By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
In an effort to guide the education sector towards the creation of safe, inclusive and conflict-sensitive learning environments, the Department of Education (DepEd) issued the national policy framework on learners and schools as zones of peace.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones, in DepEd Order No. 32 s. of 2019, said that this framework “defines the components and guiding principles” in the declaration and establishment of Learners and Schools as “Zones of Peace.”
Briones noted that the framework also “outlines the overall strategy for ensuring the safety and security of learners, personnel and schools; the continuity of education in situations of armed conflict; and the contributions of education and schools to peace-building.”
“It institutionalizes conflict sensitivity, peace-building, and community engagement into education interventions, as means to prevent, mitigate, respond, and recover from armed and violent conflict,” Briones said in the memorandum.
In the same memo, DepEd cited how armed conflict “continues to pose serious security threats” to thousands of barangays with “adverse impacts” especially on the education of children.
Citing data from Enhanced Basic Education Information System (EBEIS), DepEd noted that from School Year 2009-2010 to 2017-2018, there is a total of 10,883 schools nationwide that “reported effects of violent incidents” – including armed conflict. “These schools have suffered from the effects of violent incidents, specifically damages to school facilities and disruption of classes,” the agency noted.
During the same period, DepEd noted that all six regions in Mindanao as well as Regions V and VIII “consistently figured as the top 10 regions each year with the highest proportion of schools with incidences of armed conflict.”
DepEd also cited that the Marawi siege which happened in 2017 was in “much larger scale and with greater impact.” Lasting for nearly five months, the agency noted that the Marawi siege completely destroyed 20 schools in ground zero and displaced thousands of learners in almost 100 affected barangays.
Armed conflicts, DepEd said, greatly affects the three education outcomes: access, quality, and governance which results to “dismantling the foundations on which learners, families, and communities build their future.”
DepEd noted that armed conflicts affect access to education “through the disruption of the delivery of educational services” due to “attacks on schools” including school personnel, suspension of classes which can last for long periods of time, and the use of schools as temporary evacuation centers.
“Schooling is also disrupted as a result or the displacement of learners,” the agency said. “In addition, fear or trauma among learners, personnel, and parents or simply their own regard for personal safety and security, prevent learners from going back to school,” it added.
DepEd also noted that armed conflicts also “create unsafe and unsecure environments where learners face the risk of being victims” of grave child rights violations (GCRVs). “The youth, especially the out-of-school youths, are vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups and government forces [and] these groups may also use schools for propaganda and recruitment purposes,” DepEd said.
Given the impact of armed conflict on children, the DepEd issued the said framework to strengthen governance of the education system “to make schools safe, more secure, and child-friendly.”
The said policy, Briones said, applies to DepEd’s central, regional, and schools division offices; school heads and administrators; teaching and non-teaching personnel; and learners in public and private elementary and secondary schools.
Briones noted that the policy framework primarily covers learners and schools in situations of armed conflict and re-affirms existing DepEd orders by defining and operationalizing the concepts of Learners and Schools as Zones of Peace.
“It also sets the direction and priorities for the protection of learners and schools; continued delivery of education services; peace-building in conflict-vulnerable and conflict-affected areas and across all phases of armed conflict” before, during, or after.