The Chibok kidnapping and its effect on global education.

NIGERIA_GIRLS_BOKO__698466aNigerians celebrate the sad anniversary of the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram militants.

Muhammadu Buhari, newly elected President of the country, pledged to do everything possible to rescue the girls, but admitted that it cannot ensure that they will find them.

The massive kidnapping provoked international condemnation and sparked a campaign in social media around the world with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

World Education protection and the Chibok case

“Education under Attack 2014” shows that during the period 2009 - 2013 30 countries show a significant pattern of attacks on education, with six countries – Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Syria – strongly affected by the attacks to students, teachers and educational institutions, with more than 1,000 victims or incidents. At least 40 additional countries experienced different attacks during that period as well.

Although it is not considered as one of the most affected countries in comparative perspective in the study, Nigeria certainly has one growing problem, especially in the northeast of the country.

While the name of the group is often translated as “Western education is a sin”Boko Haram's insurgency initially had not been strongly focused on attacking education. There had been some attacks on school buildings in 2009 attributable to Boko Haram and threats to and bombings of universities in 2011. But it was from early 2012 onwards that one could perceive a step-change in Boko Haram's strategy through not only increased attacks on education premises but also on students, teachers, university staff and other education personnel.

The outcome was a serious destabilisation of education provision in several states in northeast Nigeria. The inability of state security forces to provide adequate protection to Nigeria's citizens in the face of the Boko Haram insurgency served to exacerbate these concerns. It was against this background that the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls took place. The most terrible thing of this situation is that it is believed that Boko Haram has kidnapped at least 2,000 women in Nigeria since last year.

Several features of the Chibok schoolgirls' case and its trajectory are noteworthy. One was the rejection of the government's and armed forces' narrative about the event by the girls' parents and families, who challenged the “official” estimations of the number of girls who had been kidnapped.

Another was the role of social media in picking up and disseminating this story and turning it from a soon-to-be-forgotten local incident to one that aroused interest, outrage and concern around the world. Also significant have been the periodic communications by Boko Haram itself, particularly through videos posted on social media and then taken up by mainstream media. Their brutal and uncompromising propaganda became a key part of the drama that unfolded and, in the process, showed how extremist groups are proving increasingly adept at projecting their views and messages far and wide.

Its effect on global education.

An important consequence of the case Chibok has been the stimulus that has been given to the identification of practical measures to protect students, teachers and educational institutions from violent attacks. In particular, the former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in his capacity as Special Envoy of the UN for Global education, has defended a schools safe (SSI) initiative which, through a multi-pronged approach, seeks to generate quick action to make schools safer.

Elements of the SSI version in Nigeria have included a transfer programme whereby students are transferred from high-risk areas to locations in safer parts of the country; a school reconstruction model that enhances the security of school premises; and a programme to strengthen school-based management committees so that there are better links between schools, communities and first-responders in the event of an actual or pending attack.

For its part, Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC), has noted the kinds of challenges revealed by the Chibok schoolgirls incident and by attacks on education in other contexts. One major challenge is that of monitoring and reporting attacks on education. PEIC is gearing up to create a global data hub/service aimed at improving the collection and sharing of current and emerging information about attacks. Such information will serve to strengthen advocacy, analysis and response, especially through the well-informed design of policies and programmes.

Today it is noted that Chibok students have not been forgotten. Although their fate is not known, a year later, many – inside Nigeria and abroad – cling to the hope that they will be released. That hope needs to be joined with positive action to secure their safe return. But one thing we do know is that, if and when they return, the girls will have been changed by their terrible ordeal. Addressing their needs may constitute an even greater challenge than locating them and securing their freedom.