Conflict Forces Millions of Children from School


Conflict Forces Millions of Children from School

17 Sep 2015

A new report by UNICEF shows the dire effect of conflict on education across parts of the Middle East, particularly in countries affected by the rise of Islamist groups. 

New research shows that conflict around the world is having an increasingly detrimental effect on the education of children. Education Under Fire, an annual report from UNICEF, recognises the effects of conflict on children, and particularly how it is preventing them from attending school. This year the report assesses the risk and impact in nine countries: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Palestine, Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

13 million children prevented from attending school.

Each of these countries has suffered years of violent conflict, and UNICEF highlights the growing impact of violence over the past year, finding that over 13 million children are now prevented from going to school in these countries alone.

The report states that in the region, which just a few years ago had a goal of universal education, has now descended into a "disastrous situation," documenting that over 8,850 schools in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya that are unable to be used as they have been damaged, destroyed, are occupied by parties in the conflict, or are being used to house those displaced by the conflict.

UNICEF is unambiguous in its findings, highlighting the threat and impact that groups such as ISIS are having on the right to education across the world. UNICEF emphasise that where conflicts have been particularly intense over the past year, they have wiped out years of investment and achievement in education across the region. However, results show that the violence is not just affecting the ability to go to school, but the educational achievements of young people when they are able to attend.

A number of case studies are used as evidence to show the effect conflict is having on education in the region, including the killing, abduction and arbitrary of arrests of students, teachers and education personnel, which the report says has become commonplace in countries such as Yemen.

Years of investment in education have been wiped out.

The report also highlights the effect the conflict has had on Yemen's teachers, with around 52,500 teachers, almost one quarter of the country's teaching personnel, leaving their posts. Additionally the report finds that even before the latest wave of conflict in Yemen in 2015, when the Houthi movement captured the capital Sanaa, prompting a regional intervention, 1.6 million children were out of school. Since then, the number out of school has risen to 1.8 million.

In Iraq the report finds a similar pattern with at least 950,000 children affected by lack of education because of displacement, and around 1,200 schools used as collective shelters from violence.

In Libya, where there has been intense conflict since 2011, and a resurgence in fighting since 2014, the education system has suffered. The report states that since 2014 more than half of internally displaced people, as well as those who have returned to their homes in the east of the country, including in the city of Benghazi, have reported that their children do not attend school.

Some of the report's most shocking findings come from Syria, where one in four schools are unable to operate because of the damage they have sustained through conflict. Two million children are out of school, and half a million are at risk, with at least 20 per cent of children in Syria crossing lines of conflict to take exams. This in a country where 7.6 million have been internally displaced by conflict, and four million refugees have sought asylum in in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

The refugee crisis resulting from the Syrian conflict is also captured in the report, with neighbouring countries buckling under the strain of an influx of new children into their education system.

ISIS controlled areas in Syria now use a revised curriculum.

But while the actions of groups including ISIS are preventing the provision of education in much of the Middle East and North Africa, ISIS is simultaneously using education to pursue its political agenda, as the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics has highlighted. ISIS is using its territorial control to educate a new generation of ideologically indoctrinated young people by implementing radical cultural changes to the educational system. Accounts from Syrian refugees say the group is using education to embed its ideology in the next generation of young people. UNICEF states in their report that areas under the control of ISIS in Syria now use a revised version of the curriculum with several subjects removed and with additional regulations for female students.

The report concludes with fears that, with the violence in many countries continuing, the number of children out of school in the region will continue to grow, and that the "education prospects of a generation of children are in the balance."

As an attempt to tackle this worsening situation, UNICEF recommends a number of measures be taken, including:

  • Reduce the number of children out of school through the expansion of informal education services especially for vulnerable children. 
  • Provide more support to national education systems in conflict-hit countries and host communities to expand learning spaces, recruit and train teachers and provide learning materials.

This stark report, as well as a separate publication earlier this year by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on children affected by armed conflict, demonstrate the harsh reality that conflict has on children, and their prospects of a decent education.

The report can be read in full here.

This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. 


Sign up to receive the Roundup

Sign up to the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics' Roundup to receive weekly updates with the latest commentary, analysis and news on the role of religion in conflict zones. Sign up here.