In 2020 and 2021, education continued to face various types of aggression in several countries. Students, teachers, schools, and universities encountered harmful and wrongful acts committed either by armed groups or generated by political circumstances, such as wars and armed conflicts. Numerous incidents of atrocities were reported to be committed against thousands of students, staff members, and teachers. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) identified many attacks that resulted in the abduction, injury, or death of thousands of students and educators who were kept as hostages or were arrested. Other acts of violence also took a place, such recruiting and training children to participate in armed conflicts, sexual violence, and the use of heavy arms and explosives against hostages.
The Education under Attack 2022 report by GCPEA[i] reviews the challenges many countries’ education systems face, as well as how students, teachers, and staff members in education are affected by such issues, what kind of dangers they are subjected to, and why, in many cases, their studies or career are interrupted.
According to this report, more schools suffer from violent actions and attacks compared to universities. Moreover, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, schools became easier targets for state militaries and other armed groups to occupy, as remote teaching left the buildings empty. Consequently, according to the report, the number of attacks on educational institutions increased noticeably in 2020 and 2021, but the number of people affected by these attacks declined. According to the GCPEA, this can be explained by the decreased number of people present in school buildings due to the pandemic.
In the following, this article provides a summary of the Education Under Attack 2022 report’s findings on several countries where such attacks and issues occurred.
The GCPEA identified more than 130 attacks in 2020 and 2021, targeting schools in different parts of Afghanistan, where explosive weapons were used against educational institutions, and schoolteachers and students were terrorised [p.92]. Attacks were committed by groups with different profiles, such as the Afghan Air Force which bombed schools in 2020 [p.93], the ISIS in Khorasan Province, and the Taliban which increased their criminal activity in 2021 seeking territorial dominance. Moreover, after the Taliban took control of the country in May 2021 with the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, there was a significant increase in atrocities targeting different civilian groups, women, and journalists meanwhile more than 250 schools closed in Afghanistan or were exposed to military occupation [p.92]. The rise to power of the Taliban severely affected Afghan education, leaving more than 4 million children out of school, 60% of whom were girls. This is because the Taliban prohibited girls from attending schools in some of the regions under their control, although in some other areas girls were allowed to go to school. Unfortunately, the report does not give any specific explanation for the different rules on girls’ education among different regions ruled by the Taliban.
The six-week conflict in 2020 between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh security forces resulted in the destruction of more than 130 schools in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as several other schools faced obstruction due to the conflict. While the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities reported damage to more than 70 schools during the conflict, the Azerbaijani authorities reported 54 cases [p.98]. However, the Armenian authorities did not report clear numbers on school damage or attacks on educational institutions during the conflict period. According to Human Rights Watch, both Azerbaijani and Armenian forces either attacked schools using explosives or initiated air-striking targeting educational institutions. Furthermore, some schools were used as barracks or for military purposes in all territories involved, according to the GCPEA [p.99].
- Burkina Faso:
Burkina Faso witnessed one of its fastest-growing crises in 2020 and 2021. A serious conflict escalated among different non-state armed groups fighting against each other as well as the state security forces. Brutality against civilians was not only committed by non-state armed groups but by security forces too who also arrested and killed many civilians whom they suspected to be associated with the non-state armed groups.
In Burkina Faso too, schools were easy targets for perpetrators and several schools suffered armed attacks or were reported to be occupied and used as military bases. In 2020-2021, there were more than 145 attacks on schools reported in the country according to the GCPEA, during which attacks more than 250 students and school personnel were killed, suffered injuries, or were abducted. In 2020, 70 attacks [p.101], while in 2021, 46 attacks on schools were confirmed by the UN [p.102]. However, the GCPEA identified at least 78 attacks in 2021 [p.102].
Higher education institutions also faced violence, but the reported number of attacks on universities was way lower than that of schools. Nevertheless, according to the GCPEA, both general education and university students experienced sexual violence while going to or coming back from their schools or universities.
Attacks on schools and students are not new phenomena in Cameroon, and the period from 2020 to 2021 was no different from previous years. Attacks were committed by different armed groups, such as Boko Haram, and the ISWAP group which is a splinter group from Boko Haram in the Far-North region. [p.105].
