Warzones the world over are robbing children of their education. How can we save this generation and put its schooling back on track?
Subscribe to the Real Truth for FREE news and analysis.Subscribe Now
Every school day, Abdirizack Hussein Bashir rises at dawn for a 5-mile trek through a dangerous forest where he sometimes faces harassment by Kenyan army patrols hunting down extremists.
Now the 12-year-old’s dream to become a doctor is threatened. Attacks by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab group have forced the transfer of hundreds of teachers from the border area with Somalia, where the extremist group is based. Schools have closed and thousands of children are affected.
At least 224 primary schools and 42 secondary schools in the east African nation’s Wajir County can no longer function after non-local teachers fled. The exodus was initiated by the February 16 al-Shabab attack on a primary school that killed two teachers. Kenya’s Teachers Service Commission subsequently transferred 329 educators elsewhere for their safety. Many others left on their own. In all, 917 non-Muslim primary school teachers have left the area.
It was the largest-ever mass exodus of teachers from the region.
“There are no teachers. When you go to school you only see soldiers patrolling,” a boy said in a USA Today story. The outlet also reported how dozens of schools in the Boni National Reserve have been closed for four years since al-Shabab began using the area as a staging ground for attacks on police stations, schools, government buildings and travelers.
Thousands of students across the region now sit idle at home or in refugee camps, according to the Kenyan government. Many still wear their school uniforms because they have few other clothes, USA Today reported.
Tragically, Kenya is not the only place where war has robbed children of education.
After more than seven years of civil war in Syria, 1.7 million children are not attending school, according to humanitarian organization International Rescue Committee. Over a third of the schools in the middle-income country, which Syria was before the war, have closed due to fighting and destroyed infrastructure.
“There is the fundamental stress, what is called the toxic stress, of being involved in a war. And for those inside the country, they’re denied the most basic access to education,” David Miliband, president and CEO of the IRC, said of Syria’s education crisis in a PBS interview.
Mr. Miliband said that the conflict’s “toll on children is almost greater than on any other group.” He compared “toxic stress” on children to symptoms commonly seen in adults with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The nearly 2 million Syrian youth not receiving proper education only includes those still in the country. About half of the 5.5 million refugees who have fled are children, and Mr. Miliband estimates that half of those children are not receiving an education at all.
The Integrated Regional Information Networks, or IRIN, reported that 17-year-old Mohammad Zubayer dreamed of finishing school and getting a government job so he could help his Rohingya community in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Today Mohammad is a refugee living in Bangladesh. Formal education is barred in his and other crowded refugee camps—meaning an entire generation of Rohingya youth are not in school.
“I wanted to be smart by studying,” Mohammad told IRIN. The boy, who completed the eighth grade in Myanmar before fleeing to Bangladesh last year, said, “I wanted to be a scholar to help the Rohingya community. But kids who want to study are not getting the chance.”
By January 2018, more than 1 million Rohingya refugees had fled into neighboring Bangladesh after Myanmar’s army cracked down following a series of attacks last summer by a Rohingya rebel group.
Conditions in the Rohingya refugee camps make formal education difficult, if not impossible. The highest priority has been providing food and shelter to otherwise helpless Rohingya refugees. Teaching children has fallen farther down the priority list.
There are an estimated 1,179 makeshift learning centers in the various settlements. IRIN says nearly a third of the flimsy shelters—made of bamboo and plastic sheets—are threatened by floods and landslides in the coming monsoon season.
Ongoing conflicts in the nations of Kenya, Syria and Myanmar have well-documented impacts—ones that immediately affect the lives of the people displaced, starving and so forth. Yet what gets far less coverage—and may have much more far-reaching effects—is the direct attack on the future of children no longer receiving a quality education.
Al-Shabab has carried out a wave of attacks in Kenya since 2011, calling it retribution for Kenya sending troops to Somalia to fight the extremists. Many of the attacks are directed against educational institutions: In April 2015, gunmen raided Garissa University College, killing 147 students. Also, teachers near the Somali border have been targeted, including in a November 2014 attack on a bus in neighboring Mandera County.
The area has been described as a recruitment hotbed for extremist groups that oppose Western education. Children out of school are frequently targeted by this recruitment.
Wangechi Nderitu, one of the teachers camping out at the Teachers Service Commission offices, said one student who was punished by instructors went on to train with al-Shabab in Somalia for two years. He then returned, took his father’s gun, and went after the teachers who disciplined him. However, they had already been transferred from the school.
For al-Shabab, the closure of schools is seen as “a success,” said Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, a counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism expert.
“Schools and education is one of the antidotes against the narratives of the [extremist] group. Thus, if you close the school, how else can you build a counter-narrative?” he asked.
