Ukraine points to the threat of education during war


More than 1,800 schools and universities have been damaged or destroyed since the Russian invasion on February 24, Ukraine’s Ministry of Education said. Credit: UNICEF
  • Opinion by Jerome Marston, Marika Tsolakis (New York
  • Inter Press Service

In just one example, a Russian airstrike reportedly hit a school in Luhansk, on the front lines in eastern Ukraine, on May 8, injuring or killing dozens of civilians who had fled there.

Education is fundamental for students during war. In addition to teaching, schools and universities can provide a safe space, provide students with routine, and connect them to life-saving resources such as meals and mental health services.

Fortunately, 3.7 million Ukrainian children have access to online and distance education since February, despite school closures. This has reduced gaps in instruction and, perhaps more importantly, maintained a sense of normality.

Still, the long-term impact of the war on the quality of and access to education remains worrisome. Repairing schools will take a lot of time and resources, and many students and teachers will experience stress and trauma that affect learning and teaching. That is, if they return to the classroom at all, children in conflict and crisis areas are twice as likely to be out of school as those in other places.

Ukraine is unfortunately not alone. Education is under attack all over the world and armed violence against students, teachers and educational facilities is on the rise. In fact, in research for our new report, we found an average of six attacks on education per day in 2020 and 2021. In all, we identified more than 5,000 cases of attacks or military occupation of schools during that two-year period.

These attacks have harmed, injured or killed more than 9,000 students, teachers and academics. Nine countries each had more than 400 attacks or more than 400 students or educators. The number of attacks increased in Mali, Myanmar and Colombia compared to the previous two years, but decreased in countries like Syria and Yemen, where the conflict de-escalated. Shelling and gunfire damaged dozens of schools in Ukraine in 2020 and 2021, in the eastern Donbas region where the conflict began half a decade earlier.

In attacks on education, armies and armed groups bomb, burn and loot schools and universities and kill, rape, arbitrarily arrest and recruit students and teachers. They occupy schools and universities to use them for non-educational purposes, such as for bases, barracks or training grounds.

Explosive weapons, which were involved in a fifth of all reported attacks on education worldwide and used in many of the attacks in Ukraine, had particularly devastating effects. Air strikes, shelling and other explosive devices are particularly dangerous because they cause a large explosion that can propagate bombs at great distances, in all directions, often indiscriminately damaging civilians and civilian buildings.

There are several important steps that can be taken to protect education in Ukraine and elsewhere.

First, allies of the warring factions must insist that they no longer attack schools or use long-range explosives near schools or universities. Warring factions must also avoid occupying schools and universities and using them for military purposes. Occupation damages schools and universities and endangers students and educators, but it can also put educational facilities in the sights of enemy forces.

Second, governments must endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools and universities in armed conflict. While Russia has not endorsed the statement, Ukraine has in 2019. It has taken important steps to comply with the declaration’s declaration amid conflicts, such as introducing distance learning and collecting data on attacks on educational facilities.

Third, the attackers must be held accountable. Governments, the United Nations and national and international organizations should support efforts to gather reliable evidence of attacks on schools and universities, and their students and staff, and to try those responsible before fair national or international courts, and to provide assistance to victims of attacks.

Finally, money needs to be raised and – crucially – spent on rebuilding schools and universities devastated by attacks once safe. Education is chronically underfunded in humanitarian aid. However, donors and governments can ensure that funds are spent on rebuilding classrooms, playgrounds and libraries, as distance learning, while extremely important, is not a long-term substitute for high-quality personal education.

Destroyed and occupied schools and universities not only disrupt learning, they also endanger the rebuilding of communities and economies after conflict. Education must be ensured in Ukraine and worldwide.

Jerome Marston and Marika Tsolakis are senior researchers at the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, an inter-agency coalition formed in 2010 to address the problem of targeted attacks on education during armed conflict.

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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