Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message at the high-level virtual event on the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, observed today:
I am pleased to join you for the first observance of the International Day to Protect Education from Attack. I thank the State of Qatar, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Education Above All Foundation for organizing this high-level event.
Education is a fundamental human right. It is an essential driver for fostering peace, promoting just societies and supporting sustainable development. Without quality education for all, we cannot eliminate poverty, tackle inequality, fight climate change or promote peace.
Without education, we simply cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. In the words of philosopher Hannah Arendt, education is about preparing children for the task of “renewing a common world”.
But, too often, the right to education falls under attack, especially in conflict-affected areas, where entire populations can be denied learning. Violence against education can take various forms, targeting education facilities, students, teachers and education personnel.
Today, attacks on education due to conflict and insecurity are on the rise. Between 2015 and 2019, there were some 11,000 reported armed attacks on education. In addition to depriving millions of vulnerable learners from accessing education, this violence has serious adverse effects, including increased drop-out rates, prolonged educational disruption, child recruitment into armed groups, early pregnancy and sexual violence.
These attacks simply must not continue. I urge all Member States to honour their commitments under existing international agreements that prohibit attacks on the right to education. Schools and universities are supposed to be safe spaces, where learners can grow, develop and be empowered.
I welcome steps taken by Member States to protect educational institutions and those who need them. These include the Safe Schools Declaration, which aims to protect education from attack and to prevent schools and universities from being used for military purposes. To date, 104 countries have endorsed this Declaration.
But, we need more. First, we need to ensure that, when it comes to education, all means all. I urge all United Nations Member States to ensure the provision of education for all, even in times of conflict, and particularly for the most vulnerable, such as refugees and displaced persons.
In protecting education from attack, we must also use education as a force to prevent attacks. That is why the United Nations is working to prevent violent extremism through education. We are helping young people rise above radical messages to build more peaceful societies. By giving them more autonomy and raising awareness of human rights, we are building the foundations of durable peace.
Second, we need to improve our knowledge of attacks on education. This means enhanced monitoring, reporting and investigation of attacks so the perpetrators can be held to account. Initiatives such as the “Education Under Attack” report provide and important contribution as they document targeted and indiscriminate attacks on schools and universities around the world.
Finally, we must use recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to build a better world. The pandemic has shed an important light on the fault lines running through our societies. One of these is unequal access to education. As we work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals over the coming decade, we must ensure no one is left behind. For that, we need quality education for all, and safe places for students to learn. Thank you.