In 2020 and 2021, schools were often used as military bases in different parts of the country, such as the Far North, the North-West, and the South-West regions [p.105]. Furthermore, the GCPEA confirmed more than 55 attacks on students and more than 65 attacks on schools in those two years. However, these numbers are still significantly decreased compared to prior years, like 2019, when the number of reported attacks against students reached almost 4000 cases while teachers experienced atrocities on 1124 occasions.
In 2020 and 2021, cases of sexual violence and sexual abuse targeting higher education students and teachers were also reported [p.108], while in 2021, there were also several reported cases of abducting students and staff [p.109].
- Central African Republic:
The Central African Republic experienced significant brutality associated with elections. Conflict emerged between non-state armed groups and state forces supported by pro-government allied groups. All of these conflicting parties, including the police, occupied or attacked schools during the period from 2020 to 2021 at least on 85 occasions [p.110]. The GCPEA reported 2 attacks targeting students, teachers, and academic personnel. Furthermore, the GCPEA reported 45 cases of using schools for military purposes in the highlighted period [p.111]. In 2021, the UN verified that multiple dozens of schools were occupied by different military or armed forces, but the GCPEA identified only 5 cases in the same year, which resulted in unclear numbers and information [p.112].
Armed conflict continued to be present in Colombia in 2020 and 2021. The conflicted parties were the Columbian government, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), and other armed groups that escalated chaos in the country in 2020. Due to these issues, accessibility to education suffered major limitations which were exacerbated by the spread of Covid-19. Because of the pandemic, large numbers of children were out of school and have become easy targets of recruiters for groups participating in the armed conflict [p.113].
According to GCPEA reports, at least 35 schools, mostly in rural areas, were targeted by different non-state armed groups, who often used explosives and engaged in fights with each other or with state forces near schools [p.113, 114]. Some schools ended up being used for military purposes. However, while the GCPEA identified 6 cases in the 2020 to 2021 period, the UN confirmed only 1 incident in 2020 [p.116] which makes it difficult to access clear and certain information on the number of attacks.
Higher education institutions were not safe from attacks either; in 2020 and 2021, 19 cases were reported [p.118]. Furthermore, the GCPEA identified more than 60 attacks targeting students and members of staff in 2020 and 2021, with most of these incidents occurring in 2020. Furthermore, 2 cases of sexual violence were reported by the GCPEA in 2021 [p.117].
Eventually, some teachers received threats from non-state armed groups for their involvement in teachers’ unions, while also threatening non-local teachers to keep them out of certain regions. This prompted state authorities to move some teachers to safer locations [p.115].
- Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) :
Armed conflict has been significantly affecting the Democratic Republic of Congo, where clashes among state forces and 130 different non-state armed groups are spreading chaos around the country. The fighting negatively affected thousands of students and prohibited them from attending school, which was further exacerbated by the spread of Covid-19, leaving millions of students without education.
More than 600 attacks by armed groups on schools were confirmed by the GCPEA in 2020 and 2021. The organisation also reported on the occupation of 25 schools that were used for military purposes [p.120, 123], while higher education institutions were targeted 12 times in this period [p.124].
Ethiopia has been suffering from political-regional clashes among different governmental and non-state groups, such as the Central Government Troops, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), militias from the Amhara region, and others [p.126].
Attacks on schools committed by several different armed groups noticeably increased from 15 cases in the period 2018 to 2019 to 32 cases in the period from 2020 to 2021. Furthermore, almost 70 cases of schools used as military bases were identified by the GCPEA in 2020 and 2021. In addition, the GCPEA reported 14 incidents of proceeded attacks on higher education institutions during this period [p.129].
Increasing political tension between India and Pakistan, as well as other domestic issues in India, have triggered some armed clashes and attacks in the country. In 2020 and 2021, attacks on students and teachers were reported in Jammu, Kashmir, and some eastern states more than 55 times according to GCPEA estimates. Attacks on schools included threatening, arresting, and detaining more than 1600 students and educators [p.131]. As for the military use of schools, the UN confirmed that a total of 7 schools were used for these purposes in 2020 [p.132].
The Covid-19 pandemic further exacerbated issues regarding the accessibility of education in India. The government’s measures to contain the virus and stop its spreading included shifting in-person teaching to remote education which resulted in severe negative effects on more than 290 million students [p.130]. Among other issues, many of these students did not have internet access to participate in online classes.
