Education is an empowering tool for children and youth, equipping them with the knowledge and skills required to unlock their potential and contribute to their communities. For the more than 75 million children and youth whose lives have been impacted by humanitarian emergencies, education is not only empowering but also lifesaving, providing stability, hope and a sense of normalcy to help cope with trauma. Despite being a vital lifeline for children and youth, education remains chronically underfunded and under-prioritized making up 5.1% globally of all humanitarian funding. This is especially concerning given that a child’s right to an education does not cease with an emergency begins.
Against this backdrop, the Permanent Mission of Norway and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN in Geneva, together with the Global Education Cluster, convened a four-part meeting series, Elevating Education in Emergencies, running from June 2018 to June 2020. The series sought to highlight the pivotal and lifesaving role of education in humanitarian response through discussions on salient issues affecting the sector and more importantly, what they mean in practice. To do this, the series featured and prioritized the unique voices and experiences of local partners and country-based practitioners.
“Education is firmly placed right in the nexus, providing both immediate protection and education gains, and facilitating longer-term development and societal gains…we need the competence and the tools of both [humanitarian and development actors] in order to ensure uninterrupted education and learning.”
- Mr. Hans Brattskar, Permanent Representative of Norway to the UN in Geneva
1. Education is protective.
Education provides a fundamental combination of safety, socialization, and the cognitive and skills development required to unlock children’s potential and prepare them to be active and resilient members of their community. In humanitarian contexts, education protects children from violence, exploitation, and abuse. Despite being an important investment for the future of children, youth and societies affected by crisis, chronic underfunding is limiting support to communities. While there has been some progress in efforts to protect schools and education from military use and attack, such as the Safe Schools Declaration, gains have been uneven across regions.
2. Innovative modalities like Cash and Voucher Assistance can unlock more support for children’s education.
In many countries affected by emergencies, economic hardships and poverty often force families to send children to work instead of school. The use of Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) can bring much-needed financial relief for families, with positive impact on their children attending school. CVA can help families purchase school supplies, meet school fees and transportation costs. CVA affords more choice and dignity and can empower recipients to choose how best to meet their needs while also stimulating local markets.
3. Strengthening education in emergencies requires fair and effective partnerships with local actors.
Local actors are often the first to respond in a crisis and remain present after international humanitarian assistance withdraws. Leveraging the expertise of local partners through inclusive, equitable and accountable partnerships can support a more targeted and effective response to meet growing education needs. Local partners have a better understanding of the context and access to affected communities. As such, local actors are central to the humanitarian education service delivery model, and key to any effort to expand the sector’s coverage.
4. Strengthening the humanitarian-development nexus is imperative to ensure uninterrupted learning for children and youth affected by crises.
With the unprecedented global impact of COVID-19 on education, including widespread school closure, ensuring uninterrupted learning is more challenging than ever, especially in countries where the pandemic is compounded by existing emergencies. Humanitarian response cannot be divorced from long-term development priorities; rather, securing uninterrupted learning for children and youth, especially in protracted settings, requires tools and support from both humanitarian and development actors. Effective and ‘joined-up’ coordination ensures better knowledge and data sharing and promotes convergence around common goals and outcomes.
“Children have the right to an education and this human right must not be abandoned in emergency situations, despite the enormous challenges brought by crises. What’s at stake is the progress achieved in recent years in fragile, conflict-affected contexts towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 in the area of education.”
-Mr. Félix Baumann, Deputy Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the UN in Geneva
To achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education) and give children a real chance at life, they must be given the opportunity to continue to learn despite their challenging circumstances. While there has been some progress in putting education at the forefront of the humanitarian agenda (given its foundational and lifesaving role) increasing needs require e. renewed and joint efforts to mitigate further disruptions to learning for crisis-affected children and youth.
While the Elevating Education in Emergencies series formally concluded in June 2020, we will continue to use our platforms to advocate for the prioritization of education in humanitarian response: