The endorsement of Safe Schools Declarations and Guidelines on Military Use is an international collaboration effort to protect education from attack. It consists of proposals and actions to prevent schools and universities from armed conflict. More importantly, the Declaration aims to reduce the use of schools and universities by parties of armed conflict and attempts to minimise the negative impact caused to student’s safety and access to education. According to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, every individual has the right to educationi. However, the lack of explicit standards or norms to protect educational institutions from using military effort is a challenge to the right to education. Further, it allows fighting forces to exploit the use of schools and universities to support military efforts. Examples of military use of education facilities such as fighting positions, overnight shelters, strategic positioning and operating bases should be prevented and limited if there are no other alternatives. Subsequently, it led to the destabilisation of education opportunities, emphasising the psychosocial distress and a range of health issues that could affect students, teachers and communities.
Developed between 2012 and 2014 and published in 2015 in Oslo, the Safe School Declaration has been endorsed by 118 states. It is an inter-governmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools and universities from attack during armed conflict. The guidelines for protecting schools include the followingii:
“… Use the Guidelines and bring them into domestic policy and operational frameworks as far as possible and appropriate;
Make every effort at a national level to collect reliable, relevant data on attacks on educational facilities, on the victims of attacks, and military use of schools and universities during armed conflict, including through existing monitoring and reporting mechanisms, to facilitate such data collection and to provide assistance to victims, in a non-discriminatory manner;
Seek to ensure the continuation of education during armed conflict, support the re-establishment of educational facilities and, where in a position to do so, provide and facilitate international cooperation and assistance to programmes working to prevent or respond to an attack on education, including for the implementation of this Declaration…”
By addressing the importance of education and the right to education, the guidelines intended to achieve a durable peace and hope to inspire responsible practices among those involved in the planning and executing military operations. On top of that, the Declaration serves as a framework for states to cooperate and meet on a regular basis to assess the implementation and application of the guidelines.
In addition to the Declaration, the military use of education facilities under extreme circumstances such as war and international or national violence should be avoided to the greatest extent following the guidelines listed belowiii:
Functioning schools and universities should not be used by fighting forces of parties to armed conflict in any way.
Schools and universities that have been abandoned should not be used by fighting forces of parties to armed conflict for any purpose in support of their military effort.
Schools and universities must never be destroyed as a measure intended to deprive the opposing parties of the armed conflict.
Prior to any attack on a school that has become a military objective, parties to armed conflict should consider all feasible alternative measures before attacking them.
The fighting forces of parties to armed conflict should not be employed to provide security for schools and universities.
All parties to armed conflict should incorporate these guidelines into their doctrine, military manuals, rules of engagement, operational order, and other means of dissemination.
The above-summarised guidelines contain the fundamental humanitarian standard for states to follow during armed conflict. It is essential to refrain from actions that interfere with children’s access to education and reinstate the role of education in durable development and promoting understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations. The impact of conflict, violence and military disruption on educational institutions not only increases the risk of students and teachers being exposed to a range of abuse but also threatens the very right to life, the right to education and the right to be in their home and communities. The Safe Schools Declaration marks the baseline for protecting education institutions to be used for military purposes. It urges states committed to the Declaration to incorporate the guidelines into their domestic policies and defend the fundamental human rights to which every individual is entitled.
A small country located between Romania and Ukraine, one of the poorest countries in Europe that in its three decades of independence has been troubled by corruption, oligarchy, and polarization, the Republic of Moldova has been generally ignored, or at least overlooked on an international scale. YouTube videos by travel bloggers attempting to sensationalize the destination bear titles such as “Nobody Visits This Country … Find Out Why”, “Travelling to the “Worst” Country in Europe”, and “Travelling to the Country Everyone is Trying to Leave”. This has been the case until the war in Ukraine has effectively put Moldova on the map, garnering international audiences’ attention.
The conflict across the border has forced Moldova to think about its own security and potential threats to the country. Many have speculated that Moldova could be the next one to fall under Russian attack, in a sort of twisted, imperialistic domino reaction. And while this prediction has not been proven accurate thus far, Moldova has undoubtedly been shaken up by the war, with its economy being strongly affected and internal conflicts brewing. This destabilized situation challenged all aspects of society, including education, which was already in a troubled state and left a lot to be desired.
The history of education, and especially higher education, in the Republic of Moldova is relatively young. In 1918, Bessarabia (the region corresponding, for the most part, with Moldova’s present-day territory) became part of Greater Romania. And while all the newly integrated regions showcased widely different levels of general schooling and literacy rates, Bessarabia displayed the lowest levels, despite the efforts to create and expand an elementary public school system at the end of the 19th century during the tsarist administration.
Romanian political elites directed their efforts towards national integration and cultural unification, including the decolonization and “Romanianization” of schools. This had a negative effect on the schooling of ethnic minorities, who accounted for more than
one-quarter of the general population, as Romanian authorities were concerned with the ethnic heterogeneity of Romanian society and often suspected ethnic minorities of subversion and disloyalty.
After 28 June 1940, Bessarabia became part of the Soviet Union. It was during the Soviet period that the bulk of Moldova’s development in education occurred. The contents of the courses, study programs, teaching methods, and recruitment policies were directly replicated from the already existing Soviet republics. The lack of academic traditions prior to the Soviet period facilitated this process. Professors and scientists immigrated from other Soviet republics, particularly Russia and Ukraine, which, on the one hand, raised the educational levels while, on the other hand, it has promoted the use of the Russian language, which
became the predominant language of education.
The Republic of Moldova declared its independence on 27 August 1991, marking the beginning of radical political, economic, and social changes which required the educational system to adapt. This was met by a series of challenges and barriers that continue to exist, despite Moldova’s efforts and the educational reforms it has implemented since its independence.
In Moldova, more than half of students are only partially competent in reading, mathematics, or science. Moldovan students are lagging behind their peers in neighbouring countries. The results of the PISA 2018 survey show the following:
57% of Moldovan students attained at least Level 2 proficiency in reading (OECD average: 77%)
1% of students in Moldova were top performers in reading (OECD average: 9%)
50% of students in Moldova attained Level 2 or higher in mathematics (OECD average: 76%)
2% of students scored at Level 5 or higher in mathematics (OECD average: 11%)
57% of students in Moldova attained Level 2 or higher in science (OECD average: 78%)
1% of students were top performers in science (OECD average: 7%).
While school attendance rates in both primary and secondary education are high, children from rural spaces are more likely than others to be out of the classroom. This generally happens so children can carry out domestic work and assume responsibilities within
the household. The attendance rates of Roma children are much lower at all educational levels, as some of these children are never enrolled, are enrolled much later than they should have been, or drop out. Furthermore, only 20 per cent of Roma children attend a preschool compared to 80 per cent of non-Roma children.
Socio-economically advantaged students outperformed disadvantaged students in reading
by 102 score points in PISA 2018, which is a larger gap than the average difference between the two groups (89 score points) across OECD countries. Many students, especially disadvantaged ones, hold lower ambitions than would be expected given their academic achievement, with one in three disadvantaged students and one in ten advantaged students expecting to not complete tertiary education.
Social norms and stereotypical gender roles heavily influence education and further professional attainments. For instance, dropout rates are higher among boys than girls, possibly due to the fact that men and boys see their gender role as breadwinners and economic providers. While, in general, the gender gap in education is relatively small, educational attainment among Roma women remains low. Last but not least, influenced by gender roles and societal pressure, girls tend to choose specializations related to liberal arts subjects (philology, political science, social sciences, social assistance, etc.), which are usually less well-paid.
Another issue is the situation of students with disabilities, who continue to face exclusion. Most educational institutions in Moldova are not adapted to meet inclusive education standards. There is a lack of accessible school buildings and facilities, a lack of training on
inclusive education for teachers and staff, as well as social barriers in the form of negative stereotypes and prejudices against people with disabilities.
Additionally, many schools in Moldova lack basic structures, such as sanitary blocks. For instance, especially in villages, toilets are usually located outside the building and lack the necessary hygienic, safe, and/or gender-sensitive conditions.
The Moldovan educational system also suffers from a severe staff shortage. 43% of students enrolled in a disadvantaged school and 28% of students enrolled in an advantaged school attend a school whose principal reported that the capacity of the school to provide instruction is hindered, at least to some extent, by a lack of teaching staff. Only up to a quarter of pedagogy graduates chose to pursue a career in education. Low salaries and not wanting to move to a rural area, where shortages are most acute, are some of the main reasons for this.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the discrepancies and inequalities between advantaged and disadvantaged student groups. With internet penetration in Moldova standing around 79.9% in 2019 (considerably lower than the EU penetration rate of 90% in 2019), approximately 16,000 students (4.8% of total) and 3000 teachers (10.6% of total) without access to ICT technology (laptop, tablet or access to internet) were left without any ability to deliver or receive instruction. The most affected categories were those in rural areas, families
with lower levels of education, and households with a low-income level. A lack of adequate
equipment, like a computer or connection to the internet, and high illiteracy rates among parents created additional obstacles to benefiting from distance learning for Roma children. Children with disabilities also faced additional challenges, as it proved more difficult to provide the support they need for learning remotely.
