Stories from the classroom

EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011
The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education

Afghanistan: When school is no longer a safe haven

© UNESCO/Roya Aziz/Star Group

Schools should provide a secure learning environment, but all too often in today’s conflicts, armed groups see them as prime targets.

Wazhma, a schoolgirl in Kabul, says her favourite subjects are mathematics and Dari (their first language). She’s currently the third-best student in her class. Wazhma wants to become a doctor. Wazhma says the poison gas attack happened when the class was in math period. She was going to the front of the class to present her homework when suddenly she passed out. When she next opened her eyes, she was in hospital.

When Wazhma’s mother, who works for a non-governmental organisation, heard of the attack, she spent a frantic half-hour phoning to find out where her daughter was. Finally she learned that Wazhma had been released and returned to the school, where her brother was waiting to take her home. ‘I’m very afraid of going back to school,’ Wazhma said. ‘Last time I became sick. Next time I think I will die.' (Source: Kieran Green, CARE Canada)

Seeking shelter in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

©UNESCO/Marc Hofer

For displaced children, a lack of humanitarian aid and widespread insecurity mean that education is often a distant dream.

Two years ago, Rafiki Mupenzi and his mother fled from their home in Kitchanga, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, when an armed militia attacked their village. Rafiki’s uncle gave them shelter. ‘I wanted to go to school right away,’ says Rafiki, now 12, ‘but I couldn’t.’ He adds: ‘I felt awful when I wasn’t in school. I felt like I had no life.’

Last August, Save the Children helped Rafiki to enrol in primary school. He is now in his last year. He points to the secondary school next door: ‘That’s where I’ll go next year.’ But he probably won’t. Secondary school fees can be five or ten times primary school fees, and Rafiki’s mother can’t afford them. (Source: Sarah Press, Save the Children, DRC)

In Gaza, children cower as schools come under attack

©Save the Children/Osamo Damo

The destruction of schools and killing of schoolchildren in Gaza in 2008-2009 is one example of how indiscriminate violence causes deep harm to education.

Nawal has five brothers and four sisters. She lives in a crowded home in a refugee camp in the middle of Gaza. They only have two bedrooms. The boys sleep with their father in one room, while the girls, their mother and grandmother share the other room. Nawal’s father is ill and doesn’t work. Two of her brothers earn the family’s income.

Nawal was at school when air strikes hit the area in December and January 2008. ‘The worst day was the first day. I was in school when they started the air strikes, and the window fell on me and my friend,’ she says. ‘Many girls started vomiting, and I kept shaking. When I came back to the school, I remember that I was so happy to see my friends again.’ But, she adds, ‘even when we’re playing, we’re scared of bombs. So we just want to play without bombs.’

(Source: Save the Children)

Finding the words for peace in Guatemala

© UNESCO/Eduardo Barrios

In Guatemala, where resentment at the imposition of Spanish in schools helped fuel the civil war, peace has been built on respect for indigenous language and culture.

Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, which ended with a peace accord in 1996, left 200,000 dead and closed many rural schools for years. Survivors of the war learned that they needed an education consistent with their real-life situation and their needs. In 1995 the Guillermo Woods Institute was founded to provide alternative secondary education to a population consisting mostly of returnees. The programme placed specific emphasis on community organization, the people’s participation and the enhancement of their own identity. Priority was given to the reinstatement and teaching of Mayan languages.

Juan Monterroso was a key player on the team of teachers who took on the responsibility of teaching after the conflict. ‘I thought I was going to stay for two years, and actually stayed for ten,’ the teacher said. He describes how a Mayan linguistics teacher, Dora Inés Isem, has influenced her pupils considerably. ‘She always wore indigenous garments and started each lesson with a greeting in Pokomchí, her mother tongue,’ explained Monterroso. ‘Her mere presence was educational.’

(Source: Dina Fernández)

School helps Iraqis rebuild lives in Jordan

©UNESCO/Questscope

Iraqi refugee children in Jordan rely on government commitment and non-governmental innovation to rebuild lives.

Abdu-Rahman, 15, fled sectarian violence in Haswa, south of Baghdad, after an uncle was killed, his father was tortured and Abdu-Rahman himself was badly injured by a bomb.  Having missed two years of school, he is now a student in Zarqa, east of Amman, Jordan, in one of 39 non-formal education centres operated by the Ministry of Education and Questscope, an NGO.

The centres provide accelerated learning cycles that take students from grade 1 to grade 10 in two years. Questscope and the Jordanian government are helping Abdu-Rahman rebuild a life shattered by a conflict he had no part in creating. Yet aid donors, some of them directly involved in that conflict itself, have provided aid on a limited and erratic basis.

Sources: Questscope (2010); UNESCO (2010b).

Living with the threat of stray bullets in Mexico

© UNESCO/José Gabriel Ruiz Lembo

Education in Mexico is severely disrupted by narcotic-related violence that kills thousands of people a year – yet Mexico does not figure as a conflict-affected country.

At 10 a.m. in Reynosa, in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, a gunfight between soldiers and criminals broke out near the Felipe Carrillo Puerto primary school and the José Escandón secondary school. For three long hours, close to 2,000 pupils from both schools were immobilized by sustained gunfire and the threat of a stray bullet.

One teacher from Reynosa says, ‘It is difficult to complete the curriculum under these conditions because we know that every time there is a shooting in the vicinity of the school, we lose three days of work. Children are allowed to stay at home until things “return to normal,” so that they can recover and feel safe again at school.’ The teacher added, with sadness, ‘We set aside a play day, where they can voice their feelings.’ (Source: Nurit Martinez)

When life is a minefield: Children in Nepal

©Save the Children/Luca Kleve-Ruud
Keshari at school in Sathipaila, West Nepal

A Nepalese girl’s experience illustrates how conflicts have become immeasurably more dangerous for vulnerable non-combatants.

Keshari, 13, lives with her family in Sathipaila, a village in western Nepal. Two years ago, her younger brother Aaitu was killed when he picked up a landmine by the side of the road. Keshari, who was with him, was badly hurt in the head and one leg. Because the accident forced Keshari to miss an exam, she had to repeat a year.

‘I feel very sad when I see my friends go to 5th grade, where I was supposed to go,’ Keshari says. ‘I know I am at least as smart as they are, and I will probably go to school longer than they do. I love going to school.’

(Source: Save the Children)

In divided Bosnia, one district’s school shows the way

Multiethnic schools in the district of Brcko in Bosnia and Herzgovina help children appreciate their differences, while cherishing tolerance and reconciliation.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, decentralization since the Dayton Agreement of 1995 has fragmented education authority and made it more difficult to forge a multiethnic national identity. In Brcko District, however, integrated education has become a success story. At First Primary School, Milica Sljivic, a Croat girl who wants to be a lawyer, says, ‘I have learned that other cultures are not better or worse than mine, they are just different.’

Marko Kostic, a Serb boy, says, ‘I had no friends of other ethnicities before I came to school. But now I do and I like them. Going to this school has helped me understand that we are all just children with the same needs and wishes.’ Damir Bajramovic, a Bosniak pupil, says, ‘We all have more in common than we think. Multiethnic classes have taught me to treat others as may equals and I hope they will do the same in return.’

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