On a day set aside as the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, the United Nations today called on the Nigerian government to make for more efforts to protect students and ensure uninterrupted teaching and learning.
In a statement in Abuja to mark the day, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon, strongly condemned the incessant attacks on schools and kidnappings that have affected hundreds of children in a number of states of the Federation.
The call by the UN representative is re-echoed all over the world because there are several other countries where children in school are under attack daily and their education truncated.
The UN noted that around the world, attacks on children have continued unabated, as warring parties flout one of the most basic rules of war which is the protection of children. The protracted nature of conflicts affects the future of entire generations of children who have no access to education, thereby growing up without the skills they need to contribute to their countries and economies.
As the UN stated, a child’s right to education cannot be safeguarded in conflict zones without education itself being protected. This gives rise to out of school, children who are easy targets of abuse, exploitation and recruitment by armed forces and groups. It also emphasised that schools should provide a safe space where children can be protected from threats and crises.
In proclaiming the September 9 every year as International Day to Protect Education from Attack which was celebrated for the first time in 2020, the UN sent a clear message regarding the importance of safeguarding schools as places of protection and safety for students and educators and the need to keep education at the top of the public agenda.
The International Day to Protect Education from Attack is aimed at raising awareness of the plight of children in conflict-affected areas growing up without access to education. Education is a fundamental human right, one that is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is an essential driver for fostering peace, promoting just societies, and supporting sustainable development.
The day draws attention to the plight of more than 75 million 3 to18 year-olds living in 35 crisis-affected countries and to their urgent need of educational support. It expresses concern over the effects of continued violence on these children and their ability to access education, whose consequences require special attention beyond the needs of learners whose establishments were temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The day was established by a unanimous decision of the UN General Assembly, calling on UNESCO and UNICEF to raise awareness of the plight of millions of children living in countries affected by conflict. The resolution proclaiming the Day was presented by the State of Qatar and co-sponsored by 62 countries.
The General Assembly resolution affirms that governments have the primary responsibility to provide protection and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels to all learners, especially those in vulnerable situations. It further emphasizes the need to intensify efforts and increase funding to promote safe and protective school environments in humanitarian emergencies by taking all feasible measures to protect schools, learners and educational personnel from attack, refrain from actions that impede children’s access to education, and facilitate access to education in situations of armed conflict.
According to the UN, more than 22,000 students, teachers, and academics were injured, killed, or harmed in attacks on education during armed conflict or insecurity over the past five years.
In addition to Nigeria, students and teacher were most frequently harmed by direct attacks in Afghanistan, Cameroon and Palestine.
However, Nigeria’s case has become more alarming with the recent increase in terrorist and bandits attacks and kidnappings, where in some instances, hundreds of school children and teacher are abducted from their schools for ransom and some of them are killed, even when ransom has been paid, and the governments seem to be helpless.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that, “As the world fights to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, children and youth in conflict zones remain among the most vulnerable to its devastating impact. We must ensure our children have a safe and secure environment in which to learn the knowledge and skills they need for the future.”
Guterres’ man in Nigeria, Edward Kallon was more direct in his Abuja statement, noting that attacks on schools are a direct attack on the future generation, adding that it is traumatic for the children, undermines their individual dignity, and sometimes leads affected families to withdraw them from education entirely.
“I strongly condemn every form of attack that has kept many children away from schools. I call on the Federal and State Governments to do more to protect schools from attack and to ensure that teaching and learning is safe and conducive in all schools in Nigeria”, he said.
The Resident Coordinator observed that “whenever teaching and learning is disrupted, the impact on human capital development is enormous as the recovery period is always tortuous and longer than the length of the initial disruption.”
According to him, Nigeria cannot afford to leave the situation of incessant attacks on schools to remain unabated. “Children are traumatized; parents are scared; teachers and school administrators are afraid; attacks on schools are gradually spreading to areas not known to insurgencies. With education under attack, the collective future of Nigeria is under threat. This must stop now!”
He encouraged the Government of Nigeria to review progress made in implementing safe schools under the declaration and fully put into practice commitments made in 2019 by taking decisive action to protect education from attack and give “this great nation’s children the chance to fulfill their promise.”
Kallon explained that too often, the right to education fell under attack, especially in conflict-affected areas, where entire populations could be denied learning.
He explained that, “With over 10 million children already out of school, conflict has aggravated the situation and deeply affected education and the prospects of many young people, especially its most vulnerable ones. In the last academic year, it is estimated that 1.3 million children have been impacted by attacks or abductions at schools in Nigeria. Across the north-east region alone, over 600,000 children remain out of school and some 1.1 million need educational support to stay in school. This has all been compounded by the setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
UNICEF, the United Nations agency responsible for the welfare of children, has been working hard to expand the availability of classrooms and teachers in Nigeria’s most conflict-affected regions, by supporting the Nigerian government in efforts to implement the Safe Schools Declaration which was ratified in 2019.
IMAGE CREDIT: un.org, Facebook