The Kenyan government has intervened, yet this has come with its own set of problems.
Mr. Nderitu said the government has forced teachers to stay in the region without providing additional security. He said his bank accounts have been frozen and that the Teachers Service Commission says they will not be released until he and his colleagues go back to work.
“This is blackmail,” Mr. Nderitu said. “That’s why we are stranded here.”
Government is being blamed for exacerbating the youth education problems in the Rohingya crisis as well. According to IRIN, both the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh are not on board with establishing a formal education system in the Rohingya refugee camps.
“That is the fear that the government has: If they have education in Bangla, [the Rohingya] might try to be Bangladeshi [citizens], and they will feel comfortable staying here rather than going back to Myanmar,” said Nazrul Islam, education coordinator for BRAC, a Bangladeshi aid group that runs 200 refugee camp learning centers.
The government of Myanmar refuses to allow Burmese-language curriculum to be used in Bangladesh’s refugee camps. Therefore, according to IRIN, the same government responsible for forcing the Rohingya out of Myanmar is also blocking Rohingya children from continuing their education while in exile.
And what little education there is in the refugee camps remains problematic. Some children can attend class for about two hours per day but there is no paperwork to show the grade level they have completed. This means, even after the current Rohingya problems have passed, it will be difficult to start classes again.
Also, there are grade-level restrictions, meaning that the majority of school-age Rohingya children cannot attend. IRIN reports that only a quarter of school-age youth—about 130,000—attend classes. This means around 400,000 young refugees are not receiving an education. “They only educate the small kids,” said Kushida Begum, a refugee mother with three children who attended fourth, fifth and sixth grades in Myanmar before the family fled to Bangladesh. “They say there is no school for big kids here. I am dying by thinking about the kids’ future.”
The seven-year civil war in Syria has also brought a slew of education problems.
According to July 2017 World Bank estimates, the civil war has destroyed or damaged a third of the nation’s housing and half of its medical and educational facilities. This all led to the loss of $226 billion in gross domestic product—four times Syria’s GDP in 2010.
The human toll, though, is much more difficult to calculate.
“The fact that 9 million Syrians are not working will have consequences long after the fighting has stopped,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, a World Bank director in the Middle East. “The departure of nearly 5 million refugees, combined with inadequate schooling and malnutrition leading to stunting, will cause long-term deterioration of the county’s most valuable asset, its human capital. In the future, when Syria needs it most, there will be a collective shortage of vital skills.”
Fleeing the war-torn nation is not enough. There has been a terrible impact on young Syrian refugees also.
Half of the millions of Syrian children currently living in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon do not have access to formal education, Human Rights Watch reported. The humanitarian organization cites child labor needs, enrollment requirements, language difficulties, and a lack of affordable transportation as barriers keeping children out of the classroom. The extended lack of education is taking a tremendous toll.
“Well, we found that [Syrian] children in grades six, seven, eight, so children almost approaching teenage years, were unable to do the kind of sums or spelling that you would expect from a grade one student,” Mr. Miliband told PBS.
“So, that’s what six years of education being lost means, never mind the huge blow to the children’s understanding and self-esteem that comes from seeing their country blown apart, and often their families blown apart as well,” he continued.
The Kenyan government’s response to terror threats has been suboptimal, said counterterrorism expert Mr. Halakhe.
“While there is an acknowledgement that there are no easy answers to what is obviously a complex and complicated problem, the government has failed even to do…the basic like…stationing security officers at some of the schools.”
Al-Shabab has exploited the region’s history of marginalization for recruitment and propaganda, Mr. Halakhe added. “In this latest situation, al-Shabab could say to the potential recruits: ‘Look, your government cannot even provide you with a modicum of security, come and join us.’”
Kenya’s Parliament has approved a government plan to hire 88,000 teachers, a fraction of the nationwide shortfall of more than 104,000. The government is also seeking to hire teaching assistants to fill the gap. Meanwhile, students like 12-year-old Bashir are left to wait: “Now that there is no more class, what will I do with all this time?”
Bangladesh’s government does not want the Rohingya to stay long-term. This uncertainty leaves the formal education of 530,000 school-age Rohingya refugees in question. Yet, despite no official curriculum, it has not stopped children from showing up to learn.
IRIN says aid groups submitted alternative guidelines covering basic literacy skills in hopes of government approval. There are also efforts to develop guidelines that cover education up to grade eight. Even if approved, however, it does not address the government’s formal ban on education.
