International Day to Protect Education from Attack: Classrooms are not battlefields

© UNICEF/UN0689481/Gilbertson - Highway Child.

After another unprecedented year, children are going back to school. Are they safe to learn?

This is a critical time when the world is grappling with multiple conflicts across continents, from Sudan to Syria and Afghanistan to Ukraine. And conflict zones are hotspots of danger, putting children at heightened risk of violence.

To shed light on the scale of the challenge, on 9 September, the international community is observing the International Day to Protect Education from Attack. It is an important moment to raise awareness of the impact on children and to press for action and progress to make education safe for children in some of the most difficult contexts in the world. 

In conflict, children are at extreme risk of trauma, abduction, sexual violence, child labour, trafficking or direct recruitment into armed conflict and physical, emotional and psychological violence. Among the many devastating consequences this brings, this violence can cost them their right to learn. Classrooms and schools are often directly hit by weapons and armed forces in conflict zones take advantage of vacant schools, using them for military purposes 

In 2020 and 2021, there were more than 5,000 reported attacks on education and military use of educational facilities, which affected thousands of school and university students, teachers, professors, and other personnel. That’s six attacks on education every day. According to statistics by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, the number of people harmed in attacks and military use increased last year; And 2022 has already seen new conflicts and turbulence. Over 1,800 schools and universities have been damaged or destroyed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine alone, according to Ukraine’s Education Ministry

End Violence’s Response to keep kids Safe to Learn

Every girl and boy has the right to an education without fear of violence or attack. As we build back from the challenges we face today, there is an opportunity to transform education systems – to make sure all children are Safe to Learn. And the global community is gearing up for this.  The UN Secretary General’s Transforming Education Summit this year provides a unique opportunity for political leaders to forge a new social contract for education – one where violence prevention is right at the heart of efforts to accelerate progress on education. End Violence’s has been advocating for this reform and catalysing progress for transformational change. 

Policy action:

The evidence-based Together to #ENDviolence policy proposal to make schools safe, non-violent and inclusive is calling on every government and relevant actors in humanitarian settings to update their education plans and make adequate investments to implement measures that make all schools safe for girls and boys and ensure that schools promote a culture of non-violence. And the policy proposal to protect children from violence in humanitarian settings calls on decision-makers and governments to prioritise child protection and to ensure funding to meet the escalating protection needs of children in crisis. 

These policy calls were reinforced by influential  End Violence Advocates, a diverse and influential group of international leaders – from heads of state to children themselves – speaking out and taking action in support of the issue of ending violence against children. David Milliband, President & CEO, International Rescue Committee made the case for stepping up our efforts for children in humanitarian and conflict settings. He called for urgent action to tackle impunity in war zones, fund prevention, build specialised services and develop multi-year responses and investments to bring lasting change. H.E. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete Board Chair, Global Partnership for Education, stressed that we need political leadership to ensure safety is prioritised in education planning.

Uniting powerful voices:

End Violence’s Safe to Learn global initiative focuses on ending violence in and through schools via a coalition of major partners from the Education, Child Protection, Violence Prevention and Health sectors. In June 2022, the Safe to Learn coalition launched its Essay Collection on the margins of the Transforming Education Pre-Summit, which brings new ideas, solutions and voices together – global education leaders, governments, teachers, youth and civil society  – to make the case for greater political action and investment to end violence in and around schools. Among the many powerful discussions, Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait examined the escalated risk of violence in and around schools in conflict and crisis contexts, and argued that children in the most dangerous environments on earth must be prioritised.

On the Youth Day of the Transforming Education Summit, 16 September, Safe to Learn and partners are also launching a powerful film scripted and co-produced by young people from different regions of the world. They speak about how they are survivors of violence – whether bullying, discrimination, gender-based violence, or lack of a safe school environment – and are demanding world leaders act to end violence in and around schools. 

All of these demands and solutions for children are reflected in the Safe to Learn Call to Action, which highlights 5 key areas where progress needs to be accelerated to end violence in and through schools. 15 countries have already endorsed the Call to Action and taken concrete steps to prioritise violence prevention in and through schools as a fundamental pillar of their education systems. 

On this International Day to Protect Education from Attack, the End Violence Partnership is reiterating its call and effort to end violence in and through schools. In conflict zones and beyond, classrooms must be safe, and the right to education must be a reality for every child. Learn more about the Safe to Learn Coalition here, explore the Together to #ENDviolence policy proposals here and explore more on International Day to Protect Education from Attack through Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack


Image: © UNICEF/UN0689481/Gilbertson - Highway Child