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Mental health in conflict and education

Growing up in Pakistan I had always been aware of the violence being carried out all around us. Despite that the APS attack in Peshawar in 2014 came as a shock to me. At the time I used to live in Lahore and despite not being a victim of the attack I felt afraid of going to school, it didn’t feel like a safe space to me anymore. Considering how an attack that I wasn’t even a victim of impacted me has always made me wonder about the trauma carried by children who are direct victims of attacks carried out on schools. I believe that mental health of students is an important aspect which must not be overlooked when looking at the field of education and conflict. It is a given that conflict has a negative impact on education taking into account aspects such as access to education and availability of schools. However, at an individual level, regardless of if conflict is in the form of direct attacks on schools or a larger conflict that children are impacted by, it has negative consequences for the ability of students to benefit from education. In my belief, conflict can impact one’s mental health in the form of anxiety, trauma and fear and these things further deteriorate one’s ability to concentrate on learning or even attending school. Although over the years in Pakistan the importance of mental health has grown especially in urban areas among certain a strata of society, however it still remains a largely ignored aspect. In conflict-ridden areas, policy solutions revolving around education must focus on the aspect of mental health, strategies such as counselling or art therapy for example can be incorporated in school programs led by trained professionals, to help students overcome the burden of conflict they carry and the negative impact it can have on their attainment of education. Making mental health a part of education development in conflict-ridden areas is among other things an important aspect in ensuring education for all, which is indeed a basic human right.

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Brings me back to MQM days in Karachi when every other week going to school starting feeling like a risk.. I was out of school when the APS incident took place, but those feelings are unforgettable. I can't imagine being that young and living through that or personally knowing the victims and still having the courage to continue with your education

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Zersh Salman
Zersh Salman
Aug 22, 2021

I think promoting and adopting inclusive education and sensitive teaching strategies can help make things better in this regard. I remember when we were reading the case of Home Based Schools in Afghanistan, a teacher had made remarks about how use of force and physical punishment is avoided because it triggers certain strong emotions in post-conflict settings, and they don't feel a sense of safety within the learning space anymore. We can adopt sensitive practices like these to make sure students can learn effectively without negative emotions coming in the way.

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I think the news of the APS attack shook the whole country, and it also signified the insensitivity of our population to issues of mental health not just of the victims, but of the family of the martyrs. the insensitive questions posed my news anchors towards the families of the deceased just to increase viewership and PR was testament to our neglect of issues of mental health. Thankyou for writing this, this was a necessary piece!

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It is saddening that the mental health of students is largely ignored by everyone and no significant practical work has ever been done by the government itself to promote counter this issue. In a country where the only priority of the politicians/government is to mock the opposition, the education and other issues related to it, like mental health issues of students, are ignored completely.

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You raised an important issue through the example that we will remember throughout our lives. I really liked your policy recommendations for mental health of students, but do you think it is possible in a country like ours? sadly not :(

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