Education and the War Across the Border
Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moldova and Poland have received the highest number of refugees compared to its population size. The sudden arrival of Ukrainian refugees has placed tremendous pressure on the Moldovan educational system to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of children seeking an education. In response to the influx of refugees, the Ministry of Education and Research has implemented regulations allowing the inclusion and integration of refugees into the national education system. However, this open refugee policy has further strained an already fragile educational system. Enormous educational needs are overstretching and straining the educational capacity of the country, given the shortage of teachers, the language barriers, the demand for mental health help and resources, etc.
Moldova, a small and often overlooked European country, has been pushed into the spotlight by the conflict across its border. The country faces significant educational challenges. More than half of its students struggle with basic skills like reading, math, and science, falling behind neighbouring countries. Inequality is a concern, children from rural communities and ethnic minorities missing out on education, and disadvantaged students facing lower expectations. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the situation, exposing the digital divide. At present, the conflict in Ukraine has brought an influx of refugees, putting more strain on Moldova’s already fragile education system.
Moldova finds itself at a crossroads regarding its future and the future of its education system, as the two are inherently intertwined. Without a well-educated and skilled workforce, Moldova’s future as a nation looks grim. Unless the disparities between urban and rural areas, as well as the marginalization of certain minority groups, are addressed, the country risks perpetuating a cycle of poverty and exclusion that could hinder social cohesion and stability.
The Republic of Moldova is currently facing daunting challenges, to be sure. Still, with determination and cooperation, it is at least within its power as a state to build a resilient education system that would unlock the potential of its youth so they may build a brighter future.
Bischof, L. and Tofan, A. (2018). “Moldova: Institutions Under Stress—The Past, the Present and the Future of Moldova’s Higher Education System”. In: Huisman, J., Smolentseva, A. and Froumin, I. (eds) 25 Years of Transformations of Higher Education Systems in Post-Soviet Countries. Reform and Continuity, 311-337. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Negură, P. (2018). “Ce lecții tragem din școlarizarea minorităților din Basarabia interbelică ?”. In: Cioroianu, A. (ed.) Un Centenar și mai multe teme pentru acasă, 105-116. Iași: POLIROM.
Negură, P. and Cușco, A. (2021). “Public Education in Romania and Moldova, 19-20th Centuries: Modernization, Political Mobilization, and Nation-Building. An Introduction.”, Plural. History, Culture, Society, 9(1): 5-10.
On February 24, 2022, Thursday, at 3:40 am, a full-scale war broke out in Ukraine.
Undoubtedly, the hostilities in the country have a negative impact on the psychological and physical condition of the citizens, both children and adults. Entire families were forced to hide from constant shelling, leave their homes and flee to other regions or countries due the danger situation in the regions where they live.
The martial law in Ukraine has changed the lives of every citizen and affected all spheres of life.
But how did the war affect education in Ukraine?
Within weeks of the invasion, nearly 16 million Ukrainians were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge abroad and in other parts of Ukraine. Many of these were women and children, causing significant harm to Ukraine’s majority female teaching force and their students.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers around the world developed remote teaching skills. Now that the war has again divided their classrooms, Ukrainian teachers have adapted these skills to teach students across Europe and the world.
Like Ukraine itself, which has shown tremendous resistance, educators (teachers, professors, etc.) have continued their educational efforts despite enormous odds. Since the military invasion, teachers have continued to teach their students in bomb shelters during active bombardment. Gas stations and grocery stores powered by generators are turning into centers for filming virtual lessons.
Ukraine’s response and persistent challenges to Education
Ukraine’s literacy rate is 99.8%, one of the highest in the world, and education is a source of national pride. In wartime, the Ukrainian government is working to adapt the education system to new realities.
The day after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine recommended that the educational process in educational institutions of all levels be suspended and that students be sent on a two-week vacation. During this time, part of Ukraine’s territory was temporarily occupied, and a number of cities and villages (Mariupol, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and others) became the scene of active hostilities.
On March 14, the educational process began to resume in areas where the security situation allowed it.
Children who live far from the hostilities zone and did not move to other regions of Ukraine or abroad during the war are enrolled in full-time, distance, or mixed forms of education.
However, due to prolonged air raids and power outages of several hours, the educational process in the safe areas is also interrupted. After all, when teachers and students are in a shelter during an air raid or without electricity and, accordingly, high-quality Internet, participants in the educational process cannot continue either full-time or distance learning at this time. Therefore, students spend a significant portion of their school time studying on their own. All this only exacerbates educational losses.
Students, who have been forced to change their place of residence within Ukraine, sometimes even repeatedly, experience interruptions in their education and educational losses. For internally displaced students, one of the biggest challenges is adapting to a new environment and integrating into a new educational institution and establishing communication with teachers and peers. Loss or separation from loved ones, separation from friends, change of residence, stress from the events experienced, because someone left the very “center of hell” – all this causes psychological stress for the child.
One of the most difficult is the situation with children living in the hostilities zone or on the contact line or close to the hostilities zone. There is currently no information on the number of such children who remain close to these zones.
Children in these territories are in constant danger, under fire, forced to hide in basements or other safe places as far as possible. There is often no communication, electricity, gas, water, or heat supply in these areas, some of the houses are destroyed, and children have no more or less equipped shelter or refuge. Therefore, the main thing here is to preserve the lives and health of children, and the educational process should be implemented whenever possible – and only in those forms that do not expose children to additional danger. Some children do not study at all, while others study independently where possible. Therefore, this group of children will suffer the greatest educational losses. At the same time, as we have already noted, children in difficult life circumstances also need special attention.
Each group of students has two common problems. These are educational losses, which are different for all groups of students, because it is clear that children who live far from the combat zone and have not changed their place of residence will have less educational losses than other children. Therefore, each educational institution and each community should have an individual strategy for compensating for educational losses, as well as a general state Ukrainian strategy for compensating for educational losses.
Another common problem is the need for psychological assistance to all groups of students, the level of which will also vary depending on the circumstances experienced by the child.
Access to education requires
First, education in times of war is an important topic that requires cooperation between government agencies, aid organizations, and the international community to maximize educational opportunities and protect children in such difficult circumstances. Cooperation with local organizations, social workers, and independent experts is needed to ensure that educational opportunities for children are adapted and accessible.
Secondly, to ensure access to education during war, it is necessary to provide sufficient financial resources, appropriate infrastructure and equipment.
Thirdly, it is important to remember that education in time of war is not limited to learning with books. Children need a variety of educational opportunities, including social and emotional support, cultural activities, and access to media and technology.
Fourth, education should be adapted to the situation of war and meet the needs of children to help them adapt to life in difficult circumstances in the future.
And most importantly, one of the key aspects of education in times of war is ensuring the safety of children and teachers. During war, schools are often targeted, resulting in loss of life and destruction of equipment. Schools need to be secured to protect the lives of children and teachers and ensure the continuity of the educational process.
In addition, education in time of war should be accessible to all children, regardless of their social status or religious affiliation. War-related migration and unequal access to education can lead to discrimination and exclusion of some children. It is necessary to ensure accessible and equal educational opportunities for all children to prevent discrimination and ensure equal chances for all children in the future. This requires cooperation with local organizations, social workers, and independent experts to develop and implement strategies to ensure that education is accessible to all children during war.
For sure, war has a significant negative impact on education, but with the right efforts and support, it is possible to mitigate these effects and help children in the future. Of course, many students do not have access to educational programs or the opportunity to join online learning. Those students who have traveled abroad face language problems and struggle to adapt to a different learning system.
Despite the fact that every student was in a terrible and difficult situation, the educational process resumed in spite of everything.
Since the end of the Salvadorian Civil War in 1992, the country has enjoyed many improvements to education, mainly from the implementation of legislation and educational policies to protect the rights of children and to promote quality, and inclusive education. Evidence of these improvements can be found in a 2018 National Council on Education (CONED) evaluation report of the 2016 “El Salvador Educado Plan” (PESE), which indicated developments such as the provision of student and teacher education on the prevention of violence, greater teacher training options and the creation of a Teacher Training National Institute, a significant increase in preschool coverage (from 1.4% in 2014 to 5.1% in 2018), improved literacy rates, the provision of adaptive educational programs to cater for student’s needs, and a 27.8 million dollar investment to improve school infrastructure.
Despite this, teacher unions, media outlets, non-governmental organizations and academics continue to complain about deficiencies, political failures, and broken promises regarding the protection of the right to education. Salvadorans have recently lived through times of significant change in society, namely the long-term consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the policies brought about by Nayib Bukele’s presidency. Bukele’s most notable change was a crackdown on gang violence, El Salvador’s long-lasting scourge, through a controversial mass detention campaign against the powerful maras. Historically, gang presence has had a negative impact on educational development. Thus, it is appropriate to take a close look at what are the main educational difficulties that the country has faced in the last decade, how have they evolved to this day, and which are the remaining educational challenges through a more nuanced examination of recent literature, data, and events.
