By Bushra Rahim
Many children and youth in conflict zones are being injured, killed, kidnapped, recruited and traumatized. Armed conflict negatively impacts children’s access to school, and interrupts the studies of enrolled students. As we look forward to implementing a new education agenda post-2015, it is vital that the particular needs of children in conflict-affected areas are addressed and their human right to education assured.
In this blog, Bushra Rahim, Dy Director at Finance Department Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pakistan and Ph.D. student at University at Albany-State University of New York, provides a heartfelt account of the recent tragedy in Peshawar and the impact of the on-going conflict on the education system in her native Pakistan.
On the 16th of December 2014, a group of militants stormed the Army Public School and College in Peshawar and fired indiscriminately. Over 140 people (mostly teenage students) were killed, and a further 250 injured. The school, operated by the Pakistan Army, was the intended target, although the 1,100 enrolled students come from both army and civilian backgrounds.
The province in which the school is located, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is one of the poorest and most troubled regions in Pakistan. More than 830 schools have been destroyed in the area between 2009 and 2012. Many students have been regularly targeted by militant groups. In October 2012, Malala Yousafzai, was shot by the militants for raising her voice in support of children’s education in district Swat. On January 2014, a ninth-grader from district Hangu, Aitazaz Hassan Bangesh, sacrificed his life trying to stop a suicide bomber set on blowing up his school.
The militants understand that education is an essential part of creating an enlightened, healthy and tolerant society, which in turn is vital for sustaining a vibrant economy and eradicating ignorance and poverty. Illiteracy and impoverishment, by contrast, are the breeding ground for extremism, radicalism and terrorism.
The attacks on students and school facilities have a devastating impact on both education governance and society as a whole. A resource-poor province such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa can ill afford to repair and rebuild schools following attacks of this nature. Addressing the psychological impact of terrorism on affected children, and their families, presents an added challenge to school authorities who are already barely able to cope.
To honor the slain children and school staff and to address the trauma suffered by students impacted by the incident, the government closed all public and private schools in the province for three days. Such actions, while understandable, present a further loss of precious learning time and deprive children from their basic right to education.
In the wake of this barbarous school massacre, the Pakistani nation is united in its determination to eradicate the menace of terrorism and its impact on education. Political leaders have shunned their political differences. Imran Khan, Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), announced the end of his four month long sit-in against the government and attended the All Parties Conference convened by the Prime Minister of Pakistan to develop a joint plan of action to combat future threats of terrorism.
As a nation, we will not surrender. We will fight back by repairing and rebuilding our schools. We will work to get the 5.5 million out of school primary school-age children into education. We will increase our education budget from 2.04% to 4% of GDP. We will train more teachers, revise and develop the curriculum and invest in school security. But in order to do this, the international community must come forward to help Pakistan in combating terrorism and provide needed technical and financial support to expand and reconstruct our education system. Improved education can put us back on the road to peace, prosperity and well-being.