125 million people are living in crisis around the world, and we are in the throes of the greatest humanitarian emergency since World War II. People are fleeing violence and famine in record numbers, seeking a better future for themselves, and most importantly, their children.
For these reasons the UN Secretary General convened the first ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to gather leaders, UN delegates, civil society, and advocates to discuss what must change in the humanitarian system to better serve people facing emergencies and crises.
From the opening ceremony to special sessions and the exhibition space, the conversation often turned to the 75 million school-aged children directly affected by crises who cannot afford to lose out on their right to education and the potential to chart their own destinies.
Below are the three messages the Global Partnership for Education delegation (lead by its board chair Julia Gillard) reinforced throughout the two-day gathering.
1. Education cannot wait
The new Education Cannot Wait fund was launched on May 23. It is expected to better coordinate support for, and drive investment in, education for children and youth affected by humanitarian emergencies and protracted crises. Development organizations, donors, and private sector representatives pledged financial, technical, and political support to Education Cannot Wait.
On behalf of GPE, Julia Gillard remarked:
“Today, we have come together to say we can and will do better. Thanks to the work of technical experts, Education Cannot Wait has been well designed and will combine new resources with new ways of working. Responding to educational crisis will be better coordinated and our capacity to act will be improved. GPE has and will continue to support Education Cannot Wait. We are wholeheartedly committed to ensuring its success.”
UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake summarized the urgent need for the fund:
“Education cannot wait, because it offers safety. Education cannot wait because it ensures the futures of individuals and entire societies. Education cannot wait because it saves lives.”
Education Cannot Wait was one of the most prominent outcomes of the summit. It was referenced as a crucial first step to ensuring that education is prioritized during and in the aftermath of conflict and crises Leaders stressed that the world cannot afford to leave any child stranded without education if we are to achieve our sustainable development goals and build peaceful and stable societies.
2. Education is under attack and must be protected
“Education is a strong shield helping prevent children from radicalization, against recruitment to arranged marriages and trafficking. Education can save lives.”
That’s what EU Commissioner Christos Stylianides remarked at a side event Education in Emergencies: Towards a Strengthened Response in African Nations jointly organized by GPE, the EU Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, UNHCR and UNICEF.
According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, though, there have been attacks on schools, students, or teachers in more than 70 countries between 2009 and 2013.
Students in many countries undergoing crises do not always feel safe on their way to school or at school and this is a major barrier to their schooling, as well as a violation of their human right to education. Girls, along with the parents and teachers who champion their education, are particularly at risk.
A lot can be done to make schools and education safer. Improved conflict-sensitive planning, for example, is an important preventive measures that can be taken by any country. Communities can be supported in protecting education when necessary. School infrastructure can be better secured.
“It all starts with sensitizing governments and making sure that ministries are prepared when crisis erupts. It’s all about strengthening systems during peaceful times – so they can withstand troubled times,”
said Julia Gillard.
3. Education can bridge the divide between development and humanitarian assistance
One of the main objectives of the summit was to discuss with both humanitarian and development actors how best to ensure a continuum of support from the immediate emergency phase through to long-term development.
“Education Cannot Wait will help to make the crucial link between humanitarian aid and long-term development ensuring that children’s education is not forgotten,”
said Julia Gillard.
Affected children and their parents cite education as their top priority, but it is often the first intervention to be sacrificed in the immediate response to an emergency. The less than 2% of humanitarian aid spent on education cannot possibly meet the needs of 75 million children and the already under-financed education development actors cannot fill that gap alone.
In the words of UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova,
“Without children in safe schools, there can be no sustainable development, and there can be no peace.”
GPE has experience in providing funds rapidly, in restructuring development grants so they can finance humanitarian work. For example in Sierra Leone, GPE funding provided TV and radio educational content when schools were closed because of Ebola. In Somalia, the partnership worked to shift away from fragmented, emergency activities to having solid education plans in place for Somaliland, Puntland, and the federal government. While, in Yemen money was used to rebuild schools and provide psychosocial support for traumatized children.