In the period from 2020 to 2021, students and higher education staff also encountered almost 65 attacks, 28 of which were committed by the government to suppress protests [p.133]. However, the reported number of incidents targeting higher education institutions was lower than in 2018 and 2019.
Iraqi educational institutions experienced an increasing number of attacks in the 2020 to 2021 period, some of which were committed by the Iraqi government itself. Several attacks targeted protestors who were demonstrating against corruption, the poor quality of public services, and low wages. In some regions of the country, teachers participated in the protests because of immense delays in receiving their wages. Multiple attacks targeted higher education students and staff too; altogether 10 cases were recognised by the GCPEA [p.137].
In 2020 and 2021, 11 attacks were reported by the GCPEA on schools used as polling centres in the Iraqi elections. Attacks were executed by planting explosive devices in schools or nearby them to disrupt the elections or to target police guarding the building [p.135]. Furthermore, the GCPEA reported the use of schools for military purposes on 33 occasions.
The decade-long conflict in the North-Eastern region of Kenya between the government and the Al Shabab Islamic fundamentalist armed group has spread instability across the country and negatively affected the education sector, among others.
Teachers were in particular danger in Kenya in 2020 and 2021, as the Al Shabab repeatedly attacked teachers who the group considered to be outsiders and/or Christians. This aggression led to the closing of hundreds of schools, thousands of teachers fled, while teachers originally from the area where the attacks occurred were transferred from the region. The GCPEA also recorded 5 incidents where the Al Shabab targeted students [p.139].
The GCPEA identified only 1 case of a school being used for military purposes between 2020 and 2021. However, attacks on higher education institutions reached a much higher number of 10 incidents [p.140]. These attacks were committed by the government which ordered the police to use teargas against protesters demonstrating against the government [p.141].
In 2020, violent acts committed by non-state armed groups increasingly targeted schools and universities leading many of them to close which negatively affected more than 127,000 students. The GCPEA reported 22 attacks on schools in the period from 2020 to 2021, most of which were committed by shelling school buildings [p.142]. According to the UN, between 2019 and 2021 around 700 schools were closed because of conflict. Furthermore, 8 attacks on higher education institutions were reported by the GCPEA [p.144].
Clashes between non-state armed groups, state forces, and international forces [p.145] continued in the 2020 to 2021 period in Mali, particularly in the northern, central, and southern territories of the country. In these 2 years, the hostility rate, and the number of victims dramatically increased: the GCPEA identified more than 620 attacks on educational facilities and teachers. Moreover, several cases of schools being used as military bases were reported by the GCPEA and the UN. There were also numerous cases of recruitment of children for armed conflict in schools which majorly reduced the willingness of parents to send their children to school [p.147].
In 2020 and 2021, armed conflict continued between government forces, non-state armed groups, and the Al Shabab Islamic terrorist organisation in Mozambique. The GCPEA identified several cases of attacks on educational facilities, particularly in Delgado province, which has been the most affected by the conflict. Delgado experienced more than 100 violent attacks against schools, which led to the severe damage and destruction of educational institutions, leaving many children without access to education. However, schools in the rest of the country were not free from atrocities either: according to the UN, a minimum of 220 schools encountered violent attacks in 2021 in Mozambique [p.149]. Moreover, according to Human Rights Watch there have been incidents of kidnapping children and women, and enslaving them or sexually abusing them [p.148].
The country witnessed severe political instability in the period from 2020 to 2021: a military coup overthrew the government, and in reaction to this, anti-coup protests began, while wide-scale strikes left the country in a state of chaos and insecurity.
According to the GCPEA, more than 200 attacks on schools took place, most of which included the use of explosive weapons, while using arson, bombing, and airstrikes were frequent too. Furthermore, students, teachers, and educational personnel were targeted in several attacks, while the GCPEA also confirmed more than 220 cases of schools and universities being used for military purposes [p.153].
Conflict among several armed groups continued in Niger in 2020 and 2021, which significantly impacted the safety of the civilian population of the country. The western Tillabéri and Tahoua regions and the eastern Diffa region are the most affected by the conflict, which also affects the education sector. According to the GCPEA, more than 40 schools were attacked, threatened, or set on fire in 2020 and 2021 [p.156]. Students, teachers, and educational staff also faced violent atrocities on 17 reported occasions [p.157].
Armed conflict among the state military forces, the Islamic State militias in West Africa Province, and other fragmented armed groups continued to be present in Nigeria in 2020 and 2021. The conflict seriously affected general safety in the country as well as the education sector, among others [p.159]. According to the GCPEA, 21 attacks on schools occurred in 2020 and 2021, and more than 1850 students, teachers, and educational personnel were injured, killed, or abducted. Since some of the injured or abducted students were relatives of “high-profile” personnel, the government developed stricter measures and closed more than 600 schools to prevent similar tragic incidents [p.160]. However, cases of abduction and murder targeting higher education staff and students also rose, which affected more than 100 people in 2020 and 2021 [p.162]. The GCPEA also reported multiple cases of sexual violence committed by all parties in the conflict, including state authorities, such as the police.
Violent attacks targeting the education sector, as well as students, teachers, and educational staff, were committed by various actors in Pakistan. While the conflict of non-state armed groups significantly affected the education sector, the government did also stand behind some atrocities targeting protesting students and educational staff. More than 250 students, teachers, and educational staff were arrested in 2020 and 2021.
The GCPEA confirmed 7 attacks on schools by armed groups in the period from 2020 and 2021. One of these incidents was a bomb attack which injured more than 130 people and caused 7 deaths [p.164]. Moreover, higher education institutions were also terrorised: 18 attacks were reported by the GCPEA which resulted in the death of 4 female vocational trainers and the arrest of more than 140 students and staff members [p.166].
Clashes between Palestinian armed groups and the Israeli state authorities continued in 2020 and 2021. As a result of the conflict, 429 kindergartens, schools, and universities became victims of violent attacks according to the GCPEA. However large this number may seem, it is still less than the number of attacks committed in 2019, when the Coronavirus pandemic also severely affected the education sector [p.168].
The GCPEA reported at least 85 attacks on students and educational staff in the observed period. Intimidation, detention, and opening fire on unarmed school students and staff on the way to or from school were among the most common types of atrocities [p.171]. Furthermore, the GCPEA identified 19 attacks on higher education students, staff, and facilities too [p.173].
- The Philippines:
The conflict between state forces and non-state armed groups continued in 2020 and 2021, as the Philippine government began a campaign to combat the spread and trade of illegal drugs. The armed clashes largely affected the education sector, among others, which prevented thousands of students from accessing appropriate education and educational facilities. The period from 2020 to 2021 showed a decline in the number of attacks targeting schools with only 8 attacks reported by the GCPEA, while, from 2017 to 2019, 62 attacks were recorded by the UN [p.175]. Students, teachers, and educational staff were also targeted on 5 different occasions and suffered from detention and shootings [p.176].
Somalia has been experiencing a series of crises in the forms of armed conflicts between non-state armed groups and international forces, political instability and poor general security, as well as natural crises, such as floods and the Covid-19 pandemic. While all of these issues severely affected the education sector, the armed conflicts were particularly damaging in 2020 and 2021, as they left over 3 million children without education. Moreover, different armed forces recruited more than 1716 boys to join fights, while many girls became victims of sexual violence [p.178].
In 2020 and 2021, the GCPEA confirmed 84 attacks on schools by using explosive weapons planted at or near schools [p.178]. Students, teachers, and educational personnel were also targeted on several occasions, and the GCPEA identified 146 abduction cases.
- South Sudan:
Despite the peace agreement that was signed to settle the conflict between the government and oppositional groups and to facilitate the establishment of a transitional government, political tension continued to be present in South Sudan in 2020 and 2021. The conflict affected the education sector as well; the GCPEA identified 11 attacks in this period, which, however, were fewer than the 18 attacks committed in the period from 2018 to 2019 [p.180]. A similar declining pattern can be observed in the number of schools used for military purposes: in 2020 and 2021, only 10 cases were reported, while 35 incidents occurred in 2018 and 2019 [p.181]. Furthermore, in 2020 and 2021, the GCPEA reported an attack on a higher education facility while another targeted university students [p.182].
Sudan experienced political transitions in 2020 and 2021 which severely affected general safety in the country. In reaction to several issues regarding both the oppressive Sudani government and the education system, such as the lack of suitable facilities for disabled students, widespread protests started among students, teachers, and educational personnel in 2021. The government decided to apply harsh measures to suppress the uprisings: protesters were targeted in 6 attacks in the form of detention and the use of teargas according to the GCPEA.
