• Kavya Menke

The Ultimate Cost of Attendance

Testing centers bombed in Afghanistan, school girls kidnapped in Nigeria, and students shot in the US, this is the danger of education.

A 2018 ISIS suicide bombing killed 48 and injured 67 Hazara college-bound students (Hedayatullah Amid/EPA).

In 1948, with the atrocities of the Second World War in mind, the newly-formed United Nations created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Included in its 26th Article was the right to free, fundamental, and elementary education. While global education rates are steadily increasing, certain groups of students around the world are fighting for this basic right—and for their lives. Facing different threats and unique crises, these students have one thing in common: a fierce desire to learn.

In Afghanistan, Hazara students continue to sit for standardized tests, despite ISIS bombings in testing and tutorial centers. Most Hazaras are Shiite Muslims in a predominantly Sunni country, accounting for only around ten to twenty percent of Afghanistan’s population. Once heavily persecuted and left impoverished during Taliban rule, Hazaras now face regular terrorist attacks from the Islamic State. In August 2018, a suicide bomber killed forty students studying for an algebra exam, and since then hundreds more have died in similar attacks. The terrorist bombings exacerbate existing pressures; many believe that high scores on college entrance exams are tickets out of poverty and that a college education can support their families. Additionally, tutorials and mass studying sessions are necessary to pass the rigorous tests. Hundreds of thousands of students take these college entrance exams annually, but most fail the first time.

Under such odds, however, many students remain determined to sit for their tests and continue learning. Said twenty-year-old Khaliqyar Mohammadi in an interview for the New York Times, “I’ll either be killed, or I’ll reach my goal.”

It appears that even the constant threat of terrorism cannot pull the Hazara students away from their desks.

Nigerian Dapchi school girls await a plane following a year of captivity under Boko Haram (Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters).

Nigeria has an education safety problem more general than Afghanistan. Straining to support the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria’s crippled economy has led to a disturbing and violent trend. Rather than targeting specific ethnic groups based on religious ideology, gangs and terrorist groups such as the notorious Boko Haram are kidnapping school children en masse for ransom, profiting from communities’ desperation to reclaim their youth. These attacks are becoming increasingly fatal as the terrorists become bolder. In February, over 300 schoolgirls were taken from their school by gangs in Jangebe, a town in northwestern Nigeria, and at least 27 students were taken from the nearby state of Kagara. Overwhelmed by the military force of the bandits, authorities struggle to keep students safe from these kidnappings because of corruption, lack of infrastructure, and, counterintuitively, media response.

The #BringBackOurGirls movement on Twitter after the 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram drew international attention and money to the crisis, but also put the government under more pressure and gave terrorists attention for their war crimes. The Nigerian government denies that it pays ransoms, and may instead institute a new strategy against the bandits: amnesty and some economic support in exchange for the safe return of kidnapping victims. In the meantime, however, students remain vulnerable and deterred from seeking education. Only about two-thirds of Nigeria’s children attend school, and of those kidnapped, most do not continue their education upon being returned. Students still want to learn, but until the kidnapping crisis is resolved, pathways to education will remain limited and risky.

Across Southeast Asia, youth-led liberation movements have adopted the three-finger salute (Mladen Anotonov/AFP).

In early February, Myanmar’s military force, the Tatmadaw, seized control of the government in a coup. Protesters immediately turned on the Tatmadaw but were met with a violent response. As with many political protests, the decentralized anti-coup movements are led by educated youth, putting a target on Myanmarese students’ backs.

According to UNICEF, as of March 19, the military had occupied over 60 universities and schools.

These occupations are not based on ethnicity or for profit but are instead for political gain. Besides violating international law, the situation in Myanmar poses additional dangers as it is the authority in power that is threatening the students. The Tatmadaw is using students’ own education against them. The recent nature of the coup also increases the urgency of a rapid response. The endangered students, however, refuse to back down. Massive protests fill Myanmar’s cities, and student protesters have even adopted a signal of defiance: a three-finger salute inspired by Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games franchise. Despite military oppression, students continue to protest for their education and for their natural rights.

All over the world, the dangers of receiving education unite students in their desire for safe studying. Perhaps students in the United States can relate to such threats, even in a limited capacity. Although carried out on a much smaller scale, the number of American school shootings increases yearly. About 180 school shootings occurred in the past decade, causing widespread fear and calls for reform. It’s not the same thing as mass kidnappings, bombings, or coups, but the terror in our schools might help us to better perceive the gravity of these students’ situations, and to respect their decision to keep learning despite the odds.

March 2020 was the first March without a school shooting since 2002. Schools were closed (TFMG).

Kavya Menke is a senior at Athens Academy and an aspiring Classicist interested in Ancient Greek and Latin.

Cover: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

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