Displaced children in the Democratic Republic of Congo listen to their teacher

Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council

Interrupted and unfulfilled: education in emergencies

20 May 2016

In every emergency, whether caused by conflict or natural disaster, children tell us that what they want most – alongside medicine, food and shelter – is the opportunity to go to school.

However, for the vast majority of children caught up in emergencies their education is at best interrupted, at worst never realised.

In 2015 the education of 75 million children was disrupted by humanitarian crisis. Despite the huge need, education is consistently among the most underfunded and under-prioritised sectors in humanitarian responses. On average, it receives less than 2% of humanitarian aid funding. As a result at least 37 million children of school age living in conflict-affected countries are going without an education.

In crises, education matters more, not less

In a crisis, the need for education is not negated, it is amplified. Making sure that children can continue their education during crises can help mitigate the effects of the emergency, provide a platform to secure other benefits for children and their communities, and help expedite the return to normalcy.

Syrian refugees at school in Tripoli

Syrian refugees at school in Tripoli, Lebanon. Photo: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

A spotlight on the plight of children

UN Education Envoy Gordon Brown's call for a new global emergency education fund at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2015 sparked a conversation among donors, governements, UN agencies and NGOs that led to Education Cannot Wait: an education crisis fund designed to transform the global education sector, including both humanitarian and development responses.

In a crisis, the need for education is not negated, it is amplified

Reaching the children whose education suffers as a result of emergencies and protracted crises will require a catalytic shift in approach and ambition.

To address the obstacles that play a significant role in preventing or limiting education responses in humanitarian crises this new fund, launching at the World Humanitarian Summit, will need to:

  1. Inspire political commitment
  2. Expand and coordinate planning and response
  3. Generate and disburse new funding
  4. Build national and global capacity
  5. Strengthen accountability and evidence

The aim is for the fund to scale up to reach 80 million children and young people affected by crises by 2030. This would be a significant contribution to the fulfilment of Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education.

Leading the way

The UK has a vital role to play in achieving the aims of Education Cannot Wait. It is already a global leader when it comes to funding for education and, increasingly, it is playing a leadership role in education in humanitarian contexts. The UK has consistently acknowledged the importance of education for Syrian refugees, for example.

In its 2015 discussion paper, Delivering quality education in protracted crises, the Department for International Development stated that, based on a review of evidence and experience, the international community needed a new approach to supporting the education of girls and boys whose lives are affected by conflict and displacement.

Amina Kalif Aden, Ethiopia

Amina Kalif Aden, Ethiopia. Photo: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

The education crisis platform, proposed as a mechanism to deliver the aims of Education Cannot Wait, is central to that new approach and provides the UK with an opportunity to realise its ambition to catalyse change for children affected by crisis.

The fierce urgency of now

In The fierce urgency of now: delivering children's right to education during crises, the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) UK set out what the government should do to help secure the right to education for the millions of children who, because of humanitarian crisis, are currently denied it.

Chief among GCE UK's recommendations is that the UK should make a commitment at the World Humanitarian Summit to be a founding funder of the education crisis platform and contribute not less than US$50 million to the Platform in the first year.

Support for the UK to prioritise education during emergencies in general and to support Education Cannot Wait in particular grows. In its report ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit the International Development Committee calls on the UK to fund Education Cannot Wait.

The proposal for Education Cannot Wait shows how we can achieve the shift in ambition and approach needed to deliver education to every child caught up in humanitarian crises. It demonstrates what a more collaborative, agile and rapid response to the need for basic services in emergencies looks like.

If the World Humanitarian Summit lays the foundation for achieving that, it will be an excellent legacy.

About the author

Joseph Nhan-O'Reilly
Save the Children

Joseph Nhan-O'Reilly is head of education policy and advocacy at Save the Children. Joseph leads Save the Children's policy development and influencing aimed at ensuring every child has the opportunity to access a quality education.