was attacked and destroyed again in June 2021. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC

#2: More than 11,000 attacks

More than 11,000 separate attacks on education facilities, students and educators took place between 2015 and 2019.

Read caption YEMEN. Students sit on the ground inside a half-collapsed building at Shuhada-Alwahdah School in southern Yemen. Photo: Mohammed Mohammed/Xinhua/NTB

#3: Attacks in 93 countries

The number of countries experiencing attacks on education has increased to 93 over the last five years. See the map of the most affected countries.

Read caption BURKINA FASO. Children practise security drills at a school in Burkina Faso, to prepare for potential attacks by armed groups. Photo: Sam Mednick/AP/NTB

#4: New countries  

Attacks on education have emerged in new countries, including Guinea and Nicaragua. In Burkina Faso and Niger, which were only minimally affected until recently, attacks have risen sharply, contributing to the closure of more than 2,000 schools.

Read caption SYRIA. Children play in the yard of a school that was partially destroyed during battles in Syria's Idlib governorate. Photo: Ibrahim Yasouf/AFP/NTB

#5: The hardest hit countries

Numbers of attacks on education remained alarmingly high in Yemen and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), with each experiencing over 1,500 documented attacks on schools over the five-year period. Meanwhile, Afghanistan, Palestine and Syria each experienced over 500 attacks.

Read caption NIGER. Abubakar Tegina, head teacher and school owner, explains how armed men gained access to his school in Niger in August this year. Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/REUTERS/NTB

#6: Students and teachers suffer direct attacks

Students and educators were most frequently harmed by direct attacks in Afghanistan, Cameroon and Palestine. In Cameroon, over 1,000 school and university students and staff were threatened, abducted, injured or killed by armed groups or state armed forces.

Read caption YEMEN. A Yemeni man stands next to blood stains at the scene of a bomb attack at a university campus in the capital Sana’a, in May 2016. Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/NTB

#7: Higher education under attack

Attacks on higher education were reported in 73 countries in total, and in 36 of the 37 countries profiled in the report. Over 9,100 higher education students and staff were injured, killed, abducted, or arrested between 2015 and 2019.

Read caption CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR). A Senegalese soldier from the United Nations mission in CAR takes position to respond to heavy gunfire at a school in Bangui where voters were gathered for the constitutional referendum in December 2015. Photo: Marco Longari/AFP/NTB

#8: Schools are used for military purposes

A significant – and preventable – cause of attacks was the use of schools for military purposes. Armed forces, other state actors, and armed groups used schools and universities for military purposes in 34 countries between 2015 and 2019, including as bases, detention centres and weapons stores.

Read caption NIGERIA. Students from Tegina’s Salihu Tanko Islamic School, who were abducted by gunmen in June 2021, arrive at the government facility after their release in August. REUTERS/NTB

#9: Schools are used as recruiting grounds

Schools are also targeted to recruit children. In the past five years, armed groups and state armed forces reportedly recruited students from schools in 17 countries. In Somalia, the UN verified that armed groups recruited at least 280 children from schools in 2017.

Read caption DR CONGO. Ombeni on her way to school with her four-year-old son Daniel. She was previously raped and held captive by an armed group over a period of months. She is now in her final year at school and hopes to go on to college. Photo: Michael Macsweeney/REX/NTB

#10: Girls and women are being targeted

Attacks on education have specific impacts on female students and educators. The GCPEA found that women and girls were targeted due to their gender in attacks on education in at least 21 countries between 2015 and 2019.

Pregnancy from rape, the health consequences and stigma of sexual violence, the risk of early marriage, and the privileging of boys’ education over girls’, all make it particularly difficult for girls to return to school.

The Safe Schools Declaration
  • In May 2015, Norway hosted the Oslo Conference on Safe Schools, an international conference on the protection of children and education during armed conflict.
  • Norway led the work to develop a declaration on the protection of education in areas of armed conflict, together with Argentina, several other countries and a number of civil society organisations.
  • The aim of the Safe Schools Declaration is to prevent attacks on educational facilities.
  • Countries that endorse the declaration make a commitment to use the Guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict.
  • More generally, the declaration aims to raise awareness of the fact that armed conflicts today are preventing millions of children from having access to safe schools.
  • The list of countries (109 as of June 2021) that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration includes several of the countries where attacks on educational institutions are most widespread.
  • By endorsing the Declaration, countries commit to taking concrete steps to protect education in armed conflict, including by using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. Half of the countries profiled in the report Education under Attack 2020 are not signatories.