Gang Violence and the Right to Education
During the last two decades El Salvador has grappled with the crippling effects of gang violence, mostly carried out by the gangs M-13 and Barrio-18, which had their origins in Los Angeles, USA, but extended their reach to Central America through the mass deportation of gang members to El Salvador over the years. An example of the devastating effects of gang violence is the fact that in 2016, the capital of San Salvador had a homicide rate of around 100 per 100,000 inhabitants. The intersection between gang criminality and education goes both ways: while low quality education and lack of access to schooling make individuals prone to join gangs and conduct crimes, the presence of gangs and their activities also hamper educational development, creating a vicious cycle.
A striking fact about gang members that are currently imprisoned is that around 90% of them never finished secondary education and more than 97% have not had access to tertiary education. Most of the gang members range between 12 and 24 years old. These figures reflect the potential consequence of dropping out, lacking access to education, or receiving low-quality education. While there are many causes explaining why youths join gangs, education is an important protective factor. Gangs provide what the state cannot when there is a lack of welfare. Education can mitigate the risk of people slipping through the cracks. Thus, the deficiencies of the educational system that will be explored below can help account for the systemic gang violence that has plagued the country over the last decades.
In 2016, when gang violence in El Salvador peaked, it was reported that children were abandoning school due to the dramatic rise of gang threats, and teacher unions estimated that around 100.000 students dropped out during the previous year due to such violence.Teachers were affected as well by the threats and extortions, which also hindered their capacity to perform, and, by extension, the quality of education decreased. It was estimated that 60% of Salvadoran schools were affected by gang violence. Students were not only deprived of education due to the violent climate created by the gangs, but also because they were (and still are) the main recruitment target of these groups, which evidently curtail the professional possibilities of their members.
Despite improvements to education, the challenges that gangs pose to educational development are the same. More recent studies, including the first empirical investigations into how gang presence affects education. Gang violence has also been found to lead to lower household incentives to invest in education, as well as lower academic performance due to victimization risks (accounting for the mental and physical wellbeing), the impact of crime on household budgets, and the impact on future expectations of families and students. 
Finally, it must be noted that Bukele’s presidency has been a turning point regarding gang violence in El Salvador. Adding to the steady decline of homicides since 2015, the latest government’s crackdown against gangs was possible due to the enactment of a state of emergency declared in March 2022, and has resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of more than 60.000 suspected gang members, with El Salvador reaching the highest incarceration rate in the world. In dense urban areas where extortion was rampant, business seem to be finally flourishing, and homicides have plummeted (from 1.147 in 2021 to 495 in 2022). Therefore it is legitimate to also expect a positive impact on education. However, it is too soon to have data on the impact that this might have had in education, but it should be noted that some experts see these repressive measures as a short-term solution, and that the best long-term strategy is, precisely, to invest in community-oriented strategies to improve educational quality and coverage. This does not only include the education of future generations but also that of imprisoned gang members. The expectation is that educational rehabilitation will be provided by the program “Segundas Oportunidades”, but this is one of the most important educational challenges that El Salvador is yet to face.
Recent news reports in El Salvador have made visible widespread teacher protests regarding the deficient state of most educational institutions’ infrastructure. According to Manuel Molina, the representative of a teacher union called Movimiento Magisterial Salvadoreño, around 85% of school infrastructure are in a bad condition. Together with large groups of education workers, Molina criticizes the inefficiency of the 2021 educational policy plan, “Mi Nueva Escuela,” claiming that only 70 centers in the metropolitan area of San Salvador have been provided with infrastructural improvements, while the remaining 600 sustain significant structural damages that hamper the quality of education and endanger students’ safety.
El Salvador is in an area of high seismic activity, which costs an average of 0.7% of the country’s annual GDP. Other natural disasters, such as floods and landslides are also common in the country. These have caused accumulated damages to educational centers, which are the most affected type of infrastructure according to a study conducted between 2015 and 2016. Most centers do not have the proper infrastructure to withstand such disasters and that there has not been enough focus on the reparation of many schools. It has been widely documented in recent research about El Salvador’s educational system that poor infrastructure directly affects the learning quality of student and curtails the performance of teachers, thus making it a priority in order to fully ensure the right to education.
Bukele’s plan of “Mi Nueva Escuela” precisely acknowledges the importance of this issue and includes the promise of dedicating, in 2023 and with the aid of transnational banks, more than 289 million dollars to repair and build around 5.000 education centers. However, it should be noted that this plan was initially launched in 2021 and its implementation has been slow or inactive, and no consistent follow-ups or data on it have been provided. Media outlets and teacher unions have protested, as noted above, against the sluggish governmental action to solve the problem.
Insufficient Educational Budget
While it needs to be acknowledged that state budget in education has increased significantly over the last eight years (from 3.8% of the country’s GDP in 2014 to 4.6% in 2021), El Salvador is still far from the ideal benchmark of 7%, set and acknowledged by the governmental estimates of the 2016 PESE plan. In 2019, it was reported that the education budget for that year lacked around 1.2 million dollars to obtain the desired benchmark. It is essential that education receives the budget it deserves, not only to provide adequate infrastructure and material, but also to provide better teacher trainings, technological tools to families and schools alike, scholarships for disadvantaged children, and to expand the curriculum and extra-curricular activities.
The Effects of COVID-19
El Salvador was one of the countries with stricter measures during the Covid-19 pandemic; educational centers remained closed from March 2020 to April 2021. There is not yet a lot of information on the specific effects that the pandemic had on El Salvador, but some estimates expect a learning loss of 1.2 years. It has also been reported that educational coverage has stagnated with the pandemic, and that inequalities were maintained throughout that period, even exacerbated (for instance, the poorest quintile’s rate of school assistance decreased from 65% in 2019 to 64.3% in 2021). The quality of education has suffered damage from the pandemic as well: in all learning areas, student performance decreased significantly in the last years of secondary education, attaining less than a 50% rate of successful achievement in languages and math. These results suggest that remote education did not motivate students and that, even for those with the necessary resources, learning development proved to be difficult. On top of that, the percentage of high school students with notable symptoms of depression or anxiety rose from 13.5% in 2020 to 19.6% in 2021.
Further studies on the educational challenges posed by Covid-19 in El Salvador align with the issues outlined above and point to a deeper problem that has become noticeable during the pandemic: the technological breach and the lack of digital literacy.
The technological breach refers to the significant portion of students who do not possess the adequate technological equipment nor appropriate connectivity to receive quality remote education. A recent survey suggests that around 13% of the students do not have technological equipment (e.g., a laptop or tablet), and that a 28.7% must share it with other family members, and only 3 out of 10 students report to have a good connectivity in their house. Moreover, around 45% of the students report to not have the adequate space at home to do remote education. State-collected statistics confirm that the rate of student access to internet is lower than 50% for all levels of primary school and around 70% for secondary school, that such access rate is at least 10% higher in private schools for all levels of education, and around 20% higher in urban areas. All in all, the evidence suggests that there is inequality in terms of access to technology between the rich and the poor, as well as between urban and rural populations.
The lack of digital literacy is especially important as regards teachers: only 3 out of 10 students consider that teachers are appropriately capacitated to teach online. A recent study that measures the quality of education in El Salvador reports that the staff of most educational centers, especially those located outside major urban areas, have not received any training on digital skills and literacy. Those staff are unable to provide quality remote education and to make the best use of technologies in class, since the presence of material is impractical if the educator does not have the skill to use it. Furthermore, most educational centers in less populated regions do not possess the adequate technology to provide quality, up-to-date education, and often have poor access to internet. The most recent state-recorded statistics on the matter align with the described problem: in 2018, the average number of students per computer at school was 19, and the percentage of teachers able to access internet at school on the same year was only 60.4%.
Problems in Public Superior Education
Higher education is often essential to develop professionally in a globalized world. Due to a lack of monetary resources and weak political will, public higher education in El Salvador faces a range of problems that hamper the universal provision of quality, university-level training:
First, it has been reported that public university infrastructure is insufficient to host the vast quantity of students that wish to attend it. In fact, in public universities it is not rare to have more than a hundred students per one teacher, which obviously diminishes the quality of education for all. In comparison, private institutions might take in more students overall, but they have the appropriate infrastructure to avoid overcrowding.
Secondly, the capacity constraint of public universities leads them to impose a highly strict admission filter: in 2019, 51.5% of first year university aspirants were ruled out by the admission tests at the Universidad de El Salvador (UES). While, by law, the right to higher education is to be ensured by the state, in practice, the opportunity is formally given to all but only obtained by a few. Equality of opportunity should not be confused with equality of possibility; and it seems that the possibility to access higher education is greater for those who can afford private education or the conditions to prepare access to public education, than for those who live in poverty (29.2% of the population in 2018). Even in a society that values merit (a contestable term), the numbers seem excessive, and the term public seems to be drained of meaning.
