Delivering education to children affected by the conflict in Syria

More funding, better policies and protection must be key outcomes of forthcoming London conference

In a little over two weeks, representatives from governments and UN agencies will meet in London to agree how to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of people affected by the war in Syria, including 13.5 million vulnerable and displaced people inside the country and 4.2 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.

A vital measure of success or failure will be whether the meeting helps to close the humanitarian funding gap: current funding to the 2015 UN appeals has not even reached last year’s levels and stands at $3.3 billion against an appeal of $8.4 billion. It’s clear that the international community must do more.

The London conference is set to address three pillars: protection, livelihoods and education.

The educational dimensions of the conflict are massive, with 2.1 million children in Syria out of school because of the conflict and 1.7 million child refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt whose education has been disrupted.

There is growing recognition that everything must be done to ensure that the children of Syria who have already lost their homes do not face the double jeopardy of losing their education.

Apart from the denial of the basic right of individual children to their education, the continued neglect of educational provision will have serious, far-reaching consequences for societies and economies across the region, and the window of opportunity for getting back on track is closing fast.

All children in education and learning during the current school year

To that end the London conference must ensure all children and young people affected by the conflict are in education and learning during the 2016/17 academic year and for the subsequent years.

With direct knowledge and experience of educational support and provision across the region, 12 international and local non-government organizations have consequently issued a call on conference participants to develop a comprehensive plan for education that delivers on that commitment by:

1.     Closing the education funding gap

2.     Enacting policies that guarantee access to quality education inside Syria and in host countries

3.     Protecting students, teachers and educational facilities from attack.

Closing the funding gap

The growing recognition among world leaders that education offers both immediate dignity and enhances the long term prospects of individuals and communities increases the prospect of raising sufficient funding to ensure every child caught up in the conflict has the opportunity to learn. In practice this will mean that donors must commit at least $1.4 billion annually to education in Syria and the region.

In host countries this funding needs to be invested in national education systems so that they are better able to accommodate the children from Syria. Where the formal system can’t accommodate refugee children, the funding should support non-formal programs, without which children will be denied the opportunity to learn.

Guaranteeing children’s access to education

While vital, additional funding on its own will not deliver immediate access to quality education for refugee children. Money must form part of a compact that delivers changes at the national level designed to ensure that new resources can in fact be spent to scale up educational services.

Although host countries have undoubtedly done their best in the face of exceptional need, they haven’t always been in a position to develop and implement new policies and practices that deliver educational services to refugee populations in a timely manner.

The absence of coherent funding and technical support to host countries has undoubtedly underscored gaps in the international education aid architecture, which it is hoped will be addressed by the emerging consensus that a new common platform to support education in emergencies and protracted crisis is required.

A key feature of such a platform must be the provision of the sort of advice and support that the Global Partnership for Education offers, which supports the world's poorest developing countries, primarily in Africa and Asia. Along with funding, the Global Partnership supports national education sector plan development and implementation in countries which are eligible for its support.

Scaling up education provision with funding, backed by the right policies, should be supported by wider efforts to ensure that refugees also feel sufficiently protected, have access to legal services during their displacement, have freedom of movement, and are in a position to meet the basic needs of their families, all of which are critical to ensuring meaningful access to formal or non-formal education in practice.

Protection of education from attack

In a truly tragic twist, schools have become some of the most dangerous places in Syria. Not only they are deliberately targeted, but the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, including in and around schools, results in children not going to school.

Since the conflict began, more than 4,200 schools have been damaged, destroyed, militarized or are currently used as shelters by internally displaced people.

National governments and other stakeholders with influence over armed forces and armed groups inside Syria must call for the immediate cessation of attacks against educational facilities, personnel and students, as well as a stop to the military use of such infrastructure.

Participants in the London conference should urge all parties to the conflict to:

Develop and deliver a plan that embodies these recommendations

On February 4 donors will meet with the countries that are currently hosting Syria’s refugees. This poses an unprecedented opportunity for those parties to fix the humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the war in Syria and to specifically resolve its educational dimensions.

To do so participants should make a clear commitment to the principles that underpin the three areas that civil society has identified as key to progress, and launch a process of plan development in which our detailed recommendations are agreed and ultimately delivered.