Schools and Terrorism: Global Trends, Impacts, and Lessons for Resilience

This study characterizes trends in the frequency and characteristics of terrorist attacks in child-serving educational institutions around the world, examining the specific vulnerabilies of children and schools with regard to terrorist violence, as well as the various impacts that violence has on children, communities, and societies. Following the analysis of available data on terrorist attacks against educational institutions, vulnerabilities, and impacts, the study concludes with a discussion of what still needs to be understood in the intersection of child vulnerability and terrorism, and provides recommendations for improving resilience to terrorist attacks against child-serving educational institutions.

One would like to think that certain truths or values would be universally understood as rules of engagement, formally declared or otherwise. The sanctity of children’s well-being should be unquestioned, regardless of the issues at stake in the larger conflict. Sadly, history shows that this understanding is neither universally shared nor uniformly valued.

—Irwin Redlener, Americans at Risk, 2007

Since the violent attack on School Number One in Beslan, Russia in 2004, the perceived threat of massive terror attacks targeting schoolchildren has loomed in the public consciousness. In recent years, attacks against educational institutions worldwide have increasingly been reported and documented. The kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the massacre of at least 150 students and staff in a Peshawar school by the Pakistani Taliban in 2014 are still fresh in the minds of the public. These attacks serve as reminders of the vulnerability that children in schools face, being “soft targets” whose symbolic value has the capacity of invoking mayhem at the largest possible scale. They also demonstrate the urgency with which this emerging trend in violence must be systemically recorded, analyzed, and mitigated.

The following article will discuss the vulnerability of children with regard to terrorist violence, exploring the literature on what makes children and educational institutions particularly desirable targets. Trends in the frequency and characteristics of terrorist attacks against child-serving educational institutions around the world will be examined, paying particular attention to potential school level and gendered disparities. Finally, a critical analysis on what can be learned from the available data and what still needs to be researched in the nexus of child vulnerability and terrorism will be provided.

Children & Disasters
Terrorism (CRBNE)
School Preparedness