UN education envoy Gordon Brown demands urgent action on safe schools

March 18, 2015

Syrian children at camp for displaced in Aleppo

Syrian boys at camp for displaced in Aleppo Picture: UNICEF/Rashidi

The international community was told today it must act now to designate "safe schools" and end the militarisation of classrooms.

The call came from the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, who said it was time to 'wake up to the suffering faced by millions of children".

Speaking from the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Mr Brown said: “It has been one month since the kidnapping of 89 South Sudanese boys from their classrooms to train then as child soldiers. It has been three months since the Peshawar school attack where 140 were killed.

 "It is one year on from Boko Haram's mass abduction of more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria. It is exactly four years since the Syria conflict began, which has exiled one million children and displaced two million more, most of whom are no longer at school.

"It is time for us to end the shameful breaches of international law that violate the rights of millions of children by calling a halt to the militarisation of schools, stopping the now-growing abduction of school pupils as weapons of war and insisting – even in conflict zones – that properly resourced ‘safe schools’ enable children to enjoy their education in peace.

South Sudan boy at launch of Back to Learning campaign

South Sudanese boy at launch of Back to Learning campaign Picture: UNICEF/Campeanu

‘Today I am making a plea from the heart to the conscience of the world that we now wake up to the suffering faced by millions of children."

Mr Brown outlined the scale of the issues around global education.There have been more than 10,000 attacks on schools during the past five years - and terror attacks on schools around the world have risen to higher levels than at any point in 40 years. There are 28 million boys and girls out of school in areas of conflict or emergency

Children’s rights are abused with little clarity about the rules and guidelines that would ensure schools had the same protection as safe havens and hospitals have under the Geneva Conventions  And only 1% of humanitarian aid is currently allocated to education

Mr Brown said: “I have visited Pakistan, Nigeria, the DRC and South Sudan and will soon visit Lebanon and seen how children have become the silent tragic victims of conflict: their rights neglected, as worldrenowned author JK Rowling has said, because ‘who is easier to silence than a child?’

“I want to propose urgent action to deal with what has, even in the early months of 2015, become a growing crisis from Iraq to Nigeria, from South Sudan to Pakistan. 

Gordon Brown at UN with Farhan Haq

Gordon Brown today with the UN's Farhan Haq

"Today I am calling for four fundamental changes to strengthen our defence of the rights of schoolgirls and boys. And I am promising to urge the international community to invest in making our schools safer in some of the most troubled and dangerous areas of the world.”

“First, I call on international partners to reach agreement this spring on a new multi-million dollar Global Humanitarian Fund for Education in Emergencies. We have set a deadline for progress at the Oslo Summit on Global Education in July.

"Second, with the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Borge Brende, I am calling a conference on educating the 500,000 Syrian child refugees in Lebanon on April 16 in Washington in support of a new pact for the delivery of education with the Lebanese minister of education, our aim to raise the missing $163 million needed to operate a double-shift system in Lebanese schools to educate all Syrian child refugees. 

"Third, following the successful start to the Safe Schools Initiative in Nigeria, which has the support of President Goodluck Jonathan, we are now announcing today a new Safe schools partnership between private and public sectors starting in Pakistan. With the support announced today of Prime Minister Sharif, we will launch a 1000-school pilot to use technology to make schools safe. And we will shortly announce plans to extend the Safe Schools Initiative to South Sudan, Lebanon and the DRC. 

"Fourth, we are asking all countries to sign the international Safe School Declaration to protect schools from military use and attacks - giving schools the same protections as Red Cross hospitals. These efforts to protect schools from attack are now supported by 30 countries and international organiaations.

Bring Back our Girls campaigners in Nigeria

Bring Back Our Girls campaigners in Nigeria

"The tragedy in South Sudan with schools being militarised and over 12,000 children abducted to serve as child soldiers must be stopped. I am supporting the education campaigns of UNICEF to help 400,000 South Sudanese children go back to Safe Schools. 

‘I look forward to this year’s Security Council report on children in armed conflict to be presented by the excellent and hard-working UN Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict who has given special attention this year to violations in South Sudan.