However, not only armed conflicts disturbed the education sector in Sudan: the spread of Covid-19, natural disasters, such as floods damaging 559 schools, and food insecurity severely affected children’s education. These disasters lead to millions being in need of humanitarian assistance, and most of the victims were children according to the UN.
As armed conflicts continue in Syria between non-state armed groups and government forces, schools still suffer numerous attacks all around the country. However, the intensity of these attacks declined in 2020 and 2021: this period recorded 85 attacks on schools according to the GCPEA, which is a significant decrease compared to the 260 recorded incidents in the previous 2 years. Most of the attacks in 2020 and 2021 occurred in the forms of shelling and air strikes in northwest Syria, in Aleppo and Idlib [p.186], however, Damascus, Homs, Al Hasaka, Deir-Ez-Zor, and Quneitra were also largely affected [p.187]. In addition, over 35 cases of schools and universities used for military purposes were reported [p.190]. Furthermore, the GCPEA also reported 17 incidents targeting students, teachers, and educational personnel, who were victims of intimidation, threats, arrests, and detention [p.188, 189].
Instability continued to be present in Thailand due to the non-state armed groups in the southern provinces of the country, putting people’s lives at risk. The GCPEA identified 5 attacks on schools in 2020 and 2021, while 6 attacks were reported targeting students, teachers, and educational personnel. While the exact number of attacks on schools did not change compared to the 2018 to 2019 period, attacks on students and teachers have decreased compared to previous years [p.192, 193].
In addition, atrocities targeting students and education staff have also been committed by state authorities. In the 2020 to 2021 period, the Thai police arrested students who protested against the education minister for his incompetence in preventing and appropriately handling cases of harassment and beatings in schools and kindergartens.
Since the 2016 coup in Turkey, several sectors, such as the media, business, and education sectors have faced drastic changes. The Turkish government has been targeting institutions, platforms, and people, who have any real or claimed connection to an Islamic scholar and American Turkish millionaire, Fetullah Gülen, who the government accuses of standing behind the coup. The education sector has particularly been affected by the government’s purges: schools and universities were shut down, thousands of teachers lost not only their jobs but also their teacher certificates, and academics have been imprisoned for alleged connections to the Gülen Movement.
In 2020 and 2021, the GCPEA confirmed 3 attacks on schools [p.194], while school students, teachers, and education personnel were also attacked on 3 occasions. Using schools for military purposes reached a minimum of 7 cases which indicates an increase compared to previous years [p.195]. One case of sexual violence was also confirmed by the GCPEA in the 2020 to 2021 period. As for attacks on higher educational institutions, a total of 30 incidents were reported resulting in the injury or arrest of more than 600 university students. Most of these attacks and arrests targeted students, teachers, and educational staff who were participating in education-related protests [p.196].
The eastern part of the country experienced shelling and small armed clashes on several occasions in 2020 and 2021. These attacks resulted in the destruction of several schools: 30 attacks were identified by the GCPEA in that period, which damaged a total of 25 schools. The number of attacks shows an increase compared to the 2018 to 2019 period [p.198].
As for attacks on students, teachers, and educational personnel, 5 incidents were identified by the GCPEA in 2020 and 2021. This number marks a decrease compared to incidents reported from 2018 to 2019, which were a total of 15 cases [p.199].
The intensity of the conflict in Yemen increased in 2020 and 2021 and clashes between state forces and non-state armed groups escalated. The GCPEA reported 48 attacks on schools in that period, in the form of air strikes, shelling, and the use of explosives [p.200]. As for attacks on students, teachers, and education staff, the GCPEA reported 13 large-scale cases one of which included the abduction and assault of more than 100 students and teachers [p.201].
The rate of using schools and universities for military purposes was particularly high as 49 of these cases were reported by the GCPEA in the 2020 to 2021 period. Furthermore, the GCPEA identified 20 schools where armed groups were recruiting and training children for fighting [p.203]. The GCPEA also identified 10 cases of attacks on higher education facilities and 14 attacks targeting higher education students and teachers [p.204].
Noor Mousa 13/07/2022
[i] Education Under Attack. Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. 2022. https://protectingeducation.org/wp-content/uploads/eua_2022.pdf