Stagnated Educational Coverage and Low-Quality Education
El Salvador finds itself in quite a decent position with a 90% rate in 2021 (the latest recorded). However, when considering the average of its Latin American neighbors, El Salvador finds itself 4 percentual points below the average, a 94%. Furthermore, it should be noted that since 2014, El Salvador’s literacy rate has remained almost unchanged, albeit slowly increasing (in 2014 the rate was of 89.1%). This signals that around 10% of the population consistently remains illiterate, that efforts in that area could have been more fruitful, and that full educational coverage is still quite ahead of the current situation. In addition, the illiteracy rates show that women are significantly more affected than men (in 2021 the rate was of 8.1% for the women and 11.7% for the men), and that rural communities have a higher portion of illiterate population than urban areas (in 2021, the rate was of 15.5% for the former and of 6.8% for the latter).
Beyond the issue of illiteracy, the 2022 rate of out-of-school population also leaves much to be desired: with an average rate of 40.38%, it is striking to note that the rate is greater than 46% for all ages under 5 years-old, decreasing throughout primary school levels, and then increasing notably from the age of 16 onwards, reaching almost 60% at the age of 18. When differentiating by gender, it seems that there is a greater proportion of men out of school. Similarly, the dropout rates reach a concerning historic high of 14.7% in 2021 (the latest recorded) in secondary education. Again, the statistics indicate that men are significantly more likely to drop out than women, especially during the last years of primary education. It seems that the challenge that lays ahead is not only to widen basic educational coverage but also to specifically do it in rural areas, with a focus on secondary education and with a gender lens.
Quality in education has been a longstanding concern in El Salvador. The most recent state-collected statistics display an astounding difference between the gross and the net rate of enrollment per level in 2022, that is, the difference between calculating the proportion of students enrolled in each level without regard for their age, and calculating the proportion of students with the corresponding theoretical age enrolled in each level. While the former shows rates of around 80% for the levels of primary and secondary school, each figure drops to a 10% less (approximately) in the latter. That signals that there is an important educational lag at every level of education, something that is confirmed by the high rates of overage students at each level of education. Another fact that signals that educational quality requires improvement in El Salvador is that the most common reason to abandon school in the country is low student performance, accounting for 22.4% of school dropouts. Moreover, in previous sections it has already been shown how educational attainment, especially in the post-Covid context, is low.
All things considered, El Salvador needs to boost student performance. Therefore, it seems important to shed light on what might be the causes of such figures, and according to recent reports and literature, some of these elements have already been discovered. Leaving the inescapable and damaging effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on educational development aside, studies suggest that to improve student motivation, possibilities and curricula, educational centers need to increase their contact with local communities and families. Working together with the immediate context of the students would propitiate the ideal learning conditions, in terms of support mechanisms and motivation through the applicability of knowledge. Besides that, it is also important to consider that the low educational budget, reported lack of material and educational infrastructure hinders the learning possibilities and performance of students; something that seems to be especially present in most areas outside the capital. On top of that, it is extremely important to increase teacher training programs and to address the critical teacher shortage in the country. In 2018, the statistics indicated that there were 27 students per teacher in El Salvador, while the regional average is at 21 students per teacher. It should be noted that the teacher shortage was significantly higher in public schools and in rural areas.
As it might have been picked up from some of the data provided in the previous sections, there are clear discriminatory divides in the educational system of El Salvador. It has been shown how schools in rural areas receive less resources and attention than those in urban areas, how low student performance and low educational quality seems to primarily affect rural areas and the public sector, indicating that wealth might play a role in such difference, and how the gender lens allows for the identification of higher illiteracy among women and higher dropout rates among men. This final section will explore more deeply the main educational inequalities that need to be overcome in El Salvador.
Although it has shown great improvement over the last decade, El Salvador still shows significant levels of economic inequality, while low levels of economic power have been directly associated with having less educational opportunities, especially in the later years of educational development, due to the impossible costs of higher education and necessity to leave education in order to work for the family, or even due to joining a gang in contexts where state control and support is more absent. Some accounts state that the issue of poverty (and, by extension, lack of access to education) is a matter of government prioritization of rich over the poor, actively contributing to (educational) inequality and a cycle of crime and poverty.
Gender parity in education has shown good results in 2022, often indicating a disparity in favor of women. However, El Salvador has been reported to be a country where patriarchal systems prevail and discrimination and violence against women is rampant, including at school. In 2017, 67% of women aged 25 and older reported being victims of gender-based violence, and the pervasiveness of school-based gender-based violence has also been reported. It has been argued and investigated, that while access to education has been fairly ensured for women, the sexist environment that they encounter at school can be an obstacle to their development. The issue is, then, that girls receive a poorer quality education than boys, especially indigenous girls, who face more prejudice due to an intersection of discriminations. The complaint has often been directed towards the fact that gender and violence against girls has not been specifically named as a target area in the recent and current national education plans and inclusive policies. It would be through such focus that teachers would be able to obtain the training and tools to ensure an environment of true equality and to eliminate gender-based prejudice from its root.
More broadly, it has been pointed out that while normative frameworks have been set up to activate inclusive programs in education, no monitoring and evaluation mechanisms have been established yet. The previous national educational plans, such as the “Política de Educación Inclusiva” or the PESE, have not addressed the same issues over the years although such issues were ever-present, making for a scattered landscape of mechanisms to address inclusivity. Moreover, it is argued that these plans only offer temporary (but necessary) solutions such as food programs or support mechanisms for families but overlook the possibility of implementing structural changes. In order to obtain long-lasting improvements, it would be necessary to address poverty in rural areas and to provide them with appropriate infrastructure. Just like it has been argued with the issue of gender, there is also a broad need to be specific when defining the objects of inclusion too (e.g., race, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity), so that their difference and value can be acknowledged in the process of providing quality education.
Lastly, it is important to highlight the clear inequalities existing between the rural and urban areas in El Salvador. Resource allocation, better student performance, lower dropout rates, and higher school attendance all concentrate in urban areas. The lack of access to digital tools and connectivity (less than 20% of rural families had internet access during Covid-19, and in 2019 only 19.6% of rural families had computer access) is also a salient issue for rural schools and families, and a much greater one compared to the situation in urban centers. Aside from material deprivation, it has also been reported that children in rural areas often do not find appropriate parental support on school tasks due to the labor conditions of the parents and their (relatively low) educational level. It is also often the case that the profile of families in rural areas is of low economic level, possibly adding the issues mentioned above as regards poverty and education. It should be noted that, in 2018, around 74.88% of the educational centers found themselves in rural areas. Educational issues associated to rural areas such as school dropout due to pursuing jobs (and child labor, for that matter), lack of material and technological conditions, poor transportation options in areas where schools are too far for some students, and the low training levels that some teachers present need to be addressed through integral solutions to avoid perpetuating inequality.
Education is a fundamental rights for all humans around the globe. Regardless of one’s economic or social status, every human being should be entitled to Education. Despite the fact that this might seem obvious, it is not the reality for many Ugandans. Nevertheless, the government has and is still making significant efforts to cub illiteracy. For instance, the government split the education system into pre-primary, primary, secondary and post secondary or tertiary education.
Uganda has made progress in implementing universal primary education, yet many students do not achieve minimum levels of literacy and numeracy. Low learning levels contribute to low completion rates and many students fail to transition between grades and dropout rates are high.
Conflicts and insecurity
Nearly 40 pupils have been killed at a school in western Uganda by rebels linked to the Islamic State group (IS).
Five militants attacked the Lhubiriha secondary school in Mpondwe. Uganda’s information minister said 37 students were confirmed to have been killed, but did not give their ages. Twenty of them were attacked with machetes and 17 of them burned to death, Chris Baryomunsi told the BBC.
The Ugandan army said the rebels had also killed a school guard and three members of the local community.
Survivors said the rebels threw a bomb into the dormitory after the machete attack. It is not clear if this resulted in a fire in the building which was reported earlier.
Six students were also abducted to carry food that the rebels stole from the school’s stores, he added. The militants then returned across the border into the DR Congo.
Lack of enough teachers
The lack of teachers is yet another huge obstacle to education in the rural areas of Uganda. Actually, in rural areas, it can be extremely difficult to attract great teachers, and hiring, in general, most teachers prefers to teach in urban areas. The reason is, rural life is not suitable for everyone. Many services such as healthcare, banks and proper housing can be harder to obtain as well.
Access to and completion of schooling is inequitable, with girls and children from the poorest families at highest risk of school dropout: According to UNICEF in 2020,the secondary level enrollment of the richest 20 per cent of the population (43.1 per cent) is five times that of the poorest 20 per cent (8.2 per cent). In geographical terms, the highest Secondary Net Enrollment is seen in Kampala (52 per cent) and lowest in Acholi (7 per cent). Costs associated with education account for 6 out of 10 people leaving school among the people from the poor household.
Among children that do attend school in Uganda, the absence of qualified teachers, textbooks, and low-quality school environment all adversely affect learning outcomes: most students in fifth grade in rural areas in Uganda are not able to master basic mathematics and reading skills.
Physical distance to learning centers
Physical distance is another huge problem children attaining education in mainly rural areas have go through. Schools are located kilometers away from their home stay where kids have to move for long hours to get to their school. Some fail to go to school because it’s far while others tend to drop out.
