COVID-19 and the Safe Schools Declaration in Nigeria (1), By Isaac N. Obasi 

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The abduction of 276 schoolgirls by members of the Boko Haram terrorist group from the Chibok Secondary School in Borno State, Nigeria in 2014 was one frightening event that is still fresh in the minds of peace-loving citizens of Nigeria and indeed the whole world. Since that sad event, the education of secondary school students in Chibok has been disrupted and for many of Chibok youthful generation, the dream of being educated in a school environment in the community has remained unrealised.

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 However, the news that the West African Examination Council (WAEC) has successfully conducted the 2020 Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in senior secondary schools in Chibok for the first time six years after that closure (see http://www.Sundiatapost.com, September 10, 2020) under protection of the military is very pleasing to the ear. 

The good news of this WAEC-conducted examination underscores the importance of the Safe Schools Declaration. It is also on the basis of this good news that this column today focuses on the Safe Schools Declaration whose International Day was celebrated on 9 September 2020. In actual fact, it was on 29 May 2020 that the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed September 9 every year as the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, and mobilising action to safeguard education in armed conflict.

 

© unicef/tremeau, 2018: Children playing outside a UNICEF set-up temporary school during a mid-day break in Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), (See https://ssd.protectingeducation.org/)

 

According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD) is ‘an inter-governmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools, and universities from the worst effects of armed conflict’. Put briefly, the SSD says that:

Every boy and girl has the right to an education without fear of violence or attack.

Every teacher, professor, and school administrator should be able to teach and research in conditions of safety, security, and dignity.

Every school should be a protected space for students to learn, and fulfill their potential, even during war.

Every university should be a safe place for students and academics and to foster critical and independent thinking, and to harness knowledge (See https://ssd.protectingeducation.org/).

 

The Third declaration above (ie Every school should be a protected space…even during war) reminds one of what happened during the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-1970) when suddenly schools were shut, dashing the hope of school children. But fortunately enough, good leadership quickly adapted to the emergency war situation. Not long, schools were opened in hidden make-shift or temporary shelters to shield them from bombardments by Nigerian Air Force planes. Good leadership understands that in times of emergencies, education of children should go on even in set-up temporary schools as the one in the picture above shows in DRC – courtesy of UNICEF/TREMEAU. 

 

This again reminds us of the commendable efforts of school proprietors and relevant stakeholders who championed the continuation of learning by Nigerian children using many innovative and adaptable learning platforms during the period of lockdown caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19 pandemic. And more importantly, thanks to many in various spheres of life who championed the need to courageously but cautiously go ahead with the conduct of the 2020 WASSCE which is now history to be remembered always with great joy especially by parents and students themselves. Many thanks also go to WAEC authorities for displaying uncommon courage and confidence that made the conduct of the examinations possible and successful. WAEC officials even went extra-miles to make sure that some students who contacted the coronavirus disease before or while taking examinations were well taken care of in Isolation Centres. History will definitely be kind to all those who made the sacrifice to make the conduct of the examinations possible and successful.

 

Perhaps, it is necessary to provide a brief background to the origin of, and reasons for, the adoption of the Safe Schools Declaration. It all started in 2015, when ‘the governments of Norway and Argentina led a process among United Nations (UN) Member States to develop the Safe Schools DeclarationThe Safe Schools Declaration…outlines a set of commitments to strengthen the protection of education from attack and restrict use of schools and universities for military purposes. It seeks to ensure the continuity of safe education during armed conflict. The Declaration was opened for countries to endorse at the First International Conference on Safe Schools in Oslo, Norway, in May 2015. In March 2017, the government of the Argentine Republic hosted the Second International Conference on Safe Schools, further building upon the development of a global community dedicated to protecting education in armed conflict. To date, 105 states around the world have joined this international political agreement (See: https://ssd.protectingeducation.org/). It is also necessary to add that ‘the government of Spain hosted the Third International Conference on Safe Schools, which took place on 28-29 May 2019 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain’. 

 

With respect to the reasons for the adoption of the Safe Schools Declaration, the following provides a brief summary: 

The impact of armed conflict on education presents urgent humanitarian, development and wider social challenges. Worldwide, schools and universities have been bombed, shelled and burned, and children, students, teachers and academics have been killed, maimed, abducted or arbitrarily detained. Educational facilities have been used by parties to armed conflict as, inter alia, bases, barracks or detention centres. Such actions expose students and education personnel to harm, deny large numbers of children and students their right to education and so deprive communities of the foundations on which to build their future. 

In many countries, armed conflict continues to destroy not just school infrastructure, but the hopes and ambitions of a whole generation of children. Attacks on education include violence against educational facilities, students and education personnel. Attacks, and threats of attack, can cause severe and long lasting harm to individuals and societies. Access to education may be undermined; the functioning of educational facilities may be blocked, or education personnel and students may stay away, fearing for their safety. 

Attacks on schools and universities have been used to promote intolerance and exclusion – to further gender discrimination, for example by preventing the education of girls, to perpetuate conflict between certain communities, to restrict cultural diversity, and to deny academic freedom or the right of association (See again: https://ssd.protectingeducation.org/)

In our second installment, we shall examine other important aspects of the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD) especially as they relate to our current emergency (the COVID-19 pandemic) which like a war has been disrupting the education of many children particularly those from the poor and marginalized fringes of the society.

Prof. Isaac N. Obasi, a public policy expert (& former columnist in the Daily Trust, Abuja, March 2003 to October 2006, & Daily Champion, Lagos, April 2005 to December 2008), is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: nnamdizik@gmail.com      

 

  

 


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