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An Anatomy of a Mortar Attack: Quality Education

SDG 4 – Quality Education

4.1.1 – Number or proportion of education facilities damaged or destroyed by explosive weapons

Case Study

Schools and education facilities were not reported as being targeted or damaged by the mortar attacks on 17 March 2011. 


Between 2011 and 2020 there were at least 39 mortar attacks on educational facilities worldwide. The majority of mortar attacks against schools took place in Syria (28 incidents). A recent example of such attacks damaging educational facilities occurred in May 2019 when a mortar launched by Palestinian armed groups from Gaza exploded in the yard of a kindergarten near Sderot, a town located in southern Israel. Fragments smashed through walls, windows and damaged the furniture inside. 

4.1.2 – Number or proportion of educators killed or injured by explosive weapons, disaggregated by gender

Case Study

Undetermined. Educators may have been among the casualties, but AOAV found no evidence to suggest that educators had been targeted. 


Of the 39 mortar attacks on educational facilities in the last decade, 676 civilians were killed and injured, 5 of which were identified as women and 224 were children. We can assume that a number of these civilian casualties were educators. The 28 mortar attacks on educational facilities in Syria resulted in a very high number of civilian casualties (590), averaging 21 casualties per incident. 

Clear examples of educators being killed by mortar attacks are often hard to obtain. Insecurity Insight’s ‘Education in Danger’ project records global incidents in which educators are killed, but the data is not currently disaggregated to provide specific information on weapon types. Insecurity Insight have also provided monthly news briefs on attacks on education since November 2017. AOAV were unable to find any specific examples of mortar attacks killing or injuring educators in these briefs.

4.2.1 – Number or proportion of education facilities with service disruptions, including internet

Case Study

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire reported the following on the effect of the conflict on education: “Education and health services were severely affected, with classes suspended in most areas in the north.”  A month after the attack, 20 schools in Abidjan, predominantly located in Abobo, were still closed. Even schools which were not directly impacted by the violence, teachers had still not returned to their posts.


There is a lack of information linking mortars with service disruptions to education facilities globally. It is likely that when mortar attacks disrupt the provision of key services, education will be adversely impacted. However, as mortars are typically used in wider conflict, this is difficult to accurately assess. Drawing on evidence from mortar attacks in Kashmir, we can see that when a school is attacked the disruption to education is far reaching. For example, on 12 November 2016, mortar fire by Indian troops destroyed hundreds of houses and schools in the Nakyal and Battal sector. This led to the immediate closure of 25 girls’ and 34 boys’ schools in the Nakyal sector. 

4.2.2 – Number of schooling days lost

Case Study

Undetermined. After the shelling of Abobo, violence continued beyond Gbagbo’s arrest on 11 April, so we can estimate that a minimum of a month’s schooling was lost after the incident. In order to mitigate the number of schooling days lost, the new Ivorian government re-divided the academic year into two semesters instead of the usual three terms. 


When mortars damage or destroy education facilities it is considerably likely that it will cause some disruption to schooling, especially within the context of wider conflict. Measuring this, however, requires further analysis. 

4.2.3 – Number or proportion of children without access to schooling, disaggregated by gender and age

Case Study

Across the whole of the Côte d’Ivoire up to 800,000 children have been out of school during the period between November 2010 and October 2011 because of the conflict. When schools returned after in October 2011 a primary school in the northern suburb of Abobo Baole reported that only 60 of the expected 500 pupils arrived.


Even when schools are not directly at risk from mortars, the reverberating effects of explosive violence obstruct a child’s access to education. The UNIDIR suggests that if transport services are destroyed children will not be able to travel to school, equally if a mortar damages the electricity grid children will be unable to prepare schoolwork and if the water supply has been compromised children will have reduced time for homework if they have to travel to fetch water. Toxic stress induced by psychological trauma from explosive violence may affect a child’s ability to learn effectively.


1 – Number, proportion or rate of students who drop out of schooling, disaggregated by gender

2 – Proportion of students achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics, disaggregated by gender

3 – Proportion of population in a given age group achieving at least a fixed level of proficiency in functional (a) literacy and (b) numeracy skills, disaggregated by gender

Case Study

Undetermined. On 28 April 2011, in the aftermath of the political crisis in the Côte d’Ivoire, the UN reported that the reopening of schools remained a challenge due to the displacement of children and teachers, the looting of equipment, schools being used as shelters for internally displaced persons (IDPs), and insecurity in Abidjan neighbourhoods, including Yopougon and Abobo. A study of Ivorian children aged between 6-18 in 2011, showed that the conflict had   decreased school enrolment by 10% compared with a group of the same age in 1998. The study found that those who were of school age during the conflict experienced at least a one year drop-out of schooling on average. 

These disruptions will have had a deleterious impact on student drop-out rates, literacy and numeracy in the affected area. However, these cannot be attributed to the single use of a mortar attack, especially given that shelling incidents in Abobo also took place on 11 March 2011 and potentially 15 March 2011. 


While mortar use is likely to have some effect on school drop-out rates as well as student literacy, and numeracy, the level of disaggregated data is extremely limited. As all the incidents of explosive violence recorded by AOAV involving mortars in the past 10 years took place in the context of wider conflict, attributing third-level impacts to this weapon type is inherently problematic. However, we know that broadly, the likelihood of young children dropping out of school is significantly higher in conflict affected countries: only 65% in conflict-affected countries attend the last primary school grade, in comparison with 86% across low-income countries.

Report continues:

Chapter 7: Other Considerations
Conclusion and Recommendations

More in this series: An Anatomy of an Explosive Weapon Attack