Education International
Education International

Global leaders demand immediate attention to children’s education in crisis zones

published 9 October 2012 updated 15 October 2012

Global leaders from governments, international organisations and civil society have demanded attention about children's education in crisis countries. The call came on 24 September when EI participated in a side event organised by the Global Partnership for Education prior to the UN General Assembly.

The purpose of this event was use the momentum of the launch of the United Nations’ (UN) Secretary General’s ‘Education First’ initiative to convene a complementary strategic working meeting. The meeting of international parties was aimed at advancing progress in order to ‘Uphold the right to education in humanitarian emergencies’ as outlined in the UN Secretary General’s education agenda.

Call to action: ‘Education Cannot Wait: Protecting Children and Youth’s Right to a Quality Education in Humanitarian Emergencies and Conflict Situations’

Global leaders demanded immediate action for the 28 million children – nearly half of all children not in primary school – who live in countries scarred by war and conflict, as well as millions more struck by humanitarian emergencies such as flooding, food shortages, earthquakes and other disasters.

Following the meeting, the world leaders called for strong commitments to:

  • Double or more the percentage of humanitarian aid going to education
  • Enforce international laws which protect children, teachers and schools from attacks
  • Strengthen national plans and budgets for emergencies
  • Support the UN Secretary General’s Education First initiative which includes measures to help children in conflict and other emergencies

They launched a call to action: ‘Education Cannot Wait: Protecting Children and Youth’s Right to a Quality Education in Humanitarian Emergencies and Conflict Situations’. The designation of schools as conflict-free zones respected by all parties is among the actions to be undertaken.

The full list of participating organisations and countries includes, beside EI, the governments of Australia, Côte d’Ivoire, Denmark, Liberia, Niger, Norway, Qatar, Rwanda and the United Kingdom, as well as Comic Relief, the Global Campaign for Education, the Global Partnership for Education, the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies, Pearson International, Plan International, Save the Children, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNOCHA, and the World Bank.

Effects of conflict

Forty-two per cent of the world’s out-of-school children live in conflict-affected contexts, and enrolment rates in secondary schools are nearly one-third lower in conflict-affected countries compared with other developing countries. In addition, millions of children have had their education disrupted by disasters from natural hazards. As a result, generations of children are denied their rights to achieve their full potential and are trapped in situations of poverty, discrimination and conflict.

Children and youth do not forfeit their human right to education in situations of conflict or when emergencies strike. This right must be upheld and protected at all times.

The organisers noted that the UN General Assembly resolution on ‘the right to education in emergency situations’ emphasises the obligation to secure education for all children regardless of context.

EI Declaration: ‘Schools shall be safe sanctuaries’

There is a need for the teacher community and the community at large to be involved in this initiative, according to EI Executive Board member Teopista Birungi Mayanja, who was a panellist at this meeting.

In 2009, EI adopted the Declaration, ‘Schools shall be safe sanctuaries’, calling on the international community to step up efforts to prevent violations of the right to education and ensure the safety and security of learners, teachers and academics everywhere. The seven articles of the EI Declaration are:

1. Reaffirm the commitment to the principle of the right to education in safety

2. Take practical measures to ensure protection

3. End impunity for attacks

4. Strengthen monitoring of attacks

5. Prioritise action and share expertise on resilience and recovery

6. Make education an agent for peace

7. Support campaigns of solidarity

High-profile support

“Children in conflict and humanitarian emergencies can't wait for education,” said the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown. “We must work together to make sure that the poorest and most vulnerable children are given the same opportunities our own children possess, and I want to see an increase in humanitarian aid going to education, and support for ensuring the right to education irrespective of borders.”

During his visit to Timor-Leste in August, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Education promotes equality and lifts people out of poverty. It teaches children how to become good citizens. Education is not just for a privileged few, it is for everyone. It is a fundamental human right.” .

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, has also voiced her support for the initiative. “Children and youth living in conflict-affected areas are among the most vulnerable in the world,” she noted. “Ensuring that they have access to quality education is the best way to break cycles of violence and give them a sense of security and hope in the future. For this, the humanitarian mindset has to change so that education becomes a priority when it comes to reacting to emergencies and a foundation of wider peace building strategies. And together, we must work to reinforce the protection of education in all situations.”

Education in emergencies is severely under-financed, accounting for less than two per cent of humanitarian aid, said Carol Bellamy, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education’s Board of Directors. “We should at least double this amount, make it more effective, and improve coordination among governments, donors and humanitarian agencies.”