The UN chief urged a virtual gathering on Thursday celebrating the International Day to Protect Education from Attack to speak with one voice that “attacks on schools must stop.” He praised education for not only imparting knowledge and skills but also for altering lives and promoting growth for people, communities, and societies, saying, “Schools must be places of learning, safety, and peace”.
Imagine being a child in a classroom eager to learn, or a teacher dedicated to influencing the brains of the next generation, said the top UN official. “Now imagine the horrors inflicted on learning by conflict,” he continued, creating a vision of schools being attacked, destroyed – or even utilized for military purposes – and youngsters enduring brutality, exploitation, and even being recruited to fight – all because they want to learn.
According to the Secretary-General, over 13,000 reports of strikes on education or military usage of educational facilities were registered around the world between 2015 and 2020, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. Mr Guterres emphasized that these are thousands of individual lives and futures, not numbers on a page.
The United Nations has urged all nations that have not done so to sign the Safe Schools Declaration, which is an intergovernmental political commitment to safeguarding children, teachers, schools, and universities from the worst effects of armed conflict.
The Declaration, which has been endorsed by 111 countries so far, lays out concrete initiatives for governments to take in order to defend schools and learning.
He emphasized the importance of “hold perpetrators accountable” by making school attacks “unacceptable and punishable” in all countries and jurisdictions around the world.
Finally, the UN Secretary-General called for increased global support for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which are “working around the clock” to protect education, students, teachers, and schools in some of the world’s most dangerous locations.
While much progress has been made in recent years, he believes that more has to be done to defend everyone’s right to education.
The UN General Assembly unanimously declared the day in May 2020, urging UNESCO and UNICEF to raise awareness of the situation of millions of children living in conflict-torn nations.
The resolution said that governments have the primary responsibility for protecting all learners and ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels, particularly for those who are vulnerable.
It also stressed the importance of stepping up efforts and increasing funds in humanitarian catastrophes to promote safe and protective educational environments.