Global perspective Human stories

Repel intensifying attacks on schools, urges Guterres

Young women who fled Afghanistan study in Pakistan.
© UNHCR/Mercury Transformations
Young women who fled Afghanistan study in Pakistan.

Repel intensifying attacks on schools, urges Guterres

Culture and Education

With a staggering hike in attacks targeting schools and hospitals, and over seven million refugee children out of school, the UN chief called on Saturday for a new push to defend vulnerable students and teachers worldwide.

Marking the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said it was important to defend “havens of education”.

“Education is not only a fundamental human right, but a pathway to a better future for every person, and a more peaceful, understanding world,” he underscored. 

He voiced a startling truth: around the globe 224 million children and young people are in urgent need of educational support - including 72 million who are out-of-school altogether - because of crises such as armed conflict.

Attacks double

According to a comprehensive report on children and armed conflicts published by the UN chief earlier this year, from January to December 2022, there was a 112 per cent rise in attacks targeting schools and hospitals, with hotspots identified in Afghanistan, Ukraine, Burkina Faso, Israel, Palestine, Myanmar and Mali. 

In Afghanistan, for example, the UN verified a total of 95 attacks on civilian targets, including 72 on schools. 

The report attributed 50 per cent of grave violations to non-State armed groups. The other half involved government forces, who were primarily responsible for the gravest offenses, including the killing and maiming of children, relentless assaults on schools and hospitals, and obstructing humanitarian access.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday that by the end of 2022, the total number of school-aged refugees globally jumped nearly 50 per cent from 10 million in 2021 to 14.8 million, driven mostly by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Disrupted learning

As put by Mr. Guterres, “attacks on students, teachers, educational personnel and schools are becoming all too common, cruelly disrupting young learners’ education and inflicting untold psychological and physical damage that can last a lifetime.”

One of the clear signs of the education deficit is the startling statistic that 763 million people around the world – adults and youngsters – lack even basic literacy skills.

‘Havens of safety and learning’

The Secretary-General urged all countries to ensure the protection of schools, children and teachers at all times, through measures such as the Safe Schools Declaration and the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.

Through joint efforts, Mr. Guterres believes, schools can become “havens of safety and learning for every child, no matter where they live”.