Friday, October 24, 2014
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The War on Education

LONDON – The kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram is beyond outrageous. Sadly, it is just the latest battle in a savage war being waged against the fundamental right of all children to an education. That war is global, as similarly horrifying incidents in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia attest.

Around the world, there have been 10,000 violent attacks on schools and universities in the past four years, according to a report by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. The evidence is as ample as it is harrowing, from the 29 schoolboys killed by suspected Boko Haram militants in the Nigerian state of Yobe earlier this year and Somali schoolchildren forced to become soldiers to Muslim boys attacked by ethnic Burmese/Buddhist nationalists in Myanmar and schoolgirls in Afghanistan and Pakistan who have been firebombed, shot, or poisoned by the Taliban for daring to seek an education.

These are not isolated examples of children caught in the crossfire; this is what happens when classrooms become the actual targets of terrorists who see education as a threat. (Indeed, Boko Haram is literally translated to mean that “false” or “Western” education is “forbidden.”) In at least 30 countries, there is a concerted pattern of attacks by armed groups, with Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria the worst affected.

Such attacks reveal with stark clarity that providing education is not only about blackboards, books, and curricula. Schools around the world, from North America to northern Nigeria, now need security plans to ensure the safety of their pupils and provide confidence to parents and their communities.

At the World Economic Forum in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, this week, together with partners from business and civil society, I launched a program to ensure the personal safety of children in areas where the threats to them are real and immediate. The “Safe Schools Initiative” will combine school and community-based plans with special measures to protect children attending some 5,000 primary and secondary schools in the most vulnerable areas.

For individual schools, the measures will include reinforcing security infrastructure, planning and response, training for staff, and counseling for students and community members. At the community level, education committees comprising parents, teachers, and volunteers will be formed, along with specially developed teacher-student-parent defense units for rapid response to threats.

Other countries’ experience grappling with similar threats has shown that it is crucial to engage religious leaders formally in promoting and safeguarding education. In Afghanistan, in collaboration with community shuras and protection committees, respected imams sometimes use their Friday sermons to raise awareness about the importance of education in Islam.

In Peshawar, Pakistan, in a program supported by UNICEF, prominent Muslims leaders have spoken out about the importance of education and of sending students back to school. In Somalia, religious leaders have gone on public radio in government-controlled areas and visited schools to advocate against the recruitment of child soldiers.

In countries such as Nepal and the Philippines, community-led negotiations have helped to improve security and take politics out of the classroom. In some communities, diverse political and ethnic groups have come together and agreed to develop “Safe School Zones.” They have written and signed codes of conduct stipulating what is and is not allowed on school grounds, in order to prevent violence, school closures, and the politicization of education. In general, the signatory parties have kept their commitments, helping communities to keep schools open, improve the safety of children, and strengthen school administration.

Millions of children remain locked out of school around the world. This not just a moral crisis; it is also a wasted economic opportunity. In Africa, for example, education is particularly crucial as the continent’s economies increasingly shift from resource extraction to knowledge-driven industry. Providing a safe environment for learning is the most fundamental and urgent first step in solving the global education crisis.

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  1. CommentedArmin Schmidt

    Maybe western education should include more local culture to reduce alienation between children and their less educated communities.

  2. CommentedEdward Ponderer

    I would say further that it is in the very degeneracy of our "environmental", if not book-learning, education, makes intense competition and violence (think about the connection by the way) make one--even in an advanced society--cold to terrorism except regarding personal safety. That is, one isn't morally outraged by it--and will sometimes even condone real suffering, ideological "suffering", or even just plain vain "pride" as a justification for the targeted kidnapping-to-murder of even those the terrorists would admit are complete innocents save in some philosophical sense--and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This, knowing that such sympathy encourages the next act.

    There is no question about the outrageous attack in the present case? I wish I fully believed even that. But I'm sure later, with light voice at first testing the waters, we'll hear how the cultural integrity of the indigenous people--or some such--justified this act too. "I mean, if its not your daughters, who really cares"--so that feel-good-and-broad-minded argument might well be heard and accepted by an unpleasantly surprising number.

  3. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    There is no question about education being a fundamental right of every human being.
    There is no question about the outrageous nature of the Boko Haram attack in Nigeria, or any similar action, threatening behaviour.
    But I also think it is time we ourselves looked into the mirror and established such education in our "developed" societies that becomes attractive and truly positive for all.
    Unfortunately, at least looking from my subjective, personal viewpoint "western education", the media influence our children are under 24/7 is not much better than no education, or forced education at all.
    Not to mention that in a way the present "western education" is also forced, there is absolutely no way of escaping the zero quality, useless and many times deeply harmful messages, influence pouring out of all the media outlets also infusing school communities.
    In fact today there is no child or parent that has free choice about education or the values of society, it is globally "infected" by the same messages of consumerism, competition, succeeding at the expense of others, unlimited sex, violence, and so on.
    And even if we try to peel away the "excess" baggage, and solely concentrate into the schools and the education programs, even that is harmful as the first priority is simply "educating", creating good workers, consumers, without any emphasis on bringing up human beings.
    And the whole system is built on ruthless competition when in today's global, integral world the first thing children should be learning about is mutually complementing cooperation.
    Thus before we shout about the rights for education we should establish a system that could truly be called education.
    The same goes for "exporting freedom and democracy" to others, before we try to export something we should have it ourselves in the first place.
    When we created the positive examples then we can attract others to it.

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