Education is one of the most fundamental rights of every human being and states have the obligation to protect, respect and fulfill the right to education. Education is not only crucial for personal growth and development but, in the long term, it has the power to transform societies, yet it is often one of the first areas that suffer during conflicts.
Schools and children are increasingly impacted by conflict and are being used as war facilities and weapons in many countries, including Afghanistan. A United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report illustrates that 25 million children between age 6-15 are deprived of education in conflict zones in 22 countries.
In Afghanistan, in addition to economic and cultural restraints that have been negatively impacting education, conflict is another great obstacle for school-going children.
Thousands of schools have been attacked because they are seen as a symbol of the Afghan government by the insurgents. Using schools as a weapon in the conflict has been the main strategy for insurgents and armed groups in the country, especially in rural and remote areas. Meanwhile, the attacks are not limited to armed groups, schools are also attacked by the government because of the presence of the enemy.
While the Ministry of Education reports the closure of 400 schools in different parts of the country, one can think of tens of schools in the areas out of government control, that have not been included in the report.
If every aforementioned closed school had only 400 students, the closure of these schools means that almost 160,000 Afghan children are denied education, the basic human right of everyone. The presence of soldiers or armed groups in or around the school not only puts the lives of children and teachers at risk but also forces families to stop their children from going to school.
Although the Afghan government has been insisting on recognizing schools as safe zones and not using the educational buildings for military proposes, these attempts have been only limited to vocal campaigns, which is why schools continue to be the main target in conflict zones. It is an unequivocal fact that the government and its international allies could take more attainable and pragmatic steps to, if not completely eradicate the problem, but at least ameliorate the issue, notwithstanding million-dollar projects that had been assigned for the education sector.
The four decades of sustained conflict have devasted the educational system and promoted the culture of indifference for education and schools among Afghans. In addition to a political crisis in the country, natural disasters, geographical barriers, a weak economy, and conservative culture are other factors that lower the number of school-going children.
The Ministry of Education, however, instead of addressing the challenges or using new initiatives that could serve children education in conflict zones, has been focusing on building new physical schools in different parts of the country. Despite the promise of building these new schools, the government never even started, and how efficient and practicable would these schools have been for the communities living in insecure areas, even if they were built? The rate of school-enrollment cannot be improved by building schools if the security, economy, and mindsets are not ready to embed the culture of school and education for children.
Considering all the impediments to education in the country, the Ministry of Education should build a better education system that could be feasible and adaptable for all Afghans in all provinces. Pragmatic actions should be taken by the government to declare schools as safe zones, as well as a political commitment among the Afghan state and the insurgents to protect education. Furthermore, initiatives as the establishment of small community-based schools, education through radios, mobile schools and libraries could be some other ways for children to receive education in conflict zones.
Neela Hassan is a journalist and Master of Communication and Development Studies from Ohio University in the United States.