No education, no peace: Armed conflict and education in Colombia

Imagine you are nine years old and live in a territory surrounded by mountains, rivers and animals. You are part of an ancestral community that cares for the land that provides them with food and sustenance. From Monday to Friday you get up in good spirits to walk with your friends to school. Life is rural.

One morning, you get ready for class as usual. You get up early, organise your notebooks and set off. It's a normal day, you're unhurried but eager to learn. School activities start as usual. The day is sunny.

You and your classmates are in classroom when, unexpectedly, you hear an explosion and lots of gunshots. Everyone hides under their desks and some begin to cry. The situation seems to be getting more and more difficult as two armed groups clash outside the school. Gunshots are heard closer and closer. Bullets hit the rooftops. Fear grips everyone in the classroom and you can't quite understand what is happening.

When attacks or explosions occur near schools, education is suspended temporarily or indefinitely. Illustration: Elegante/NRC

In the midst of the situation, your teacher does her best to protect and care for all the students. The most sensible decision is for everyone to stay inside the school, as leaving poses a mortal danger. Everything is paralysed in an instant. You are forced to take refuge with your friends in the classrooms, while the teachers try to calm you down amidst the confusion and fear.

The situation becomes tense. Armed clashes continue for hours, stretching into the next day. All the while, anguish is in the air. You can't sleep, you can't go home to meet your family. You are trapped. Education has been attacked.

You and those around you live moments of fear and uncertainty. Some remain silent, shocked by the situation, while others can’t hold back the tears for a long time.

When education is suspended as a result of conflict, children's hope for a better future is left in limbo. Illustration: Elegante/NRC

In the school there are twenty-five children confined and there you are. While in a nearby school there are thirty-four other children facing the same situation. They are between five and eleven years old. They have been confined for several days and food is scarce. They sleep on the floor and are beginning to get sick from the conditions of confinement.

Violence forces community to take drastic measures. Your family leaves your home to take refuge with you in the school. Fortunately they bring some food for you and your classmates. After four days of confinement in the school, the families are moved to a shelter where they stay for twenty more days. The decision to gather them all in one place is part of a plan to protect the communities from the armed clashes that persist nearby. You feel tired of moving from one place to another, of not being able to study for more than a month. You and your family feel abandoned far from home.

School buildings are damaged, with roofs damaged and classrooms damaged by gunfire, education is interrupted indefinitely. Lack of security has turned your school into a stage for the armed conflict. Your daily activities are suspended and your desire to learn is ruined.

Animated video: Elegante/NRC
Animated video: Elegante/NRC


This story is inspired by real events that occured in May 2023 in western Colombia.

Today, armed actors continue to affect education in Colombia. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) calls for respect for education and for students and education workers to be left out of the armed conflict.

Thousands of children in Colombia are unable to study as a result of the armed conflict. It is urgent that the Government continues to make every effort to the Safe Schools Declaration. NRC promotes and supports the inclusion of displaced and refugee children and youth into formal education systems, so they can benefit from an accredited education that allows them to progress through all levels of the education system. In emergency situations, NRC promotes the continuity of educational activities in safe spaces.