In the light of events associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 it is even more essential that we do not forget the additional barriers faced by children and youth affected by crises. If we are to meet SDG4 and the wider 2030 agenda, more must be done to increase funding, remove policy barriers and improve education programmes for crisis-affected children. Governments, donors and their partners need to take targeted collective action to respect, protect and fulfil the right to quality education for children and youth affected by conflict and crisis.
To see meaningful change in the lives and learning of crisis-affected children and youth, we must see a catalytic shift in approach and ambition.
The global COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and consequent closures of early childhood care, schools and universities has affected nearly 65 percent of total enrolled learners as of early June, 2020. This has had an unprecedented effect on children’s learning and well-being. See a broader set of advocacy messages and advocacy brief as part of INEE’s resource collection on COVID-19.
New data shows that even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 127 million primary and secondary school-age children and young people living in crisis-affected countries were out of school in 2019, or almost one-half the global out-of-school population (Source).
- Girls are more likely than boys to be out of school in crisis contexts. In 2019, the out-of-school rate for children and young people of primary and secondary school age living in countries affected by crisis was 31 percent for girls and 27 percent for boys (Source)
- More children and youth than ever before are now displaced and for longer periods of time. Children who are forcibly displaced, whether within their own countries or across international borders, are also among those most likely to face education challenges. In 2020, only 52 percent of refugee children and young people are in school, with sharp differences in the level of access to education. Around 77 percent of refugee children have access to primary education, but only 31 percent reach secondary school. Refugee girls in particular are being left behind, and they are now at greater risk than ever of never returning to school, due to the COVID-19 school closures. Estimates are that as many as 50 percent of refugee girls who were attending secondary school may never return once schools reopen (Source).
- Although education is formally recognised as part of a humanitarian response, this recognition has not yet translated into sufficient financing. This means that millions of children in crisis contexts continue to be denied their right to quality education (Source).
- Financing for EiE is skewed toward a few high-profile emergencies leaving many children and young people living in ‘forgotten crises’, with little hope of quality education. Despite increased visibility of education as a core response in an emergency, especially since the establishment of Education Cannot Wait in 2016, the share of humanitarian aid remains at a mere 2.6 percent in 2019 (Source).
- Despite efforts to build a strong foundation that can demonstrate the positive impact of education in emergencies, practitioners and policy makers continue to lack substantial evidence on what works, how, for whom and at what cost. The evidence that does exist has largely failed to translate into coherent, coordinated policy and practice by governments and their partners in terms of how to deliver quality education in emergencies at scale.
Why Education in Emergencies?
Education is a human right and a crucial investment. It holds the key to a better life for children and youth worldwide: a life with less poverty, better health and self-reliance. It holds the key to a better society; education, particularly girls’ education, is one of the most powerful tools for creating economic growth, decreasing the likelihood of conflict, fostering resilience and impacting future generations with wide-reaching economic and social benefits.
Yet wars and disasters deny generations the right to education. 1 in 3 of all out-of-school children aged between 5 and 17 years old- or an estimated 104 million young people- live in countries affected by emergencies. More than half of out-of-school primary age students live in emergency countries and many of those who are in school are not safe and not learning (UNICEF). Girls and young people with disabilities are particularly disadvantaged, with girls being 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys in countries affected by conflict [ODI, 2016]. Today’s crises are long and protracted, resulting in extensive periods of displacement and disruption; subsequently, refugees are five times less likely to attend school than other children and youth. Moreover, in the majority of conflicts around the world, schools, universities, students, and teachers are targeted for attack as a tactic of war, and education institutions are used for military purposes putting them at risk of attack by opposing forces.
In emergencies, quality education enables children and youth to survive and thrive at times of great uncertainty and vulnerability. Quality education bolsters children and youth’s resilience amidst adversity, supports their socio-emotional and cognitive development, provides a safe space that can act as a platform for other life-saving services, and protects them from the violence, abuse, and exploitation that rise precipitously during emergencies. In the long term, education can break the cycle of violence and conflict and promote peace and reconciliation, helping children and youth contribute to building better futures, opening opportunities, and teaching tolerance and conflict resolution.
Education is one of the first services demanded by families and children and young people during crises—and yet it is all too often the first service suspended and one of the last services resumed. According to 16 studies covering 17 different emergencies, 99% of children and youth in crisis situations identified education as a priority [Save the Children, 2015]. However, despite a 126% increase in humanitarian requirements for education needs since 2005, funding has increased by just 4%. There is a clear need to bring actors and resources together to deliver a more ambitious, joined-up response in line with national policies and plans in emergency contexts and beyond.
Investing in education is proven to improve the lives of children, even in the poorest countries in the world. According to Save the Children's Global Childhood Report 2019, data reveals that improvements in children's education and increases in enrollment coincided with decreases in child marriages, child labor, adolescent births and child homicides. (Source)