UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called for efforts to prevent attacks on education.
“Schools and universities are supposed to be safe spaces, where learners can grow, develop and be empowered,” he told a high-level virtual event to mark the first International Day to Protect Education from Attack. He asked all member states to honor their commitments under existing international agreements that prohibit attacks on the right to education, including the Safe Schools Declaration, which aims to protect education from attack and to prevent schools and universities from being used for military purposes. He welcomed steps taken by member states to protect educational institutions and those who need them, but asked for more.
Guterres called for measures to ensure inclusive education. “I urge all United Nations member states to ensure the provision of education for all, even in times of conflict, and particularly for the most vulnerable, such as refugees and displaced persons.” He called for enhanced monitoring, reporting and investigation of attacks on education so the perpetrators can be held to account.
He asked member states to use recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to build a better world. “The pandemic has shed an important light on the fault lines running through our societies. One of these is unequal access to education. As we work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals over the coming decade, we must ensure no one is left behind. For that, we need quality education for all, and safe places for students to learn.”
Education is a fundamental human right. It is an essential driver for fostering peace, promoting just societies and supporting sustainable development, he said. “Without quality education for all, we cannot eliminate poverty, tackle inequality, fight climate change or promote peace. Without education, we simply cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
In the words of philosopher Hannah Arendt, education is about preparing children for the task of “renewing a common world,” he said. “But, too often, the right to education falls under attack, especially in conflict-affected areas, where entire populations can be denied learning. Violence against education can take various forms, targeting education facilities, students, teachers and education personnel.”
Today, attacks on education due to conflict and insecurity are on the rise. Between 2015 and 2019, there were some 11,000 reported armed attacks on education. In addition to depriving millions of vulnerable learners of accessing education, this violence has serious adverse effects, including increased drop-out rates, prolonged educational disruption, child recruitment into armed groups, early pregnancy and sexual violence, he said. “These attacks simply must not continue,” he said.