Education is often referred to as the key to a brighter future. An escape from poverty. A pathway to development. With the potential that education brings to societal advancement, losing a vital part of society brings devastating and blatant consequences. When conflict and war erupt, the impact on education is irrefutable. The consequences of armed conflicts extend far beyond the physical destruction, affecting the education of millions of children and youth worldwide.
Schools are often targeted, destroyed, or even used for military purposes during conflict and war. The physical destruction of schools and educational facilities makes this a long-term issue that extends beyond an end to war. Teachers and students may be forced to flee their homes, leading to the closure of schools and the displacement of entire communities. According to a report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), approximately 13 million children in conflict-affected regions were out of school in 2019. This lack of access to education leaves children at the hands of exploitation, child labor, and recruitment by armed groups. Even amidst the rare scenarios where schools remain open during times of conflict, the quality of education often suffers. Teacher shortages, inadequate teaching materials, and the psychological trauma experienced by both students and educators can undermine the effectiveness of education.
Despite international law prohibiting armed forces from occupying schools under the Safe Schools Declaration, schools are often used as shelters for soldiers, storage for weapons, and even a place to detain prisoners. In some circumstances, children continue studying in the remaining classrooms, putting youth in danger as the military's presence can draw an unwanted attack on the school.
War and Conflict also exacerbate gender disparities in education. Girls are often more vulnerable to being kept out of school due to cultural norms, early marriage, and gender-based violence. According to the Global Partnership for Education, in conflict-affected countries, girls are two and a half times more likely to be out of school than boys. Following the Taliban’s recent surge to power in Afghanistan, girls ages twelve and older are forbidden from attending school. Islamic schools are the only educational opportunities for girls of all ages. Despite this opportunity, it still limits the opportunity for girls to pursue other forms of education. “The madrassa [Islamic school] cannot help me become a doctor, because that’s done in school”, Yalda, a ninth grader in Kabul said. Sara, a tenth grader, daydreamed of the ability to attend school “all the time” as she said “Maybe someday schools will reopen and my education will progress further. I will never lose hope.”
The impact of war on education bears a damaging impact on societal developments. The loss of education limits the potential to end cycles of poverty and unemployment with hindered economic development, stability, and social cohesion.
The lack of access to quality education can perpetuate the cycle of conflict. When large segments of the population, especially youth, are denied the opportunity to learn and develop, they become susceptible to radicalization and recruitment by armed groups. The absence of education can limit conflict resolution and the building of peaceful societies. Efforts to address the impact of war on education have been made by various international organizations and NGOs. The Safe Schools Declaration, endorsed by over 100 countries, is one such initiative aimed at protecting schools and ensuring that education continues during times of conflict. However, implementing these measures in practice can be challenging, as conflict-affected areas often lack infrastructure and resources.
The impact of war on education is profound and far-reaching. Armed conflicts disrupt access to education, lower its quality, and have long-term consequences for the affected youth as the vicious cycle of conflict and lack of education perpetuates instability and violence. International efforts are crucial in mitigating these effects, but the challenges are immense. It is essential for the global community to recognize the significance of education in conflict-affected areas and work together to ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn, grow, and build a better future, even in the face of war. Education is not only a fundamental human right but also a vital tool for peace and development.