Albanians older than 40 know about militarized schools. For years during communism, children took time from classes to march, dig, and shoot in preparation for an onslaught from the “imperialist West” or “revisionist East.” Last week they drew on that experience to help children in other countries keep their classrooms for learning.
On September 9, Albania became the 56th country to sign the Safe Schools Declaration – a political commitment to protect education in armed conflict. This includes a pledge to respect the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, which safeguards students, teachers, and schools in war.
Albania’s decision sends a message that schools deserve special protections and that children have a right to education even in wartime. It also could have practical implications because Albanian armed forces participate in the international coalitions serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. For that reason, it’s important for Albania to follow this important step by integrating the principles of the Guidelines into relevant domestic policy and plans.
The urgency could not be greater. Around the world, in places such as Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan, schools have come under attack. Students and teachers have been maimed and killed by rockets, missiles, and barrel bombs, as well as small arms. Over the past decade, government forces and armed groups have used schools and universities as a base or barracks in 26 countries, interrupting classes and making the facility vulnerable to attack.
Albania has taken a step to help end that. Other countries should follow.