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An Anatomy of an Airstrike: Quality Education

SDG 4: Quality Education

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

Attacks on schools are one of the six grave violations against children identified by the UN Security Council.

Case Study

There were no education facilities damaged by the US airstrike on a civilian family’s farm in November 2018. 

Afghanistan – The Global Coalition to Protection Education from Attack (GCPEA) recorded 151 attacks on schools in Afghanistan in 2018, nearly half (44%) of which involved explosive weapons. In October 2020, an Afghan Airforce bombing hit a school in the northern province of Takhar, killing 11 children and their teacher. The Afghan government denied the civilian casualties but did not deny they had targeted the school. 


It is against international humanitarian law (IHL) to attack targets without discriminating between military and civilian targets. However, military (ab)use of an education institution can convert it into a legitimate military target, under IHL. AOAV recorded 53 airstrikes (2011-20) where the primary target appears to have been a school. These strikes caused 1,257 casualties, the majority of which were suffered in Syria (730).

These figures will not include additional cases where schools were damaged by airstrikes less directly. The Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights reported that by the end of 2015, 1,012 schools were documented to have been targeted, destroyed and damaged by the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes. 

Throughout Syria, it’s estimated that around 40% of schools have been damaged and destroyed by the conflict. The charity Syria Relief reports that six of their schools have been “deliberately targeted by airstrikes.” Syria has suffered a consistent barrage of aerial attacks against its schools. The UN verified 120 attacks on educational facilities over 2014 & 2015, and noted that the Ministry of Education had reported 889 schools partially or fully damaged by the end of 2014.

A Syria Relief school in Ma’arrat al-Numan area of Syria after being hit by airstrikes, 19 Dec 2019.

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

Case Study

There were no educators killed or injured in the attack. 


There have been cases of educators being specifically targeted by airstrikes. In June 2013, it was reported that a government helicopter carrying seven Ministry of Education employees, who were transporting exam papers to students in Aleppo, were hit with a missile. All seven employees and the plane’s crew died. The Syrian government accused opposition groups of targeting the plane.

According to the Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights, education administrative buildings were also deliberately targeted in the early years of the Saudi-led airstrikes. One such incident, on 18th August 2015, involved two airstrikes hitting the Ministry of Education which resulted in the death of 17 and the injury of 21 educational personnel. Four children who were playing outside also perished.

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

Case Study

No education facilities were closed or disrupted due to the airstrike. However, in the area Abdul Ahad, the brother and uncle of the victims, told us that education has been impacted in the region by the bombing in the local area. 

“All the schools near the battle line are inactive like Kharako, Hazar Joft area where there is always fighting. All areas [in Garmsir] except the district center have been under Taliban control for five years and there has always been fighting and bombing in nearby areas.

“People are far away from school. We are trying to build a school for them.”

-Abdul Ahad, Kustay resident and relative of airstrike victims


Even when students and educators aren’t physically harmed, airstrikes on and around schools will significantly disrupt learning. On February 7th, 2021, Jan Bibi Uoz Bashi Girls’ High School in Qaisar district of Faryab province in Northern Afghanistan was the center of fighting between pro and anti government forces, including airstrikes. As it was a Sunday, the school wasn’t open but the fighting broke the school’s protective boundary wall, damaged the interior walls and windows and “destroyed almost all school equipment.”

4.2.2 – Number of schooling days lost

Case Study

No school days were known to be lost due to this particular airstrike, from an institutional perspective. However, Bakht Mohammad, who was just five years old when he was severely burned as his grandfather’s house went up in flames after the airs trike, has still not been able to attend school due to his injuries. This means he has already missed 2.5 years of primary education. 


Schooling days can also be lost indirectly. The spectre of future airstrikes that hangs over a conflict-zone can drive students away from the classroom. In Syria, it was reported that 40% of schools have been destroyed or damaged, primarily by airstrikes. But for those not directly hit by missiles, teachers and children began attending school less, according to the charity Syria Relief, due to fear that the classroom is no longer safe due to the bombing campaign.

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

Case Study

No data available.  


As of February 2021, nearly half of all school-aged children in Afghanistan were out-of-school, 60% of them girls. The Norwegian Refugee Council reports that: “Insecurity negatively affects school attendance, with higher rates of out-of-school children in the most affected provinces. Girls, who are already less likely to go to school in Afghanistan, have been particularly impacted by the violence.” In one year, nearly 1,000 schools were closed in Afghanistan due to the conflict, according to UNICEF. Airstrikes, as one of the primary causes of death and destruction in Afghanistan, undoubtedly played their part in this.


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

No data available. However, Helmand province, the ninth most aerially bombed region globally of the past decade, has the lowest rate of male literacy in Afghanistan, at 41%. Female literacy rates are as low as 1.6% in southern provinces, according to a 2019 study.


In 2017, it was reported that around 1,100 children a day drop out of school in Afghanistan, largely due to insecurity. And once pupils are out of school, girls and children with disabilities are put at a greater disadvantage, according to Syria Relief, due to the tendency of regressive attitudes to prevail when children are out of education. 3.7 million Afghan minors are unable to go to school, leaving them at greater risk of exploitation, including child labour, recruitment by armed groups, trafficking, early marriage. Approximately, 75% of those unable to go to school are girls. Whilst this isn’t directly attributable to airstrikes, aerial bombardments are certainly one of the main drivers of this insecurity. 


Trauma from airstrikes can have a real impact on mental health and a child’s capacity for learning. A report from Save the Children conducted in the Gaza Strip, found that 78% of children cited noise of aircraft and the threat of bombing as the single greatest fear, with feelings of anxiety, anger, withdrawal, shame, confusion, night terrors, and aggressiveness being recurrent in children that suffered blast injuries. 

In Idlib, the most aerially bombed region of the decade according to AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitor, and Aleppo, the fourth most bombed area that has the second highest rate of airstrike civilian casualties, significant drops in literacy and numeracy rates were recorded in 2018. At Grade 3 level (Primary Education level) over 60% of children were not at the literacy level expected of Grade 2 students and at Grade 8 (pre-Secondary Education Level) 29% were not at this level. Meanwhile, 80% of Grade 2 students were not at Grade 2 numeracy levels and 38% were still not at this level by Grade 8.

Chapter 7: Other Considerations
Conclusion and Recommendations

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