Impact of Covid-19
The school closures and the loss of household income, particularly in rural areas, restricted access to education for school-aged children. Many students abandoned school permanently due to their parent’s loss of income. young people needed to find ways to generate an income while schools were closed. This posed different challenges depending on gender or location.
Girls did not reintegrate back into schools, and were exposed to early marriage and pregnancies. Teenage pregnancy and early marriages Ahead of the 2020 Day of the African Child, Save the Children had a discussion with selected children on how COVID-19 was affecting them. This story from Wakiso District sums it up. “A girl in primary five in a neighboring school was impregnated by a man working in a stone quarry. When schools closed, her mother sent her to sell. Many of these girls may never go back to school, because of the economic impact of COVID-19 on their families. In such instances, more girls than boys are likely to be affected as impoverished families usually prioritize educating the boys. The girls are expected to be married off.
Water, sanitation and hygiene
Water and sanitation are essential for life and health, but they are also essential for dignity, empowerment and prosperity. Water and sanitation are human rights, fundamental to every child and adult. But in Uganda, poor sanitation and hygiene, as well as unequal access to safe drinking water, make thousands of children very sick and at risk of death.
Early childhood diarrhoea is not only deadly; it also contributes to Uganda’s high levels of stunting, which in turn affects children’s cognitive development and performance at school. In school, lack of proper sanitation facilities also leads to high absenteeism and dropouts, especially for girls. According to UNICEF “Diarrhoea alone, one of three major childhood killers in Uganda, kills 33 children every day”. In most cases, children get the disease by drinking unsafe water or coming into contact with contaminated hands and most schools in Uganda especially in rural areas does not provide clean water for their students.
Teenage pregnancy and child marriages
Child marriage, teenage pregnancy, abuse at schools and school fees keep many teens, especially girls, out of secondary schools. pregnancy accounts for 8 per cent of girls who left school. Similar challenges remain in the quality of education: only about 50 per cent of the children in Primary 3 were proficient in literacy and numeracy in a 2018 survey conducted by the Government.
In conclusion, Uganda’s government, therefore, has a responsibility of extending better social services in rural areas such as roads, schools, hospitals to facilitate development in those areas and hence improve people’s standards of living as well as education for the poor kids.
As government seeks to alleviate the effects of lockdown brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasis should be placed on ensuring that systems that are supposed to protect girls and women from GBV are not compromised. If this is not done quickly, the country will have to deal with a number of psychosocial problems brought about by the lockdown. Clean water must be readily available for people to improve their hygiene habits, as must soap. And girls must have privacy and dignity when using sanitation facilities.
Liberia, a former colony that gained independence in 1847, is a Western-African republic bordering Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and the Atlantic Ocean. Etymologically, Liberia stands for ‘liberty’ and symbolises the establishment of enslaved people liberated from America and slowly, through more and more communities; their efforts amounted to a republic. Liberia can be classified as a ‘rebuilding’ country considering its independence-related challenges, its peace threats most recently illustrated by Liberia’s Civil Conflict and health crises such as E-coli, HIV and Covid-19 (The World Bank, 2021). While efforts for redress have been a part of the country’s narrative, Liberia remains one of the poorest African countries, with a rating of 181 out of 189 according to the Human Development Index (Launch Good, 2020). These challenges have had a substantial impact on the quality of Liberian education.
Liberia’s Education System
Before delving into the challenges threatening the access and quality of education in Liberia, it is essential to grasp the outlook of the educational infrastructure at the moment.
The educational system follows a tripartite primary, secondary and higher education structure. While primary education is free of cost, the facilities and the manner of institutional operation are not meeting minimum quality standards. The schools are operated by the churches, mainly following a catholic system followed by Episcopalian and Methodist schools (Liberia Education, n.d.). While most schools are public, some private ones also demand high fees but have better facilities. Out of this emerges a picture of acute socio-economic inequalities.
Importantly, there is a promise of projects such as the pilot projects of public/private schools’ partnerships, meaning that private school managers could operate public schools in an effort to improve the current educational infrastructure. This could be a game-changer. However, it is unclear whether this could be a general way of solving part of the education crisis (Venture Philanthropy, 2023).
The Sex4Grades Case Study
On top of the effects of a war that deprived the country of the prospect of change and resources, corruption and abuse have been ingrained within public educational institutions. This is manifested through the “Sex4Grades” phenomena. This phenomena entails being harassed or sexually abused in order to pass a test, a class or simply the whole year (Zebede & Shahid, 2016). UNICEF’s report confirms this to be a “widespread problem” (UNICEF, 2015). Almost one in five girls and boys has experienced abuse in school by school personnel (Front Page Africa, 2014). These numbers depict the current situation in the post-war period. It is essential to see that although the civil war stopped, the war on education in Liberia never ceased to exist.
Liberia’s Civil Conflict Effect on Education
The threat over peace, justice and the strength of institutions has been posed by the fourteen years-long civil war that ended in 2003. Structurally, the conflict has been a biphasic one. The First Liberian Civil War (1989-1997) can be explained through different root reasons starting from ethical clashes, socio-economic inequality, governmental corruption, and abusive use of power. This period was followed by two years of peace disrupted by the Second Liberian War (1999-2003) (Peace Building Data, n.d.). The underlying causes include practices of ethnic scapegoating and significant human rights abuses. Over 250000 individuals were killed in light of the war, around 780000 people were externally displaced, and 500000 were internally displaced (Dabo, 2012).
The human rights infringements during this period divorced the prospect of a regenerating educational system and left the country with the harm that was proven challenging to redress. The war comprised a series of massacres, the use of child soldiers, the abduction of civilians and non-civilians, sexual abuse of women and children, and psychological torture (Dabo, 2012). These human rights abuses did not discriminate, leaving everyone in the country vulnerable and exposed to dangerous situations (Dabo, 2012). Due to this feeling of non-safety, a significant number of Liberians sought refuge in countries such as Sierra Leone or Ghana.
In terms of effects on education, the Civil War led to the displacement of over 800000 school students because of two leading causes: they had to seek refuge in another country with their families. They were forced to take on the status of child soldiers. Over 80 % of the schools had to be closed during the war due to safety concerns (Lai & Thyme, 2007). The protracted non-participation in primary and secondary education is not just rebuilt after the civil war ends but can develop in a very similar way. The echo of the civil war is felt by the current illiteracy rate of over 50%, the significant dropout rates of around 70% in primary education, and low governmental expenditure spending on educational infrastructure (Liberia Education, n.d.).
The peacebuilding process entailed the establishment of a Peace Agreement through two new institutions, namely the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights. While the externally displaced were included in the peacebuilding process through the Diaspora Project, the internally displaced people were not given a voice leaving the discussion of reform focuses, such as the reform of access to education, to not be addressed with due importance(United Nations Peacebuilding, 2018). This confirms the prolonged education crisis felt even in the present days.
Learning Experiences from Ebola to the Covid-19 Pandemic
Health crises leave a multilateral impact. As seen from the Covid-19 pandemic, a health crisis can disturb different types of safety, varying from economic, political, and domestic safety to the safety one finds in having access to education (Watt, 2020).
In 2014, Liberia experienced a major Ebola outbreak that took the lives of 3600 Liberians. On top of the threat to health, this epidemic brought economic and psychological distress. In other words, it has accentuated the lack of readiness and stressed that there is a lack of resources even without managing a health crisis. However, it is essential to note that there is a noteworthy critique vis-a-vis the failure of the international community to involve itself more in amending the adverse effects of the epidemic (Santos & Novelli, 2017). As Ebola is a disease spread through bodily contact, many schools had to close for indeterminate periods, and the school personnel and the students had to undergo a twenty-one-day quarantine every time they felt any symptoms. To further illustrate this, five million children were deprived of education for nine months during the epidemic (Watt, 2020). The epidemic led to even more school dropouts and proved a lack of mobilisation when prioritising education (Santos & Novelli, 2017).
Similar to the Ebola outbreak, the Covid-19 pandemic has given rise to similar struggles and challenges. Schools had to be closed for a long and indeterminate period of time, leading to more gender-based violence, school dropouts, the involvement of children in street dealing and an increased number of forced child marriages (Tunwah, 2021).
Gender-based Discrimination in the Liberian Educational System
Both international and national legal standards stipulate equal access to education. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stresses the entitlement of everyone to education in the “primary and fundamental stages” (United Nations, 2023). Moreover, education should be available and compulsory. Domestically, the Education Law of 1973 and the Free and Compulsory Education Law of 2002 stress the compulsory character of education between the ages of six and sixteen and the entitlement of every Liberian child to free education (International Bureau of Education, 2010).
While the standards are extant, it becomes clear with the previously discussed dropout phenomena that applying such standards is problematic. While, as argued so far, the current educational system is unsafe for all students, there is a prevalence of girls dropping out of school and not finishing their education. The dropout rates are 65% for boys and 73% for female students (Santos & Novelli, 2017). Thus, the education problem is also gendered, leaving one in four women illiterate (Educate Girls Network, 2015). Some of the leading causes consist of the patriarchal character of Liberia, teenage pregnancies, and child marriage (Educate Girls Network, 2015). Many of the subsequent reasons stem from Liberia being a patriarchy. The gender norms prevalent in Liberian society follow a traditional perspective.
