Foreign Policy Blogs

Education Under Attack

Following the current events in Afghanistan is not for the faint of heart, but one specific recurring story is by far the most distressing for me: The continuous attacks on education facilities, teachers, and most appalling, students by extremists. While modern Afghanistan has never been home to a strong educational system, ever since the Taliban took over in 1996 it has been under direct assault. Both in Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan, thousands of schools have been burned to the ground, teachers and administrators threatened, and children kept from a decent education.

A recent CARE report from the World Bank asserts that the past couple years have shown little signs of progress. Here is a summary of the reports findings that I highly recommend:

Between January 2006 and December 2008, 1,153 attacks on education targets were reported, including the damaging or destruction of schools by arson, grenades, mines and rockets; threats to teachers and officials delivered by “night letters” or verbally; the killing of students, teachers and other education staff; and looting. The number of incidents stayed stable at 241 and 242 respectively in 2006 and 2007, but then almost tripled to 670 in 2008.

Here is their summary of the attacks on education-related entities for 2009:

From 1 January 2009 to 30 June 2009, 123 schools were targeted by insurgents and 51 received threats, according to the Afghan Rights Monitor, citing figures from UNICEF. At least 60 students and teachers were killed and 204 wounded in security incidents in the same period (and since then, on 9 July 2009, 13 primary pupils were killed when Taliban forces detonated a bomb between two schools in Logar Province).322 In July 2009, more than 400 schools, mostly in the volatile south, remained closed due to insecurity, the MoE said. UNICEF recorded 98 school incidents in the period from 1 May through 24 June 2009.323 At least 26 schools were attacked and partially damaged by the Taliban on election day, 20 August 2009, because they were being used as polling stations, according to the MoE. The schools were hit with rockets, missiles and improvised explosives.324

These statistics are truly alarming (and depressing), but they are in the end, just numbers. What really matters is the individual lives that were destroyed, harmed, or at minimum,  kept from an opportunity to improve their future livelihoods. The report helps personalize these statistics a bit by listing short descriptions of specific attacks. Here’s a small sample:

In March 2009, a school in Nader Shah Kowt District, Khost Province was attacked, causing major damage to the building.327

The MoE reported that terrorist and insurgent attacks killed 149 teachers, other school employees and students during 2008.328

By September 2008, 600 schools were reported closed, 80 per cent of them in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan.329

On 14 September 2008, the Taliban reportedly cut off the ears of one teacher in Zabul Province.330

It seems like following the trajectory of attacks on education would be a worthy metric for measuring the progress of the Afghan state and society.