New momentum for education in emergencies

Education is critical for all children, but it’s especially urgent for the tens of millions of children affected by emergencies, be they man-made or natural disasters.

Yet, for millions of children affected by disaster and crisis, the right to education remains an unfulfilled promise.

Education can’t wait

Historically, education was seen as part of longer-term development work rather than a necessary intervention in emergency response; humanitarian relief typically involved the provision of food, shelter, water and sanitation and healthcare.

However, with the average conflict lasting ten years and families remaining in refugee or internally displaced person (IDP) camps for an average of 17 years, it’s clear that education cannot wait for more stable times and that the failure to prioritise education in humanitarian response renders entire generations uneducated, disadvantaged, and unprepared to contribute to their society’s recovery.

A growing body of evidence on education’s life-saving and life-sustaining role has resulted in a change in those beliefs, which has seen education increasingly being included in the planning and provision of humanitarian relief.

Education has its own ‘cluster’ just like other areas that are important in an emergency, like water and healthcare. The cluster brings together organisations working in that area to co-ordinate their response to the emergency.

Save the Children co-convenes the global education in emergencies cluster with UNICEF.

Funding still inadequate

Despite some of the changes, education receives the smallest share of humanitarian funding.

In most crisis situations around the world this leaves the vast majority of children caught up in emergencies without an education.

Save the Children has been working hard to increase the funding available to education in emergency situations and we recently helped secure two major breakthroughs.

Global Partnership for Education agrees new funding stream

Last month at the Global Partnership for Education’s (GPE) board meeting at UNESCO in Paris, the GPE decided to make some of its funds available for educating children affected by emergency situations.

For the first time, the world’s only global fund for education will be able to rapidly support interventions for children struggling to continue their education during and immediately after emergencies.

An education for the world’s most disadvantaged children

This is very good news for the Global Partnership for Education,  which was founded ten years ago to support education in high-performing countries and in recent years has been criticised for not supporting education in humanitarian contexts and fragile states, where almost half the world’s out-of-school children live.

But I’m delighted to say that the GPE has been evolving and with this recent decision it has clearly embraced its new vision of helping educate all children, including those who through no fault of their own are caught up in emergencies.

Proceeds from the EU’s Nobel Peace Prize money will benefit education in emergencies too

In a separate development Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission announced that the European Union’s Nobel Peace Prize money will fund four projects under the EU Children of Peace initiative including Save the Children’s work to help educate Somali refugee children in Ethiopia.

Following the announcement, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva said, “In conflict, humanitarian aid is often the only way for children to be able to continue their education, which not only improves their future prospects, but can also protect them for abuse and exploitation.”

And to top it all off, the EU’s initiative will not be a one-off action, instead new funding will be made available next year for more projects in support of children in conflict.

Encouraging other donors to follow both the EU and GPE’s lead

Both of these moves represent a sea change in donor funding for education in emergencies.  Save the Children will be doing everything we can to ensure that both decisions are the dominoes whose fall will lead to other donors recognising the importance of funding education during emergency situations, alongside other life-saving and life-sustaining activities.

(Joseph O’Reilly is a member of the Global Partnership for Education Board of Directors where, along with David Archer from ActionAid, he represents international non-government and northern civil society organisations working on education globally.)