In 2000, as part of the Millennium Development Goals, the world set itself the ambitious target of ensuring every primary school-aged child would be in school by 2015. It’s now 2013, and we are still way off target.
Instead, 57 million primary school aged children are not in school. Over 28 million of these children live in countries torn apart by conflict.
In Pakistan last year, on an unremarkable Tuesday, a relatively unknown girl named Malala walked home from school. She was targeted for her defence of education for girls. She was shot and almost fatally wounded.
Today is Malala’s 16th birthday. Her ongoing bravery is an inspiration to millions, and her name is synonymous with the struggle for education, for a future, in conflict zones around the world.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a leading suffragette in the 19th century, once told the US Congress that “Nature never repeats herself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another. No one has ever found two blades of ribbon grass alike, and no one will ever find two human beings alike…”
Fast forward over 120 years, and she could have been speaking about Malala. She could have been speaking about any the 28 million children out of school in conflict-affected countries, their unrealised potential, and the unknown price paid by future societies.
The possibilities for these children are limitless, and they are unknown. We have no idea who these boys and girls could grow up to be. The next Nelson Mandela? The next Florence Nightingale? Maybe. But without an education, it’s a lot more unlikely.
Schools and teachers are increasingly targeted during conflicts. Often seen as having symbolic value, schools are attacked because of their supposed ideological content, or because they are seen to support old or new government structures or political ideologies. Education comes under attack to destroy the very fabric of society itself.
War and conflict teach children how to hide, and, often, how to fight. Education and knowledge will teach the same children how to survive, to understand and interpret the horrors that they’ve witnessed.
It can teach them that a different future is possible. It can give them hope, routine and normalcy to continue. It’s a path – the only real path – out of poverty and oppression. Education unlocks the immeasurable human possibilities in each of us.
Save the Children today released a ground-breaking new report: Attacks on Education and is urging the international community to do more now – to increase funding to safeguard education in crises and help to protect these children’s futures.