In conflict zones education, like much of everyday life, can become a risky business. Across the world tens of millions of young people miss out on school because of war. But some are so desperate to escape their circumstances they are willing to put their lives on the line to get an education.
Logar province is an hour’s drive away from Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Here, neither the Afghan government nor the Taliban rebels are fully in control.
In a secondary school for boys, Jawad knows that in order to become a doctor or an engineer he has to steer clear of taking sides in the conflict. He said: “If we cooperate with the government, the insurgents will probably threaten us. But if we support them, we face the dangers of police raids and arrests.”
A total of 2,700 young men are enrolled in the school and keeping them safe is a major preoccupation for the head teacher, Abdul Hanan. He explained: “This is a place for education; only blackboards and chalk. No one deals with politics here and thanks to that, neither the teachers nor the students have been forbidden to go to the school.”
Classes finish at midday and Jawad then goes to work with his father in the family’s shop. The family income is around 35 euros a month. His father expressed concern: “Sometimes there are incidents, but not every day. It’s not regular. And even if there is a threat, the boys have to go to school, be educated for a better future.”
Jawad and his six brothers and sisters have to stay close to their home and their school because in areas like this life is precarious. A head teacher from a nearby school was recently shot dead and education workers are often under pressure to take sides in the conflict.
According to UNESCO, 11 million people in Afghanistan are illiterate.
While education can be a casualty of war, paradoxically it is often the very thing needed to tackle the root causes of conflict. That was the idea behind Save the Children’s ‘Rewrite the Future’ initiative.
Since 2005, the project has improved educational opportunities for 10.6 million children affected by conflict and emergencies.
We spoke to the director, Tove Wang. She explained: “Today we have 28 million children in conflict areas who are not going to school and I many times think it’s a multiple injustice; first they experience violence, and they are exposed to traumas, they have no access to health care and they are not able to go to school.
“These days, conflicts last for years and often decades. So children are loosing out over a long period of time. So it is important that we maintain education even through conflicts. And if education is done right in conflict areas, it also protects children from violence and sexual assaults.
“Save the children has worked over the last five years in 20 countries that have been affected by conflicts. You have to invest – it doesn’t have to be bright and expensive schools, but you have to invest in teachers and paying teachers’ salaries, and you have to work very closely with the local communities in order for them to engage and take ownership of the school and education.
“We have to think of different approaches to school. We have a good example from Afghanistan. It’s a sort of condensed curriculum, and it’s intensive learning. And you have to pick out in the curriculum what is really relevant for the girls to learn. So accelerated learning is one way of doing it. You might have an 18 years old, who hasn’t gone to school and has to start from you know, grade one from the curriculum. And then you have to allow that.
“Done right, education is an prerequisite for democracy. And it could be a tool to conflict resolution. And the mere fact that you have access to education will reduce tension.”
The Colombian city of Medellin used to be the epicentre of the global cocaine trade and a very dangerous place. In the war between the government and the drug cartels civilians were caught in the crossfire. Educators saw that children needed to be shielded from the violence, and given a way out. They came up a project called ‘Crezcamos con Derechos’ which aims to protect school aged children.
Of children in this area 26 percent do not go to school because they feel that the journey is too dangerous.
Local resident Diana Marcela explained: “In this area there is a lot of violence, making it difficult to get from one place to another. We’re afraid to move. We just stay home because we’re afraid of getting hurt. For example we’re afraid of meeting one person or another, so we stay close to home so as not to get killed. If you move out of your home area they’ll kill you.”
Teenagers between the ages of 13 and 16 need the most support because they are the most likely to drop out of school.
Luz Mery Tamayo, a Trabajadora social worker said: “We have teaching specialists, and an arts workshop to try and engage them. We also reply heavily on teachers of dance, theatre and physical expression. These methods help us to see their future in a better light.”
Since the project was set up in 2008, 750 students have passed through the doors and 70 of them have completed their studies all the way to university entrance level.