Further, this conservative approach supports a hierarchy that posits men as the primary decision-makers and ‘bread-earners’ while attributing women with a ‘caregiver’ role. These gender norms have long-term consequences depicted in instances such as political representation. For example, in the aftermath of the 2017 House of Representatives elections, only nine women were part of the 73 seats winning body (Educate HER, 2017). This is not only visible in the political labour sector but the whole labour market. There is a great need to prioritise women’s education to improve socio-economic development (Educate HER, 2017).
Actors of Change in Liberia
While the general outlook of the educational situation in Liberia can be grim, some actors of change need to be mentioned. The Educate Global Partnership for Education funded Educate Her Project seeks to promote gender equity and equality in education by collaborating closely with governmental institutions and non-profit organisations. Their work results in policies and recommendations for educational interventions that challenge the current discrimination in the educational system (Educate HER, 2017).
Regarding innovative education, the Liberian Education Advancement Program rests on the partnership of public and private schools to provide accessible, free and more qualitative education. Furthermore, the United Nations Educational Scientific Organization has been a pillar in African reform and continues to provide resources such as teacher training workshops to improve the quality of education despite the lack of the state’s investment in education (Paygar Jr, 2014).
In conclusion, Liberia faces diverse challenges and continues to seek reform one after the other. The First and Second Civil Wars, doubled by the discussed health crises, have continuously challenged the country’s socio-economic development. While access to free education is protected under different international and national standards, the current educational system is characterised by significant dropout rates and human rights abuses. Still, there are several non-governmental actors that are trying to collaborate with the Liberian state for a better future.
Recent events in Palestine have raised concerns and sparked outrage as Israel demolishes EU-funded schools, drawing widespread criticism from international bodies. These demolitions have intensified regional tensions and highlighted the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This article aims to provide an overview of the situation, exploring the reasons behind the demolitions, the reactions from various stakeholders, and the implications for education in Palestine.
On May 7, 2023, Israel demolished a Palestinian school funded by the European Union, prompting condemnation from the international community and eliciting strong criticism from the global community. The school, located in a Palestinian village in the West Bank, was part of a broader initiative to support and bolster educational opportunities in the region. This demolition has emerged as a pivotal moment within the highly volatile context, exacerbating the anger and frustration among Palestinians and their supporters. This incident has intensified the already heightened emotions surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adding to the grievances and discontent within the affected communities.
The Israeli authorities have put forth several justifications for the destruction. They have highlighted the lack of proper permits and non-compliance with building regulations as primary reasons for their actions. Israeli officials argue these structures were erected without authorization and pose potential security risks. However, critics of these demolitions raise significant concerns about the complexity and restrictiveness of the Israeli permit process. They argue that Palestinians face numerous obstacles in obtaining the necessary permits, creating a cycle wherein unauthorized construction becomes the only viable option. Consequently, the demolitions become an unfortunate consequence of the limitations imposed by the Israeli permit system, perpetuating a cycle of illegal construction and subsequent destruction of vital educational infrastructure in Palestinian communities. This cycle disrupts Palestinian students’ lives and undermines the prospects of stability and development in the region.
Israel’s demolition of EU-funded schools in Palestine has ignited significant international condemnation, with the European Union emerging as a prominent voice of criticism. The EU has vehemently expressed its profound apprehension regarding destroying educational infrastructure, considering it a clear violation of international law. The incident has strained the relationship between Israel and the European Union, leading to deliberations on potential ramifications and diplomatic consequences.
The condemnation from the EU underscores the gravity of the situation and emphasizes the urgency for a resolution to address the demolition of these vital educational facilities. School demolitions have far-reaching implications for education in the region. Beyond the immediate destruction of physical infrastructure, these demolitions infringe upon Palestinian children’s fundamental right to education. Access to quality education is vital for the holistic development of children, encompassing their social, intellectual, and emotional growth. By demolishing schools, the academic progress of Palestinian students is disrupted, depriving them of a fundamental human right.
Moreover, the demolitions undermine international efforts to improve educational opportunities in Palestine. The European Union and other international entities have been actively supporting and funding initiatives to enhance education in the region. These efforts aim to provide Palestinian children with quality education, equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary for their future. However, the destruction of EU-funded schools undermines these collective endeavours, hindering progress towards achieving educational development goals. The denial of education impacts individual students and has broader consequences for the entire Palestinian society. Education plays a crucial role in shaping the future of communities, fostering social cohesion, and empowering individuals to contribute positively to their institutions. The demolition of schools obstructs these transformative processes, perpetuating a cycle of inequality and limited opportunities for Palestinian children. Addressing the implications of the destruction of education in Palestine requires collective action and international cooperation. Efforts must be made to rebuild and rehabilitate educational infrastructure, ensuring Palestinian children access safe and conducive learning environments. Additionally, advocacy for protecting the right to education, as enshrined in international human rights instruments, is crucial.
Human rights organizations and proponents of Palestinian rights have strongly emphasized the need for accountability and cessation of the demolitions of EU-funded schools in Palestine. These advocates assert that Israel must be held responsible for destroying educational infrastructure, considering it a violation of the right to education enshrined in international human rights frameworks. The call for accountability resonates with the broader aim of ensuring that all parties involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are held to the standards of international law. It emphasizes the significance of safeguarding the right to education as a fundamental human right, especially for vulnerable populations such as Palestinian children.
Additionally, these organizations and advocates urge international bodies to take tangible and proactive measures to protect and promote the right to education in Palestine, including monitoring and reporting on violations, engaging in diplomatic efforts to halt the demolitions, and supporting the reconstruction and rehabilitation of educational infrastructure.
The involvement of international entities in safeguarding the right to education is essential to create a conducive and secure environment for Palestinian students to access quality education. By advocating for accountability and appealing to international bodies, human rights organizations and advocates for Palestinian rights aim to bring attention to the violations of educational rights in Palestine. Their efforts seek to ensure that all children in the region have equal opportunities for education and the chance to develop their potential, contributing to a more just and equitable future.
The demolition has unleashed a powerful surge of criticism and alarm, casting a glaring spotlight on the enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The obliteration of educational infrastructure stands as a formidable barrier to the aspirations of Palestinian children, impeding their path to quality education and hindering their overall development. In response, the international community, including influential players such as the European Union, has united in a resounding call for accountability and a relentless pursuit of resolution. These collective efforts aim to prevent further human rights violations, particularly the right to education, and ensure that every child in Palestine has an unimpeded opportunity to flourish academically, fostering a future of dignity and equality.
After enduring the hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic, which implied a range of socioeconomic challenges, including educational impoverishment due to the closure of schools, the Tigray territory in northwestern Ethiopia suffered yet another blow in November of 2020, when civil war struck the region. The consequences of the conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopia’s National Defence Forces (ENDF), aided by the Eritrean military, represent one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in the world, piling on top of several longstanding crises in Ethiopia such as severe drought and acute famine. The consequences of this conflict are broad, including a critical situation regarding education.
According to the latest UN OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) report on the matter, around 85% of the schools in Tigray have been partially or entirely damaged by the conflict, and some 411.000 school-age children are in dire need of essential services, which profoundly affects their educational development. The UN plans to cover the needs of 3.6 million affected children and almost 190.000 teachers by providing accelerated learning activities for those who have been out of school for more than three years and providing psychosocial and mental health support services and learning packages.
The current conflict was prompted by a power struggle between the TPLF and the current Ethiopian president Abiy Ahmed. The TPLF ruled the country for over thirty years until Ahmed came to power in 2018 to dismantle the TPLF’s regime. As Ahmed became the president of the country, he managed to rearrange the political power while ostracizing the TPLF. Parallelly, Ahmed also managed to end the longstanding war with neighbouring Eritrea.
On the 4th of November 2020, the government accused the TPLF of attacking a military base near Mekelle and ordered a military intervention to address the situation while calling for the aid of Eritrean forces and Tigray’s neighbouring region’s militias. Since then, the scale of the conflict has grown exponentially, with both sides committing mass killings and other atrocities that have called the attention of the international community. Ethnic discrimination against Tigrayans has been speculated to be entangled with the motivations of this war. It should be considered that while the focus of the conflict was on Tigray, conflict consequences eventually extended to the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.
In March 2022, the government agreed to an indefinite ceasefire, but the conflict resumed in August. Nevertheless, a permanent cessation of hostilities was agreed upon in November 2022. While at this moment, the situation seems to have calmed down, Ethiopia now faces the aftermath of a devastating conflict, which calls for accountability on both sides as well as amending the several crises stemming from the war, among them the educational crisis.
One of the main reasons why the war on Tigray provoked an educational crisis was the military occupation of schools to use them as bases, accompanied by the plundering, pillaging, and looting of academic centres and the extensive structural damage suffered by the buildings.
