When Gun Becomes Mightier than Pen?

Few days ago, the American University in Kabul was attacked by a group of militants killing thirteen people, including students and a professor. Islamist militant groups, mainly the Afghan Taliban and a local offshoot of Islamic State, have carried a string of bomb attacks aimed at toppling the government of President Ashraf Ghani, who has wide support from the United States.  Though Taliban is suspected to behind the attack in Kabul, there weren?t any immediate claims of attack yet, Reuters reported.

According to the statistics from the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, there has been a three-fold increase in attacks on places of education over the past ten years. Under International Humanitarian Law, schools and hospitals are considered civilian institutions, and benefit from the humanitarian principles of distinction and proportionality. Despite such distinction, there has been an alarmingly increased rate of terrorist attacks on schools, universities, and education systems – ultimately affecting the educational dreams of youth in Afghanistan. When the very institution of education is being destroyed, the direct and indirect costs of damage goes far beyond mere statistics.

Direct and indirect impact

There are both short-term as well as long-term consequences of such attacks, which drain both the individuals and socio-political frame work. The psychological impact on a child when their safe haven becomes home to death and when bullets replace chalks, is tremendous. Most children report to have zero concentration or low levels after going through such traumatic experiences leading to barriers for future growth.

Loss of infrastructure, materials, and reduced enrolment in the academia are additional costs. For example, conflict ridden Syria has lost 20% of teaching staff and school counsellors. Outside Syria, teachers are either not legally allowed to teach or receive few incentives for teaching. While efforts have been made to reverse this trend, there is a long way to go for children, students and faculty in educational institutions in these war-torn countries.

The long term effects are more salient and more dangerous. Schools and universities are the institutions where the future generations are nurtured, seeds of wisdom sown, and a society bases itself on it. Thus, any damage or attack on the base has a crippling effect as most children believe they are denied education, which is their passport to dignity. Furthermore, refugee children report of facing discrimination in host communities? schools. Language barriers, lack of course choices and certifications aggravate the crisis.

Devastatingly, most countries in middle-east and Africa have experienced an attack in some form or the other on its educational institutions in the last few years. Whether it be Boko Haram abduction of 276 girls in Nigeria or the attack ion an army school in Pakistan couple years ago, it directly affects the child?s will to pursue meaningful education.

Rehabilitation programs undertaken by non-profits

Since every country in middle-east and Africa seems to be prone to the bomb attacks on its educational institutions, there has to be a collective approach to dealing with the problem. Fortunately, some non-profits have come forward to rehabilitate children affected by torn in these countries. Especially, SaveOurChildren and the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack have saved millions of lives with their initiatives. Other programs, such as UNICEF?s ?Back-to-learning? campaigns and ?No Lost Generations? are also trying to reverse the damage caused by attacks on schools and universities. In Turkey, a new protocol signed between UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and the Postal Bank ensures that teachers are financially supported for teaching.

At a micro-level, there is an urgent need for schools and universities to prepare themselves against such attacks. Most schools do not have a proper evacuation plan for emergencies in place. These plans must be properly formulated with the help of the law enforcement and military authorities as they provide more insights into the problem. The involvement of the military and police in making plans for emergency evacuation ensures that they are notified of any attacks immediately, and children can be taken safety zones.

Another way to reduce the possible damage is by changing the level field. Airports, embassies, government buildings, malls, etc. have fortified themselves over the years and are much harder targets unlike schools. Thus, providing similar fortification to schools would lower the damage caused by attacks.

Every nation is aware of education being the most powerful tool for the overall advancement of its populace. In war-torn countries, education becomes even more important as it will be the catalyst for change, which they need to protect their flame of liberation.

– Contributed by Tanisha, a Student of Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Journalism

Picture Credits: NBC News

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