Education in Emergencies

'Education in emergencies' refers to the quality learning opportunities for all ages in situations of crisis, including early childhood development, primary, secondary, non-formal, technical, vocational, higher and adult education. Education in emergencies provides physical, psychosocial, and cognitive protection that can sustain and save lives. Common situations of crisis in which education in emergencies is essential include conflicts, situations of violence, forced displacement, disasters, and public health emergencies. Education in emergencies is a wider concept than 'emergency education response' which is an essential part of it. (INEE, 2018)

The rights of children and young people are not suspended during an emergency. This includes the right to education. Quality education protects cognitive development and supports psychosocial well-being. In times of crisis, it offers children a sense of hope.

The promise of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (UN, 2015), to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030  will not be achieved without a much greater commitment to planning, prioritising, and protecting education particularly in conflict and crisis contexts.


Key Statistics

  • In 2019, there were 79.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world: 26 million refugees, 4.2 million asylum-seekers, 45.7 million internally displaced (UNHCR, 2020)
  • In 2020, education received only 2.4% of total humanitarian aid (INEE, 2020)
  • There were more than 11,000 attacks on schools between 2015 and 2019 - harming over 22,000 students and teachers in 93 countries. (GCPEA, 2020)
  • 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 50% the global out-of-school population. (INEE, 2020)
  • 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% for girls and 27% for boys. (INEE, 2020)
  • Although just 29% of the world’s primary and secondary school-age population lived in crisis-affected countries, these countries were home to 49% of the world’s out-of-school primary and secondary school-age children and young people. (INEE, 2020)
  • In 2021, 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection. This means 1 in 33 people worldwide needs help - a significant increase from the 1 in 45 people a year ago, which was already the highest figure in decades (UNOCHA, 2020)
  • Less than 1/3 of refugees are enrolled at the secondary level, with significant differences between boys and girls. Male refugees enroll in secondary school at 36% compared to only 27% for female refugees. (Save the Children, 2020)


Education: a lifesaving intervention

Children, parents, and communities demand education

 J Arredondo, IRC
A roofless school holds classes for 3rd and 4th grade students in the village of El Rosario, Nariño, Colombia. © J Arredondo, IRC

When children and parents living in emergency and crisis are asked what they need most, time and time again they tell us they want to continue their education. According to 8,749 children caught up in 17 different emergencies – ranging from conflict to protracted crises and disasters – who took part in 16 studies by eight organizations covering 17 different emergencies, 99% of children in crisis situations see education as a priority. In eight studies surveying 4,713 children in nine emergency-affected countries where children were asked to rank their needs in order of priority, 38% identified education as their first priority, and 69% ranked education among their three highest priorities (Save the Children, 2015, Save the Children, 2014).


In emergencies, education saves lives and is a major component of strategies for child protection. Out-of-school children and young people are at greater risk of violence, rape, and recruitment into fighting, prostitution, and other life-threatening, often criminal, activities (NORRAG, 2012). Education in these settings can also provide children with life-saving information including self-protection from sexual abuse, landmine awareness, hand-washing, and other survival skills necessary in the specific context (University of Denver, 2010). Importantly, providing education in emergencies sustains progress already made by school-going children and young people, maintaining investments made by children, parents, and communities, reducing the impact of interruptions caused by crisis.


Education protects not only against situations that cause trauma, injury and death  in the midst of crisis but also against future threats to well-being  and livelihoods. Education provides a return to familiar routines and instills hope for the future, mitigating the psychosocial impact of violence and displacement. Good quality education provided during conflict can also counter the underlying causes of violence, and foster inclusion, tolerance, human rights awareness, and conflict resolution – supporting the long-term processes of rebuilding and peace-building (NORRAG, 2015). Education is key to children and young people reaching their full potential, it lights every stage of the journey to a better life, especially for the poorest and the most vulnerable. Education empowers girls and young women, in particular, by increasing their chances of getting jobs, staying healthy and participating fully in society – and it boosts their children’s chances of leading healthy lives (UNESCO, 2013).