There have been many examples of this on both sides of the conflict. For instance, the historical school of Atse Yohannes in Mekelle was used by the ENDF for half a year, Eritrean forces used a primary school in Basen, and the TPLF used an elementary school in Bissober. This, of course, prompted the closure of schools, impeding the attendance of teachers and students, and resulted in extensive damage to infrastructure and school material since the use of the school would make the school a likely confrontation scenario. In some cases, it even resulted in derogatory messages towards locals being painted on the school walls.
According to several sources, around 2.8 million children missed out on education because of the war, and more than 2000 causalities have been reported regarding students and teachers.
The death of teachers and principals also represents a problem since it has generated a shortage of school staff, especially in areas where access to such qualifications is reduced. Due to this shortage, teachers are now forced to have many students in each class, making monitoring students’ progress closely difficult.
Beyond the military use of schools, a range of problems regarding quality and access to education emerged from the war. Trauma and psychological duress have been rampant among students and teachers, negatively impacting their capacity to attain their learning objectives.
Families’ financial losses provoked by the conflict, combined with extreme drought, famine, and health insecurity, have prompted students to stop learning activities to contribute to their family’s economy. Poverty has also hampered the recovery of damaged schools and the capacity to provide a salary for school staff. Teachers have also been more unable to perform their duties since they had to focus on surviving the situation.
The war on Tigray has generated an estimated 3.5 million internally displaced people, mostly women and children. Internally displaced students often found themselves in precarious situations and could not attend school. Students who moved to regions with different indigenous languages also found a barrier to school integration. In many cases, even to this day, internally displaced people and refugees from the war have sheltered themselves inside schools, the occupation of the space being an obstacle to resuming regular school activity.
According to research on the impact of armed violence on students’ educational attainment in Tigray, the school enrollment rates dropped dramatically due to conflict (almost a 10% decline in the studied areas), and educational wastage overall increased, with dropout and repetition rates at risk of rising. Moreover, the long-term impact of the educational crises is the potential lack of social capital and skills of future generations, rendering the communities of Tigray even more vulnerable.
While humanitarian aid is currently reaching the affected areas in northwestern Ethiopia, it should be noted that the mere reopening of schools without further consideration won’t be a fully effective solution. Facilities will need to be safely rebuilt, and students and teachers will have to deal with the traumatic experience of war and loss in the coming years. Tigray’s educational system was not built overnight, and recovery will not be quick either. Aid and resources such as school materials or teacher training will be crucial to restore the system.
Finally, it should be noted that this educational crisis was not entirely unavoidable. The occupation and looting of schools for military purposes are rarely justified under Ethiopian law. They can constitute a war crime and a human rights violation since it deprives children of access to education. More than that, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child has urged African countries to ban the use of schools for military purposes or to enact specific measures to discourage it. The African Union Peace and Security Council has also called upon African countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, which contains concrete protection measures. In this sense, Broken Chalk encourages the Ethiopian authorities to support such mandates, to strengthen the law and its application to protect the educational system, as well as to provide the necessary aid sociopsychological and material to affected students and school staff during the coming years to ensure they can recover and strive for the development they deserve.
Assefa, Y., Tilwani, S. A., Moges, B. T., & Shah, M. A. (2022). The impact of armed violence on students’ educational attainment and the role of parents in resilience schooling and the education process. Heliyon, 8(12), e12192. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2022.e12192
Yemen has ancient roots at the Middle East, Asia, and Africa crossroads, and the Republic of Yemen is a relatively new established state. It was created in 1990 following the unification of communist South Yemen with North Yemen.
The wave of protests in Yemen in 2011 was affected by the Arab Spring, Yemen has been suffering civil wars, jihadist violence, tribalism, and extreme poverty since then.
Furthermore, the suffering brought on by the current war since 2015 between a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, a Shia militia supported by Iran (World Bank, 2019). The Saudi-led coalition was provided logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK, and France. According to the UN, both sides in the war have committed war crimes. However, both sides refused the allegations (World Bank, 2023).
Long before the current crisis began, the politicization of education in Yemen was an issue. To begin with, neither a license nor any type of supervision was required for religious schools, which predate government-run public schools and higher education institutions (Nagi, 2021). Yet, the conflict exacerbated the collapse of education in the country which was already weak in its educational system.
In general, the North and the South each have their independent educational system (Taher et al., 2022). Each of the parties engaged prioritizes military development while ignoring every aspect of progress, such as education. To serve their own ideological and political objectives, each of these systems is making considerable changes to education, yet the quality of education is declining in both places. Children are unable to attend schools due to conflict, displacement, the spreading of diseases, lack of infrastructure, and gender discrimination.
Conflict-related Education Difficulties
Attacks against schoolchildren, teachers, and educational infrastructure, since the conflict started, have affected the educational system and millions of children’s access to learning opportunities. Yemen is experiencing a serious education crisis, which will have devastating long-term effects on children (Education in Yemen, UNICEF, 2023).
Around 11 million Yemeni children require humanitarian aid, and more than 2.4 million school-age boys and girls are not attending school (UNICEF, 2023). Many families are unable to bring their children to school because of the cost of food and other school-related expenses (Battling Hunger and Ensuring Yemeni Children Can Get Back to School, 2023).
According to UNICEF statistics, more than two million children are not enrolled in school, and many millions require assistance to enrol, and more than 20% of all primary and secondary schools are closed (ICRC, 2022). Students and teachers have been killed or injured on their way to school. Numerous families are no longer sending their children to school, especially girls, due to the danger and financial effects of the conflict. The psychological effects of violence mitigate the educational performance of the children since many children have only ever known life in conflict.
At least one out of every four educational facilities has been destroyed, damaged, or put to other uses over the past eight years. 58% of these schools are damaged by conflict and 30% are used as quarantine centres or occupied by armed groups (Save the Children International, Save the Children Yemen, 2021).
Under international humanitarian law, war parties are required to take all necessary precautions to safeguard civilians and civilian infrastructure. Long-lasting harm results from violence against students, educators, and institutions of higher learning. It also makes the education system harder to recover after the conflict.
Ongoing conflict forces people to move to other areas of the country. Displaced people have had their access to education cut off suddenly because of their displacements. The 1.5 million school-aged internally displaced children, the 870,495 girls and boys with disabilities, and the more than 2 million kids who are not in school are the most at risk (OCHA, 2023). Between September and October 2022, UNHCR and Deem for Development Organization renovated the classrooms at the schools with funding from a Quick Impact Project (QIP) (OCHA, 2023).
International organizations and communities are on a mission to reach children who need health and education assistance in the displaced and hard-to-reach places. OCHA, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNFPA, and others participated in the mission.
Lack of Access to Healthcare and WASH Facilities
Many people in Yemen also lack access to healthcare and nutrition services. 540,000 children live in a condition with acute malnutrition and insufficient health services. Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) need for children are more common in the areas of new displacement and rural areas. Shelter and WASH assistance is the most important factor for children to pursue their education. In 2023, more than 8.6 million school-children will need assistance according to UNOCHA (OCHA, Issue 1, 2023).
The result of the war is damage to infrastructure and import disruption of fuel causing 61% of the Yemeni’s lack of access to water and 42% of the population to have not enough sanitation (OCHA, Issue 1, 2023). The sheer amount of time spent delivering water also harms the educational opportunities for children. With no choice but to go to the water points twice a day and carry plastic water containers on their heads, many children have been forced to quit school (OCHA, Issue 1, 2023).
The events to improve access to safe water were officially launched on February 2022 by IOM and YHF (OCHA, Issue 1, 2023). Many kids can go back to school and finish their education, particularly girls. The project also unlocks the ability of the people to engage in agriculture and other livelihood activities.
Spreading Diseases and Urgent Immunization of the Children
“The prolonged crisis and the lack of funding for the HRP threaten food insecurity, which could result in famine, disease outbreaks, and epidemics,” said Na’aem Al Khulaidi, program coordinator for the Tamdeen Youth Foundation (OCHA, Issue 2, 2023). For instance, polio has frighteningly returned to Yemen years after the country was declared free of the deadly illness.
Significant infectious disease outbreaks, including some that could have been prevented by vaccination, such as cholera, diphtheria, dengue, measles, and the reappearance of vaccine-derived polioviruses, were influenced by the conflict. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the health condition even worse.
A new level of complication was introduced for the millions of school children in Yemen with the Covid-19 pandemic. For the millions of boys and girls in Yemen, After many cases of illness were reported in March 2020, schools closed and stayed closed for six months. Although the reopening the schools, many children had not gone back to classes (ECW in Yemen, 2023).
Having suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic, Yemen is dealing with rising cases of poliovirus. 228 children have been paralyzed due to poliovirus in 2021 in Yemen. In Yemen, there were about 22,000 cases of measles in 2022, with 161 casualties. There have been 9,418 cases reported in 2023, and 77 children have died (OCHA, Issue 1, 2023).
