30 June 2017
By Ingunn Eidhammer, Education Advisor with Save the Children Norway
“Armed men had invaded and destroyed our school, the boards and textbooks had been used as firewood. This war destroyed children, and some even became part of armed groups”
Student, North Kivu, DRC
Too many children in too many countries face serious challenges to access education safely. Since 2013, there has been a series of attacks on schools in at least 21 countries experiencing armed conflict and insecurity, and military use of schools has been documented in 24 countries. The consequences for children are devastating and ruin their prospects for a future. Students and teachers can be killed, and their school buildings damaged by attacks. Weapons can be left on school premises, and the children also face looting of schools and education material. These unnerving barriers to education disrupt their schooling, and prevent these children from reaching their true potential.
To address these problems, the Safe Schools Declaration has been developed through state consultations in Geneva. By signing, states express their political support for protecting education during armed conflict. And it is gaining traction. So far, 66 countries have endorsed the Declaration, and the number continues to grow with France, Denmark and Botswana recently joining.
Through the ECHO-supported Schools as Zones of Peace (SZOP); Save the Children is developing an approach to protect education starting from the schools and the local community. Building on previous experiences ten years back with impetus spurred from the Safe Schools Declaration, the SZOP started in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and has recently been expanded to South Sudan and Niger. SZOP is adapted to the context in each of these countries. Based on this experience, Save the Children has developed a global guidance for how to implement the project, available to all organisations that wish to work on this thematic area.
We are already seeing results of our efforts. In schools participating in the project, there is an increased awareness and knowledge of the devastating effects of attacks and military use of schools as well as ability to address the challenges with the relevant authorities or stakeholders. The schools also provide more systematic and regular reporting of attacks on education and military use of the schools than before which is important to be able to address the problem. The project links Child Protection and Education activities, and emphasises the importance of following up with support to the children affected. In DRC, 193 children across 30 schools have received psychosocial support through this project. In oPt, the schools have built their capacity to respond to incidents through the creation of School Disaster Management Committees, with the participation of school staff, community members and children. The School Disaster Management Committees have built the confidence of the school staff in dealing with arrests of students and attacks, and enabled the school staff to handle incidents in a coordinated and systematic way. For instance, the school janitor in one of the schools now checks the school for any risks or harmful objects before the students come to school, and after they leave. Also, through child resilience session, students have reported having developed more constructive coping mechanisms to overcome the constant stressful situation of attacks on education in which they live and learn in.
As such the Schools as Zones of Peace project takes the Safe Schools Declaration from being a global political statement to make a difference for children’s lives and their education.
For more information on the project contact Nora Ingdal, Head of education, Save the Children Norway: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ingunn Eidhammer is an education advisor with Save the Children Norway. She discusses how SCN is working on protecting education from attack through the project Schools as Zones of Peace.