Next steps for transforming education in the crisis-affected countries with greatest need
The education of nearly 49 million children in Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia and Mali is at extreme risk of collapse, according to our new analysis on how COVID-19 combined with conflict, climate change, displacement, and lack of digital connectivity are derailing children’s learning. While the recent Transforming Education Summit had a good focus on education in crisis – we urgently need warm words and rhetoric turned into concrete action.
What does the Risks to Education Index 2022 tell us?
For the second consecutive year, Save the Children ranked 182 countries by the vulnerability of their school system to hazards that threaten children’s right to learn and by deficiencies in preparedness to confront these hazards. This index enables us to make a holistic view of the risks to education and suggests which national education systems require increased resources from national governments and international actors to mitigate existing and prevent future crises.
While the number of countries at ‘extreme risk’ has reduced since 2021 from eight to four — likely due to increased access to COVID-19 vaccines — the global hunger crisis that is now unfolding because of new and protracted conflicts, increased food prices, and extreme weather, is having an additional impact on these countries’ education systems.
Of the countries assessed, unsurprisingly Afghanistan was found to have the highest level of risk, up from fourth place in 2021, meaning its education system has worsened since the Taliban gained control of the country over a year ago, jeopardizing children’s futures, particularly girls.
Zuhal, 16, used to dream about all the things she wanted to do with her life and how she would become an advocate for children in Afghanistan. But in the last year, her life has changed dramatically. Insecurity, poverty, and the Taliban’s ban on girls attending secondary school classes, means she no longer attends school.
She says ‘despite the war and suicide attacks [in the past], we could see a future for ourselves. If girls don’t get an education, and a voice, they can’t meet their own needs. Now, I keep myself busy with tailoring…because otherwise I think too much about what’s happened. Being kept away from my education and my dreams makes me depressed. My message to people living abroad is that the world should help us to go to school and take children’s rights seriously’.
Lebanon saw one of the greatest negative changes in the index, rising to rank 32 from 68 last year, partly due to the worsening economic crisis unfolding in the country where youth unemployment has increased sharply.
Ukraine is ranked at 85 – this is because the data used is from before the recent escalation of the conflict. It’s likely that with forthcoming 2022 data applied; Ukraine could also be ranked at ‘extreme risk’.
The compounded impact of the hunger crisis on education systems
An indicator for the hunger crisis is not included in the methodology for this index. Yet of the 10 most at-risk countries in the index with available Acute Food Insecurity Data, all show large populations with high levels of food insecurity.
Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Central African Republic all have more than 20% of their populations at IPC Phase 3 or above, meaning they are all in the grips of a hunger crisis. Inadequate early nutrition undermines cognitive development and negatively impacts educational attainment and income in later life. To manage the risk, not the crisis to children’s learning, governments, donors and aid agencies must take action when countries are at IPC Phase 1 and 2 to support the resilience of education systems to shocks.
How to respond to the risks these education systems are facing?
Countries with high vulnerability and exposure to hazards such as climate change or health crises does not always mean the education system is at high risk of collapse. A country can have high-risk exposure, but good preparation can reduce the overall net risk.
Every country needs to have a preparedness plan to secure children’s learning and wellbeing in future crises. Governments with school systems with extreme or high levels of risks must take rapid action to avoid a prolonged learning catastrophe. These actions include increasing catch-up learning, prioritising teaching the basics, and ensuring assessments are in place so children can be placed in the class best suited to their learning level rather than their age.
Donors and the international community also urgently need to play their part. As a strategic partner of Education Cannot Wait (ECW) we join with others in calling on bilateral donors and foundations to provide at least $1.5 billion to ECW ahead of a high-level financing conference next February. See our full list of recommendations here.
If, as some are saying, the journey to transforming education has just begun following the Summit – then world leaders must urgently step up and hear the call from young people. Children in the countries with education systems most at risk can’t wait any longer for adults to put words into real action.
Before joining Save the Children, Emma co-founded Umoja Tanzania, a successful youth education charity in Arusha, Tanzania. She is chair of Umoja UK, a UK registered charity. She has worked for eight years at Save the Children, in Public Affairs and in the Global Education Team. She is responsible for policy and advocacy on education in emergencies and refugee education. She is a member of the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies, the Global Campaign for Education, the Moving Minds Alliance and the civil society constituency for Education Cannot Wait.
The views expressed in this blog are the authors' own.