February 17, 2015

Prime Minister Sharif backs Pakistan Safe Schools Initiative and pledges to make it a success

Ewan Watt

Online Editor, Theirworld

A World at School Pakistan Safe Schools Initiative

A World at School today launches a 15-point plan for a Pakistan Safe Schools Initiative - backed fully by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and United Nations Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown -  in a multimillion-dollar campaign for girls' and boys' education. 

It follows an agreement between former British Prime Minister Mr Brown and Prime Minister Sharif to work together on a joint effort for the security and safety of schoolchildren. The plan will be accompanied by an appeal to donor governments, foundations and the business sector to finance the initiative. Prime Minister Sharif said: "I am personally committed to make this initiative a success."

Since the 1970s Pakistan has experienced more attacks on education than any other country in the world. Terrorists have destroyed thousands of school buildings, taken the lives of hundreds of teachers and students and denied the right to education to thousands more.

In the past five years, more than 1000 schools have been destroyed in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which includes Peshawar, where the latest and deadliest attack took place in December. During an eight-hour shooting spree more than 130 boys and nine teachers were massacred by Taliban gunmen.

Children arrive at a Peshawar school days after the attack

Now a full-scale response - championed by Mr Brown - is being launched to help protect schools, students and staff from further attacks. It will require major international funding. The Pakistani government has already taken steps to implement some security measures and the Punjab government has released a set of requirements for schools, include installing closed-circuit cameras, raising boundary walls of schools to at least eight feet and topping them with razor wire before they reopen following the 2015 winter break. But so far only 118 of 1440 schools in Peshawar have been able to properly implement the new measures and reopen. Additional financing is urgently needed for scale-up, particularly for those schools and communities most at risk

The rigorous, 15-point best practices plan released today, which is built around global experience and expertise, is designed to ensure schools are safe for all children.  The report was produced in collaboration with the Global Business Coalition for Education, a coalition of private sector businesses working to deliver quality education for all of the world’s children and youth.

You can read the full report and the 15 points here.

The report is intended to complement and support current government activities and serve as a basis for a framework to build school and community-based interventions to promote Safe Schools alongside support from the international community.

Gordon Brown and Prime Minister Sharif discuss the Pakistan Safe schools Initiative

Gordon Brown and Prime Minister Sharif discuss the initiative

The proposal includes:

  • Community engagement to establish peace zones in and around schools
  • Negotiations with religious leaders to promote education
  • Establishing a community watch system
  • Individual security plans for every school
  • Setting up of rapid response units
  • Installing state-of-the-art communication systems
  • Creating special plans for schools in high-risk areas

In the wake of the recent attack in Peshawar, the Pakistani province of Punjab responded rapidly with a set of security measures to prevent future attacks on schools, as did other government authorities. These measures address many critical aspects of school infrastructure and defense in the most high-risk areas.

However, the 15 best practices proposal is a full framework for a comprehensive and integrated approach to protecting all schools by involving communities, empowering school staff and protecting children physically and psychologically from the threat of attack.

A student in front of a raised school wall in Islamabad

Mr Brown said: "One answer that helps educational institutions to stand up to terrorist violence and counter it is to designate our schools as safe schools and make them more secure. It is only by taking measures such as those in the 15-point plan that we will reassure parents and pupils that everything is being done to counter extremist threats."

Prime Minister Sharif said: "The recent tragedy at Army Public School Peshawar in Pakistan has yet again brought into focus one of the many manifestations of terror. The ruthless and inhuman murder of 146 school children and teachers also indicates the variety of challenges that we confront as we strive to bring safety to our children at schools. The Safe Schools Initiative of Gordon Brown is perhaps the first targeted programme which will go a long way in helping us to achieve this target."

UNICEF Pakistan has also been promoting school safety, working with partners on programmes such as the Pakistan Safer School Project - a four-year disaster risk reducation initiative funded by USAID and operating in three provinces. Another, the Education in Emergency Programme, has trained teachers in camps for internally displaced people about disaster risk reduction.

In Nigeria, the first Safe Schools Initiative was launched by the UN Special Envoy with A World at School, the Global Business Coalition for Education and the Nigerian government, following the kidnapping of 276  Chibok schoolgirls. It has leveraged $30 million from business, the Nigerian government and international donors - resulting in a government initiative and a United Nations multi-donor trust fund for Safe Schools.

Nigeria school playground

Children play in safety at a Nigerian school

In the first phase of activities, Safe Schools interventions are now in place in many schools and 2400 of the most at-risk students from three states hit hardest by Boko Haram’s terrorist activities have been enrolled in safer schools.

Later this year further steps will be taken to protect schools. The draft Lucens Guidelines have been drawn up with the aim of better protecting schools and universities from use by armed groups for military purposes and to minimise the negative impact that armed conflict has on students’ safety and education. These guidelines, supported by several countries including Norway and Argentina and championed by Mr Brown, will result in a Safe Schools Declaration later this year with concrete guidance to states and non-state armed groups for the planning and execution of military operations to schools and education from attack

But for now, Pakistan is the priority. Members of the Pakistan Working Group of the Global Business Coalition for Education - as well as donors engaging in the Local Education Group - are being asked to identify how they can contribute to this national effort to promote best practices for creating Safe Schools.

Through these efforts, a comprehensive and well-financed Safe Schools Initiative will reassure families and children that education is safe and provide a bold step forward in the achievement of universal education in Pakistan.

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