“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” With violent conflicts embroiling much of the Middle East and Africa, the powerful words of Nelson Mandela ring especially true today.
Over the past few years, war has engulfed portions of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and the Palestinian territory, primarily Gaza.
According to a new report published by UNICEF on Thursday (Sept. 3), approximately 13 million children in the Middle East and Africa are unable to attend school this year because of the various conflicts and political upheavals taking place across the region.
The report, entitled “Education Under Fire“, takes a close look at how violence has impacted students and educational systems in the nine war-torn countries mentioned above.
One of the biggest things keeping children out of school is the fact that schools often get caught in the crossfire of these conflicts. While much of the damage is unintentional, the report points out that schools have been specifically targeted by combatants on multiple occasions. Fighters have also been known to commandeer schools for military purposes.
In Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya alone, nearly 9,000 schools are out of use because they have been damaged, destroyed, are being used to shelter displaced civilians or have been taken over by parties to the conflict,
UNICEF writes in a press release.
The fear of violence has also driven millions of people to flee their homes, including thousands of teachers and administrators. While many refugees have found safe haven in neighboring countries, the schools in those countries are simply unable to handle the massive influx of children. UNICEF writes,
In Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, more than 700,000 Syrian refugee children are unable to attend school because the overburdened national education infrastructure cannot cope with the extra student load.
The 13 million children being kept out of school by conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa represent a staggering 40 percent of the region’s school-age children.
Think about that for a second — nearly half of the region’s “next generation” is currently unable to attend school, and that doesn’t even take into account the serious emotional and psychological trauma that comes with living in a region at war.
Peter Salama is UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. He summed it up like this:
“The destructive impact of conflict is being felt by children right across the region. It’s not just the physical damage being done to schools, but the despair felt by a generation of schoolchildren who see their hopes and futures shattered.”