World Humanitarian Summit - A milestone for education in emergencies

Published by
Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE)
Written by
Peter Transburg
Humanitarian Sectors
Humanitarian-Development Coherence

WHSTo participants of the 2000 World Education Forum in Dakar, the May 2016 World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul would have seemed a distant, perhaps impossible, milestone. Not because the humanitarian sector hasn’t had its share of lofty language and symbolic summits, and not because educationalists in the year 2000 didn’t recognize the importance of education in emergencies, but precisely because now, in 2016, everyone else finally recognizes it too.

In 2000, when a couple dozen practitioners held the first ever “Strategy Session on Education in Emergencies”, education was not part of the humanitarian dialogue. “Education can wait…” was the refrain of most policymakers, donors, and even emergency practitioners who weren’t paying attention. Thankfully, this is no longer the prevailing thinking. The change has been incremental, but, as evidenced by the enormous airtime it received at WHS, education is now firmly accepted as a humanitarian priority.

"We've been advocating for this for a very long time. So many people and organizations have come together to achieve this milestone for education in emergencies." -- INEE Director Dean Brooks

This is reason to celebrate! Champions of education in emergencies can feel satisfaction that our decades of advocacy for learners affected by crises have paid off: our seat at the humanitarian table is now assured; our sector -- the most fundamental and transformative of all sectors -- was venerated at WHS; and we came away from it with a brand new global fund for education in emergencies!

These are huge successes, and we should take a moment to appreciate the progress of our collective efforts.

… [a moment] ...  

Good. That was a nice moment. Now we need to move on to the next big challenges.

Education a priority at WHS

An enormous amount of advocacy has been done over the past decade and a half to ensure that education is part of all humanitarian action; in fact, this has been one of the primary functions of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), which was launched in 2000. WHS -- a tremendous gathering of humanitarian practitioners and policymakers set on charting the future of humanitarian action -- provided an historic opportunity to raise awareness about the important role that education plays in rebuilding lives during and after crises, and its unique role in bridging the gap between humanitarian and development action and actors.

“Without children in safe schools, there can be no sustainable development, and there can be no peace.” -- UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova

Thanks to the many voices of crisis-affected people and those serving them, education in emergencies was highlighted again and again throughout the two-year WHS consultation process. The October 2015 consultation process synthesis paper Restoring Humanity: Global Voices Calling for Action makes clear statements about the importance of education, both as a humanitarian intervention and as a necessity for all stages of societal development:

  • "...[H]umanitarian action must serve the specific needs of children in all stages of preparedness and response, and prioritize education and protection for children affected by disasters or conflicts." (p. 037)
  • "...[C]hild protection and education in emergencies must be prioritized as lifesaving interventions alongside health, food, water and shelter." (p. 044)
  • "There is also the potential to set minimum targets for specific issues, such as ensuring that no displaced child should lose a month of education." (p. 061)

And at the Summit itself, education was at the forefront of proceedings. From the opening ceremony to special sessions and the exhibition space, the conversation often turned to the 75 million school-aged children directly affected by crises who cannot afford to lose out on their right to education.

“Action now has to happen urgently because of the sheer scale of numbers of children impacted. These young people are missing out on schooling and this is becoming a full-blown global crisis that will haunt the world for generations.” -- United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown

The more than 9,000 WHS participants had many education-related events to choose from in the programme, including dozens of side events and a high-level Special Session that saw the launch of the Education Cannot Wait: a fund for education in emergencies.  

INEE, alongside Jesuit Refugee ServiceUNRWA, the Global Campaign for EducationTheirworld, and War Child, hosted a WHS side event entitled Delivering Quality Education in Emergencies: What Needs to Be Done? This event featured practitioners, philanthropists, and champions advocating on behalf of increasing access to a quality education for refugees and the forcibly displaced.

#EducationCannotWait was the third most tweeted hashtag at WHS, coming after the official hashtags of the Summit.

The unprecedented spotlight on education in emergencies at WHS did not happen out of the blue. High-profile champions and non-traditional donors, including many private sector entities, who have joined the effort during the past few years are building on decades of advocacy for the most marginalized learners around the world. The result is that today’s chorus of voices demanding that interruptions to education be minimized and ended is the loudest and most effective we’ve ever heard.

We need to capitalize on this attention and momentum.

Education Cannot Wait

ECWThe attention paid to education at WHS was no more evident than during the Special Session that saw the launch of Education Cannot Wait, a new global fund that aims to provide children and youth affected by crisis with free access to high-quality education. The fund brings together private and public partners to raise $3.85 billion in the next five years, enabling partners to reach 13.6 million children living in crisis situations such as conflict, natural disaster, and disease outbreaks. The Education Cannot Wait fund ultimately aspires to reach 75 million children living in crisis by 2030.

“Today 75 million children are denied their right to education because of humanitarian emergencies and crises. Education is crucial if we want to give these children a future. The launch of the ‘Education Cannot Wait’ fund couldn’t be more timely.” -- Minister for Foreign Trade and Development of the Netherlands Lilianne Ploumen

At a time when less than 2 percent of humanitarian funding disseminated around the world goes toward education, and when education in emergencies efforts receive only about 38 percent of the funding that is requested, the Education Cannot Wait fund is most welcome!

“The new fund will help to make the crucial link between humanitarian aid and long-term development ensuring that children’s education is not forgotten.” -- Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

As the international community rallies around the Education Cannot Wait fund in a renewed commitment to prioritize education in emergencies, it is essential to ask some challenging questions and gear ourselves up for the next phase of our collective work:

  • How does this fund complement the primary role that governments play in budgeting for and ensuring the right to education of their citizens?
  • Will the international community come through on its pledge to support education in humanitarian contexts? Who will hold it accountable?
  • Who will get the money, and how?
  • How will quality education be determined, measured, delivered?
  • What role will affected populations have in funding and programme decisions?
  • How will providers be equipped to effectively utilize the INEE Minimum Standards?

As a member of the Education Cannot Wait fund’s High Level Steering Committee, INEE will be leading the charge to ask and answer these critical questions. It is up to all of us to ensure that the fund meets its aim of transforming the global education sector.  More than ever, INEE will play its part by serving as a global advocate, strengthening the evidence base, sharing knowledge, and fostering an inclusive membership. We hope you will join us in these efforts.

Beyond the WHS milestone

As the world faces some of the largest humanitarian crises it has ever seen, including record high numbers of displaced populations, resulting in a staggering 263 million children and youth out of school globally, the international community, and specifically the EiE community has an enormous amount of work to do.

The WHS milestone signifies great progress, and the EiE community is currently in a very good position:

  • We’ve got the INEE Minimum Standards.
  • We have decades of experience.
  • We have goodwill, support, and commitments - the case is made, everyone is on board.
  • We have a global fund.


We have no excuses now but to deliver.