Low immunization rates of vaccine-preventable diseases among children are a very dangerous situation for them to attend school. Many children’s families are not able to afford hospitalization costs (OCHA, Issue 3, 2023). While there have been numerous polio and measles vaccination campaigns over the past two years in the southern regions, children in the northern regions are particularly in danger due to the ongoing deadlock over additional immunization efforts there (OCHA, Issue 3, 2023).
The patriarchally-oriented cultural and religious institutions continue to be the principal opponent of female education. The government and international organizations strive to alter the mindset of the current families to forbid their daughters from pursuing education by launching various campaigns in rural areas, reinforcing the social norms that they have built (Ballout, 2023). Nevertheless, dropouts of the school-girls are at risk of child marriage, while boys are recruited by armed groups.
The most affected gender by the displacement is females. Bureaucratic obstacles prohibit women to travel without a company of a close family member. This has created a great impact on women to access and pursue education (OCHA, Issue 1, 2023). The increase in mahram requirements and mostly AA-controlled areas worsened the gender gap in education, resulting in a wide gender gap in literacy and basic education.
The country’s economic struggle plays a part in gender inequality too. Getting a very minimum income affects Yemeni households’ purchasing power. Weak economical conditions affect women’s conditions and children’s education. It will have a domino effect and raise the danger of gender-based violence and other abuses among women and girls. Children will have less access to school and more cases of family dissolution, child labour, child marriage, and child trafficking (OCHA, 2022).
Insufficient Incentives to the Teachers
Yemen’s education system is in danger of collapsing, which will have an impact on both school-age males and females. The conflict that has lasted for years, the economy’s downfall, and the COVID-19 pandemic have all restricted access to schooling. Structured learning is still impacted by the insufficient payment of teachers’ salaries.
Since 2016, the majority of teachers in governorates (or 61% of the teaching staff) have received poor allowances. When teachers are paid, the amounts are little and paid slowly, which disincentivizes them for work and forces them to look for side jobs to support their income (Education in Yemen, 2023). Also, most teachers lead to quitting their jobs which risks nearly four million children losing access to education (Nagi, 2021). Every year, a number of teachers and students flee from the country, and a large portion of these individuals are the most qualified ones.
Another important problem is that there are not sufficient teacher training programs, causing qualified teachers to remain very less. The gender gap between the teachers is also very wide. Teachers are mainly male with 80%, which creates a lack of female teachers.
Teachers as well as students have suffered from this constant struggle and even exploited it against one another. Teachers and students were recruited to collaborate with the tribes that were engaged in this conflict. Peace and education are being replaced by conflict and political beliefs that serve the interests of parties and tribes. The students quit school and decide to ally themselves with the tribes that will pay for their families basic needs. This includes teachers who have gone for years without receiving payment (Taher et al., 2022).
Ballout, A. (2023). Female Education in Yemen. Available at SSRN 4318578.
Battling Hunger and Ensuring Yemeni Children Can Get Back to School. (2023, February 1). World Bank. Retrieved May 26, 2023, from https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2023/02/01/battling-hunger-and-ensuring-yemeni-children-can-get-back-to-school
ECW in Yemen. (n.d.). Education Cannot Wait. Retrieved May 26, 2023, from https://www.educationcannotwait.org/our-investments/where-we-work/yemen
Education in Yemen. (n.d.). UNICEF. Retrieved May 26, 2023, from https://www.unicef.org/yemen/education
8 years of crushing conflict in Yemen. (2023, March 24). UNICEF. Retrieved May 26, 2023, from https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/8-years-crushing-conflict-yemen-leave-more-11-million-children-need-humanitarian
How and why to end the war in Yemen. (2019, May 7). Economist. Retrieved May 26, 2023, from https://www.economist.com/leaders/2017/11/30/how-and-why-to-end-the-war-in-yemen?utm_medium=cpc.adword.pd&utm_source=google&ppccampaignID=18151738051&ppcadID=&utm_campaign=a.22brand_pmax&utm_content=conversion.direct-response.anonymous&gclid=CjwKCAjwge2iBh
ICRC. (2022, October 13). Yemen: Conflict leaves millions of children without proper education. In News and Press Release. https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-conflict-leaves-millions-children-without-proper-education-enar
Nagi, A. (2021). Education in Yemen: Turning Pens into Bullets.
OCHA. (2022, April 30). Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan 2022. https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-humanitarian-response-plan-2022-april-2022
Education is a fundamental right for all humans around the globe. Regardless of one’s economic or social status, they should be able to have access to Education. Even though this seems obvious and like common knowledge, it is not the reality for many Malians. Nevertheless, the government has and is making significant efforts to cab illiteracy. For instance, the government split primary education into two cycles which allowed Malian students to take examinations to gain admission to secondary, tertiary, or higher education. However, Mali has still been facing a security crisis for several years now, which has severely compromised access to education for thousands of school-age children, particularly in the north.
Threats against schools and destruction of school infrastructure and equipment led to a shortage of teachers in affected areas and a breakdown in the pedagogical support system due to massive population displacements[i].
Conflicts and insecurity
The country is increasingly recording serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations. Violent attacks by armed groups now affect civilians throughout most of the country.
Threats from armed groups remain the main factor behind the closure of 1,700 schools in Mali today[ii]. Over the past two years, the country has been among the three African countries whose schools are most attacked, along with Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).
In addition to insecurity, emergency education in conflict zones is severely underfunded. Since the beginning of the year 2022, 1 in 10 schools in Mali has remained closed due to a lack of infrastructure and school equipment. Mali’s national budget cannot cover the needs and education is one of the least funded sectors in the humanitarian response, accounting for only 2 percent of funds received in 2022.
For schools in conflict areas that are struggling to stay open, having funding to build and rehabilitate school infrastructure is vital. According to the Norwegian Refugee council article about the insecurity in Mali, “In some schools in the region, a single classroom can often accommodate up to 300 children due to a lack of infrastructure,” said Ibrahim Ag Bijangoum, Acting Director of the Ménaka Education Academy. It is impossible for school-going pupils and students to have a taste for learning in such a condition.
Access to and completion of schooling is inequitable, with girls and children from the poorest families at highest risk of school dropout: According to UNICEF in 2020, only 73.8 percent of girls are enrolled in primary basic education, compared with 85.8 percent of boys. By the time they reach secondary education, the proportion of girls enrolled is only 15 percent, compared with 21 percent of boys.[iii]
Among children that do attend school in Mali, the absence of qualified teachers, textbooks, and low-quality school environments all adversely affect learning outcomes: most students in fifth grade in Mali are not able to master basic mathematics and reading skills.
Impact of Covid-19
The school closures and the loss of household income, particularly in rural areas, restricted access to education for school-aged children. Many students abandoned school permanently due to their parent’s loss of income. Girls did not reintegrate back into schools and were exposed to early marriage and pregnancies. According to the world bank, in Bamako August 2021, a senior poverty economist at the World Bank and co-author of the report, who adds that school-aged children today are likely to experience lower lifetime income due to the pandemic[iv].
Water, sanitation, and hygiene
Access to safe and sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene protects children against common water-borne diseases such as diarrhea and reduces stunting, which affects more than 26% of children in Mali.
According to UNICEF in 2015, in Mali, only about one-half of schools have an improved water point, and less than 20% of schools have functional, separate toilets for boys and girls. In addition, more than one million people in Mali still practice open defecation, which has a direct impact on the health and safety of communities. While 80% of Mali’s population now has access to improved sources of drinking water, this number drops significantly in rural areas, where it is only 70%[v]. Displacement in conflict-affected areas of Mali has further limited the access of families on the move to clean water and sanitation.
In conclusion, despite the challenges facing the education system in Mali, the government of Mali and other organizations have been working hard to improve education. UNICEF in Mali and other partners have been working in communities, schools, and health centers to improve access to clean water, hygiene, and sanitation in all areas of children’s lives.
According to European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, the EU has provided more than €472 million in humanitarian aid in Mali since the beginning of the crisis in 2012. It is currently a leading donor of assistance in the country[vi].
[i]Global Partnership for Education. (2021). Education in Mali. Retrieved from: https://www.globalpartnership.org/where-we-work/mali.
[ii]Norwegiann Refugee Council. (2022). Mali: Insecurity and lack of funding force over half a million children out of school. Retrieved from: https://www.nrc.no/news/2022/june/mali-insecurity-and-lack-of-funding-force-over-half-a-million-children-out-of-school/[iii] UNICEF (2020). Harnessing children’s potential through quality education for every child. Retrieved from:https://www.unicef.org/mali/en/education
[iii] UNICEF (2020). Harnessing children’s potential through quality education for every child. Retrieved from:https://www.unicef.org/mali/en/education
[iv]The World Bank. (2021). Mali: Understand COVID-19’s impacts for better actions. Retrieved from: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2021/08/11/mali-understand-covid-19-s-impacts-for-better-actions
[v]UNICEF. (2023) Water, sanitation, and hygiene: Improving children’s lives through clean water and clean environments. Retrieved from: https://www.unicef.org/mali/en/water-sanitation-and-hygiene
[vi]European Commission. (2023). European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations: Mali. Retrieved from: https://civil-protection-humanitarian-aid.ec.europa.eu/where/africa/mali_en