"In Nigeria, the Safe Schools Initiative, established in response to the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls nearly one year ago, has reached $30 million, with the most recent contribution from the United States government as part of the White House’s Let Girls Learn initiative." Mr Brown announced that nearly 30,000 children displaced by Boko Haram are in double-shift schools and additional children in at-risk areas are benefiting from school relocation and increased security measures. 

He said: "I am calling for the release of the more than 200 school girls abducted in Nigeria before the one-year anniversary on April 14 and for a release of the 89 schoolboys who were sitting for exams in Wau Shilluk, South Sudan.  It is sad that the kidnappers are now offering to return the children to sit for their exams but then keep them in captivity to serve as child soldiers.

Mr Brown added: “We can no longer wait.  It is time for decisive action,” insisting a new fund for education in emergencies is necessary to prevent millions of children and youth from falling through the cracks. “We must build stronger and more innovative partnerships linking business, technology, foundations and governments to deliver on the safe schools agenda."

Three countries are now benefiting from Safe Schools efforts.


  • Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif supported a Safe Schools Initiative with the UN Special Envoy following a 15-point best practices plan released by A World at School
  • Mr Brown backs a new, innovative partnership which will deliver state-of-the-art technology to promote Safe Schools in Pakistan
  • Spearheaded by pro-bono technology contribution from Predictify.Me, a US-based data sciences and predictive analytics firm, headed by CEO Rob Burns and Dr Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani, Co-Founder and Chief Data Scientist
  • The Pakistan Safe Schools initiative will introduce the use of simulation software to assess the level of risk preparedness of schools and generate recommendations for school and community safety plans
  • The new scheme will start with a 1000-schools pilot covering all four provinces and the federal territory of Islamabad
  • Each participating school will receive a report providing a designation on the degree of risk, specific recommendations for improving the school’s set-up to become safer and recommendations for community measures and ongoing risk forecasts
  • There will be a call to action for donors to come on board to support this work so it can be rolled out and scaled up nationally

School playground in Nigeria


  • The Safe Schools initiative, catalysed by an initial investment by Global Business Coalition for Education corporate leaders, has mobilised more than $30 million for the protection of schools
  • International support has come from the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Germany and the African Development Bank
  • One million Nigerians are internally displaced, 157,000 refugees in Niger, 40,000 in Cameroon and 17,000 in Chad
  • Estimation: six million of the 11 million Nigerians who live in the three states under State of emergency have been affected by the insecurity, with four million in Borno State alon
  • By end of 2014, a total of 338 schools had been destroyed, at least 196 teachers and more than 314 students killed and more than 276 abducted (figures from UNICEF)
  • The Safe Schools Initiative has moved forward with three programmes:

Transfer Programme: This  transfers students from high-risk areas in the three states (Adamawa, Borno & Yobe) that have been the most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency and are currently on the emergency rule by the federal government.  These states have a high risk of attacks on schools.  Students are transferred to one of 43 federal community colleges across the northern part of the country. The programme started with 2400 students - 800 from each state.

Safe Schools Model: This model rebuilds schools to make them more secure and safer for children and teachers. The Nigerian Army Engineer Corps assessed schools in each state to determine what is needed to make the schools secure to deliver quality education. Scanners, solar power and risk profiles for schools have been part of these efforts.

Strengthening the School-based Management Committees (the link between the school, community and first responders) to determine who to call when an alarm is sounded.

  • Considering issues around emergency planning, emergency management and evacuation plans
  • Education provision for internally displaced individuals: UNICEF has been leading and working with government to provide education to IDPs living in camps. This includes the procurement of school-in-a-box kits and 35,000 schoolbags for displaced students to be distributed in the camps. Activities to have a double-shift schedule and multi-grade patterns are underway.

Syrian refugees at camp in Lebanon


  • More than 14million children are suffering as a result of war in Syria and Iraq with an estimated three million girls and boys forced out of school, many for years
  • The humanitarian appeal for the education sector remains only 15% funded in 2015
  • In Lebanon, working to ensure financing for nearly 500,000 out-of-school children. $100million of the $263million has been delivered
  • Working with the government to ensure there is capacity and policy decisions to make this possible and that donors can form a pact for long-term, predictable financing
  • Calling a meeting in April with the government and key donors at the IMF/World Bank Spring meetings

Read more about today's Pakistan Safe Schools announcement.