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Education in emergencies

A video of the session held on June 16 is available on Youtube.

Key points

  • Some 37 million primary and lower secondary age children are currently out of school in crisis-affected countries.
  • Of all the humanitarian aid provided during emergencies or protracted crises, only 2 % is for funding education, but the European Commission has agreed to double that proportion.
  • Once immediate humanitarian needs, such as food, have been met, the most urgent need expressed by displaced people is education for their children.
  • The Education Cannot Wait platform is a new fund designed to transform global humanitarian and development responses.

Synopsis

In 2015, crises affected the education of more than 65 million children and young people aged between three and 15. Of these, 14 million were either refugees or internally displaced. Some 37 million primary and lower secondary age children are currently out of school in crisis-affected countries. Girls are two-and-a-half times more likely than boys to be out of education during a conflict.

Crises are becoming increasingly complex and protracted. Almost 60 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide. Half of these are children and young people. Today, protracted displacement lasts on average 25 years for refugees and more than 10 years for 90 % of internally displaced people. 

How can the international community respond to the educational needs of children during emergencies or protracted crises? 

One major factor is money. Of all the humanitarian aid provided in these situations, only 2 % is for funding education. However, the European Commission has agreed to double that proportion over the next year. 

There were pleas for a more flexible approach to aid spending. At a time of crisis, humanitarian and educational needs often overlap. Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake disaster, for instance, initial action had to be local, as the airport was closed. Teachers and students were among the first responders, and schools were converted into emergency centres. At the same time, education can help to combat trauma among children who have experienced the horrors of war or natural disasters. Just sitting next to other children in a school can give them a reassuring sense of normality.

Once their immediate humanitarian needs have been met, such as food, the most urgent need expressed by displaced people is education for their children. This is because education represents hope for the future. It is something to invest in, even when the prospects of resolving a conflict or a crisis look bleak. Good-quality education also rewards the courage and persistence of children facing crisis – notably of girls who have resisted often violent attempts to deprive them of schooling.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) provides education through a network of 700 schools in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, with 22,000 Palestinian staff. Among the sites that it covers in Syria is the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus. Originally, 160,000 Palestinians lived there and were self-sufficient. 

Today, it is a destroyed landscape, with ISIS present in the camp and the Syrian army around it. A few thousand people still live there, amidst dire shortages of water, electricity and food. And yet 120 boys and girls emerged from the camp, brought out by UNWRA, to sit their examinations. The results showed that they were among the highest performers across Syria in those exams. From despair, they had drawn the strength to continue their studies. 

One organisation that is working to improve education in emergencies is the Global Partnership for Education. It is strongly involved in the Education Cannot Wait platform, a new education crisis fund designed to transform global humanitarian and development responses.

Insight

Educators who have continued teaching during emergencies and conflicts feel the need for a special curriculum. The usual subjects should be maintained, but there should also be elements of trauma counselling and practical lessons on survival.

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Bruno Duarte
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20 June 2016

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