“We are calling on the government of Bangladesh to recognize the right of refugee children to education,” Beatriz Ochoa, humanitarian advocacy manager for Save the Children’s Rohingya response, told IRIN. “All education sector partners should be given the authorization from relevant authorities to set up classrooms, organize learning activities, or, where feasible, expand temporary learning activities to ensure all refugee children can access education and develop their minds.”
For Syria, IRC stressed the importance of humanitarian aid—specifically American dollars—for resolving the long-term education crisis there. Mr. Miliband stated that “America has often marked itself out for its commitment on the humanitarian front. And those children in Syria who we surveyed, they need America’s help.”
Yet dollars alone will not be enough to help children in need of the basic elements of education. Fixing the problem will require even more.
Mr. Miliband continued stating that “there’s no point in pretending that kids who have been through a war are like any other first grader or fifth grader turning up for school. They need proper attention to their social and emotional resources.”
Education remains a vital part of any society. This is why a common tactic of oppressors is to control or in some cases cut off access to this staple of civilization. To truly fix the problems with today’s education—especially in the tragic cases of Kenya, Syria and Myanmar—a significant overhaul is needed. This repair must be revolutionary.
Yet even if man could dream up the perfect solution, could he ever implement it? It would involve solving age-old problems such as war and famine—and require changing human nature itself.
Face it. We cannot do this on our own!
But all hope is not lost. The ability to acquire knowledge is unique to human beings and makes a fulfilling life possible—this includes a meaningful relationship with God.
Read the following words from Real Truth Editor-in-Chief David C. Pack. They show the importance of education, how it has been perverted, and that it must begin to be fixed in the near future upon the return of Jesus Christ.
“God can only work with people who can read the Bible. Salvation is absolutely impossible if people cannot read about the true God and His requirements and commands. Basic education, then, becomes absolutely essential for approximately one-half of the peoples on Earth to even have an opportunity to be saved.
“The other half of mankind has been ‘educated.’ This means that they have been steeped in the world’s false values, pagan religions and customs, the atheistic concept of evolution—and all the ways of Satan’s nature instilled into people as human nature. This half has much to unlearn. They will not have to receive basic education as much as they will have to be re-educated! People will learn that much of the knowledge they swallowed as fact was little more than false indoctrination and propaganda, given them by the god of this world (II Cor. 4:4).
“Humanity will have to learn that there is right knowledge and there is wrong knowledge—and how to know the difference. People will also learn the difference between spiritual and physical knowledge. It will be universally taught that the Bible is the foundation of all knowledge. Satan is the true father of this world’s education. At that time, men will learn that they can no longer eat of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil,’ which is rooted in his thinking.
“All true knowledge comes from God—and mankind will understand that peace, happiness, abundance, and universal health and prosperity spring from divine revelation. The fable that mankind is continually evolving into a ‘higher order’ will be debunked and replaced with the knowledge that for 6,000 years man continually became more degenerate, decadent, and depraved—in conduct and thought.”
In the near future, children will be exposed to correct knowledge at an early age. The curriculum of schools will be built on this proper knowledge and will teach students to have a comprehensive approach to their studies and to have a proper view of their lives and society.
Mr. Pack further explained this: “Life is a process of education—learning to develop character by obedience to God’s laws, which in turn yields every good, fulfilling, and favorable result. Education in the world tomorrow will explain how to live—and how to learn a productive trade. Of course, all academic subjects, including wholesome art and music, will produce well-rounded people. Life will become invigorating, exciting, and fulfilling.
“Imagine how important world history will be in the classrooms of tomorrow. Everyone will be forced to view the TRUTH of history through the eyes of God, instead of through the revisionist propaganda of each nation’s historians—including their dishonest version of world history, written according to how they need to portray it. No one will be allowed to forget how, and how long, the world was off track from God’s laws and ways.”
Finally, Mr. Pack explained how the children in war-torn places such as Kenya, Syria and Myanmar will understand from an early age the true cause of conflict that has plagued their societies for generations.
“The facts of why things happen a certain way will be taught in a straightforward fashion. No punches will be pulled. For instance, mankind will be taught exactly why war occurs, from God’s perspective. Consider this from the book of James: ‘From where come wars and fightings among you?’ (Jms. 4:1). The question is direct. So is God’s answer: ‘Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and WAR, yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts’ (Jms. 4:1-3). And verse 5 adds, ‘Do you think that the scripture says in vain, The spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy?’”
“Plain, simple answers like these will be given in classrooms around the world. Gone will be vague, blurred, philosophical opinions lacking the absolutes of God’s Law and His explanations.”
These are just a few of the practical yet world-changing ideas that will become reality—just over the horizon.
For more information on how different the world to come will be, continue reading Tomorrow’s Wonderful World – An Inside View!
This article contains information from The Associated Press.