Attacks on Education Worsening Globally, Study Shows

Thursday 10 May 2018

(New York, May 10, 2018) – Deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on schools and universities, their students, and staff, have become more widespread over the last five years, including in sub-Saharan Africa, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) said in a report released today. The 300-page report, Education under Attack 2018, identifies more than 12,700 attacks from 2013 through 2017, harming more than 21,000 students and educators.

Over the last five years, 41 countries—15 in Africa among them—suffered at least five attacks on education, including at least one that was intentional or deadly. This marks a dramatic increase from the 2014 edition of the report, when GCPEA documented 30 countries experiencing this level of attacks on education between 2009-2013.

“Teaching and learning has become increasingly dangerous, with the lives of students, teachers, and academics frequently put at risk,” said Diya Nijhowne, executive director of GCPEA. “Schools and universities should be safe and protective spaces, but armed forces and armed groups continue to turn them into sites of intimidation and violence.”

The report includes profiles of 28 countries that experienced at least 20 attacks on education during this period, including 10 in sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Somalia.  GCPEA found that nine countries suffered more than 1,000 attacks on education or attacks that harmed more than 1,000 students, teachers, professors, or other education personnel, including 3 in sub-Saharan Africa: DRC, Nigeria, and South Sudan.

“Several trends contributed to the attacks that the report describes in Africa,” said Amy Kapit, GPCEA research director. “These include armed conflict between nonstate armed groups, militias and government forces; violence by extremist armed groups; as well as government repression of opposition voices.”

Amidst this violence there is an emerging global consensus that schools and universities must be protected as safe spaces in the middle of war. Over one third of UN member states, 74 countries, including 20 members of the African Union, have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, a political commitment championed by Norway and Argentina.  By  endorsing the Declaration, states commit to take concrete steps to protect education, including by implementing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. The number of states endorsing the Declaration has doubled in less than three years and GCPEA’s new report calls on all states to join and implement the Declaration as its key recommendation for protecting education in armed conflict.

In addition, Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education, a global commitment to achieving universal and equitable education by 2030, includes an indicator measuring Number of attacks on students, personnel and institutions, recognizing the imperative to safeguard education in armed conflict.  The Education under Attack series has been selected as a source for measuring progress towards achieving this indicator.

Recent events illustrate that these attacks are not abating. Nearly four years after Boko Haram abducted more 273 girls from their secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, the group carried out a similar attack in February of this year. This time, they abducted more than 100 girls from their secondary school in Dapchi, returning them a little more than a month later.

In 18 of the profiled countries, including six in Africa, attacks on education deliberately targeted female students and educators. In DRC, there were reports in 2017 that armed militiamen abducted some 17 girls from their primary schools and raped them.

Military use of schools and universities, including as bases, barracks, detention centers, or for other military purposes, was common in the region: 13 out of the 29 countries with documented cases of military use were located in the sub-Saharan region. These military uses increase the risk that affected schools and universities will be attacked by opposing forces, that children will be recruited into armed groups, or that students and educators will be targeted for sexual violence. In CAR, dozens of schools were used for military purposes throughout the reporting period, many of which were also looted, hit by bullets, or set on fire. Advocacy contributed to a reduction in reported cases of military use by the end of the reporting period.

Armed forces or armed groups also recruited child soldiers at schools in 16 of the 28 worst-affected countries, including in 6 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In December 2013, for example, a nonstate armed group forcibly recruited some 413 children from schools in the town of Rubkona in South Sudan and sent them into combat.

Attacks on higher education occurred in 52 countries globally, including all of the profiled countries. The attacks included violent repression of education-related protests that harmed students or education staff, or persecution related to the content of a student or academic’s scholarship. Attacks on higher education buildings occurred in 20 profiled countries, including five African countries. One of the most deadly of these attacks took place in Kenya, where gunmen killed at least 142 students and injured another 79 at Garissa University College on April 2, 2015.

“Education under Attack 2018 underscores the immense human suffering caused by attacks on education,” Nijhowne said. “Countries can immediately begin mitigating these harms by endorsing and implementing the Safe Schools Declaration, and by adopting measures to provide safe education for all.”


The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) includes:  co-chairs Human Rights Watch and Save the Children, the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara), the Institute of International Education (IIE), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Education Above All Foundation (EAA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). GCPEA is a project of the Tides Center, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.

GCPEA assembled data for its report from UN agencies; non-governmental organizations; government bodies; research organizations; media reports; and information shared by country-level experts and working groups. The study is the fourth in a series. The previous editions of Education under Attack were published in 2007 and 2010 by UNESCO and in 2014 by GCPEA.