Schools Under Attack: Promoting Safe Schools through the Geospatial Industry

The above map – created by Bonnie Berry – is a cropped image showing the density of Boko Haram attacks in Borno state in Nigeria, based on location, rather than frequency.  Areas of higher density do not mean that more attacks have occurred in these areas, rather attack locations are more closely clustered. 

Schools Under Attack
2014 marked the highest number of attacks on schools in the past forty years of recorded history.  In emergency situations, schools are often used as hospitals, barracks, or military bases, forcing millions of children out of school. In one province in Pakistan alone, more than 1,000 schools have been destroyed in the past five years. 

Business Responds: The Safe Schools Initiative15422164924_4edbd885d6_o

In 2014, the business community – representing diverse industries – took immediate action to protect the right to education by championing the Safe Schools Initiative (SSI).  The first Safe Schools Initiative was launched following the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria and has since been adapted to the Ebola-affected countries.
Safe Schools and the Geographic Advantage
The geospatial industry – valued today at $270 billion globally – can utilize its products and expertise to protect the right to education. Geospatial products and services like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are commonly used across several international development sectors, from helping emergency responders understand food security needs during droughts to identifying people in need of help after an earthquake through crowdmapping.
In the education sector, the geospatial industry has great potential to inform the delivery of education in emergencies.  GIS in particular has been used in numerous contexts, from mapping structurally-sound schools in post-earthquake Haiti to visualizing the geographic coverage and capacity of schools in Tblisi, Georgia.  Through its collective voice, expertise and core products, the industry could help assess the risk of school attacks, prioritize and coordinate education assets and strengthen the education system’s ability to respond to emergency situations.

A Call for Action: What can the Geospatial Industry do?
The geospatial industry can consider in-kind support of software, expertise and training for NGOs, Ministries of Education and aid agencies in order to fund, implement and manage Safe Schools.  The industry can support Safe Schools in four ways:

1. Scale Existing Geospatial Tools: Innovative NGOs, like Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, are developing spatial indices to assess the likelihood of attacks.  By utilizing data on abductions, past attacks, battles, and assassinations, Watchlist has developed a school risk index to assist humanitarian organizations and actors to better manage emergency response and potentially predict future attacks – all on a map (1). Geospatial companies can offer expertise to automate these processes in a GIS and build widgets to scale the use of spatial analyses by other NGOs and emergency responders.

2. Ensure Spatial Data Availability and Validity: Ministries of Education can use satellite imagery data to map and catalog the locations of schools.  Some countries with high risk of school attacks or public health risks have limited and poor quality spatial data.  Through their vendor relationships, geospatial companies can help by providing access to satellite imagery and investing in the geotagging process, identifying the location of schools and building comprehensive and reliable imagery databases for use in emergency responses.

3. Strengthen Education Management Information Systems (EMIS): Many Ministries have data management systems called EMIS, which may include indicators on school safety but lack a spatial component.  Through GIS training and existing software, Ministries and NGOs can begin to spatialize their data, helping inform decision-making in terms of access to education, school closures, and corruption.

4. Train Leaders in the Field: NGOs using humanitarian funds can be tracked on a web map, enabling cluster coordinators to coordinate resources, identify areas of greatest need and avoid duplication of efforts.  Companies can support cluster coordinators and their respective organizations through GIS software, expertise and training.

For all these recommendations, companies should anchor contributions of software and expertise with ongoing training to make their investments sustainable.  By bringing the geographic advantage to the education sector, the geospatial industry can play a vital role in protecting the right to education.

Photo © Jordi Bernabeu Farrús

Special thanks to Bonnie Berry and Janine Morna of Watchlist for their feedback. 


(1) Bonnie Berry for Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict.  (2014).  School Vulnerability in Northeast Nigeria.