Schools, like hospitals, are typically regarded as zones of peace where unprotected, vulnerable individuals can be granted safe haven in times of conflict. Yet, the war in Syria has defied all traditional conflict norms and as a result both schools and hospitals have become common, deliberate targets. For example, on October 26th, a deadly air strike in the rebel-held Idlib province of Syria destroyed a school and killed twenty-two students (BBC News, 28 Oct. 2016). Amidst the ongoing conflict, this attack embodies one of many incidents that have harmed innocent civilians since the outbreak of violence in 2011. Yet, this atrocity in particular has shaken the international community and captured news headlines around the world. UNICEF Director Anthony Lake has proclaimed this bombing has been the “deadliest attack” on a school since the war began (BBC News, 28. Oct. 2016). In response, the United Nations has advocated for an inquiry into the strike to investigate culpability and bring justice to the perpetrators. In addition, the UN High Commissioner Ban Ki Moon has declared that if proved to be deliberate, this attack constitutes a war crime.
BBC and Aljazeera articles highlight how both the Russian and Assad-led Syrian governments are vehemently denying responsibility for this attack. The fervent denial can be explained by the widespread, deeply-held moral belief that schools are neutral locations that tend to house young, innocent children. The Conflict and Post-Conflict Blog echoes this idea, in their blog “Back to School or Back to the War-Front?”, when it asserts that schools should be free from attack, because they tend to be “second homes” to society’s most vulnerable class; children. Although both BBC and Aljazeera articles illustrate this refusal by both governments to accept responsibility for the bombing, the Aljazeera article sheds light on the inconsistencies in some of these denials. For example, the article reveals how while the Russian foreign ministry urged for an international inquiry, the Russian defense ministry claimed that the pictures of the attack were fabricated (Aljazeera, 28 Oct. 2016). These inconsistencies in the Russian government officials’ statements cast doubt on their credibility, but do not explicitly attribute blame.
The extensive international outrage from this attack can be partially attributed to the fact that this is the fifth school in Syria that has been targeted since 11 October 2016 (Aljazeera, 28 Oct. 2016). The danger of this trend becoming more solidified in the ongoing conflict, is rooted in the fear that this ongoing military violence will ultimately lead to a disillusionment with the safety or purpose of schools. This, in turn, will undermine the governing notion embedded in the Human Capital Theory, that advocates that education is intrinsically associated with greater individual productivity, and therefore favorable rates of return. Investing in school infrastructure and access to education is seen as the cornerstone of economic growth in a developing nation. Yet, if school campuses become tactical targets during war, parents have a decreased incentive to put their children in danger and the government and foreign agencies also have a decreased incentive to improve and invest in educational infrastructure. Further, attacks on schools could also prompt students to associate schools with death and could induce psychological damage. Students that survive school attacks or lose friends or teachers during them will likely fear or resent these educational institutions. If schools continue to be common targets throughout the Syrian conflict, it is likely that this will have devastating long-term impact on how children view education as an institution.
“Back to School or Back to the War Front?” Conflict & Post-Conflict Education, 18 Oct. 2016. https://conflictandpostconflicted.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/back-to-school-or-back-to-the-war-front/. Accessed 2 Nov. 2016.
“Russia Denies Involvement In Deadly Syria School Attack”. Aljazeera, 27 Oct. 2016. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/russia-denies-involvement-deadly-syria-school-attack-161027131715280.html>. Accessed 2 Nov. 2016.
“Syria Conflict: UN Urges Inquiry Into Deadly Air Strike on School” BBC News, 28 Oct. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37794362>. Accessed 2 Nov. 2016.