The education of children in conflict-plagued countries is a critical aspect that should not be overlooked, leaders from governments and international organisations have said.
Speaking at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, at a conference dubbed, “Education Cannot Wait,” the leaders said 28.5 million children are being denied access to education in conflict-plagued countries.
“We must make an intentional and deliberate turn from past policy responses to humanitarian crises where education has typically been underfunded,” said Gordon Brown, the UN special envoy for global education.
The situation is said to be worst in Syria, with nearly one million refugee children in need of prompt action.
“We have the opportunity to take immediate action and demonstrate that we cannot only prioritise but deliver on the promise of education for all–education without borders–providing hope and opportunity even in the most dire circumstances,” Brown added.
More than half of the world’s 57 million primary-school-age children who are out of school live in countries affected by war and conflict.
According to Save the Children, conflicts, fighting and displacement in countries like Syria, the Central African Republic, Mali, and (eastern) DR Congo have largely contributed to this increase.
Anthony Lake, the executive director of the UN Children’s Fund, urged immediate action to help children denied education opportunities.
“Education cannot wait for battles to end or disasters to be averted or funding to be available. Education cannot wait because children cannot wait,” Lake said.
But all is not doom and gloom in terms of emergency education; in Rwanda, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), in conjunction with the government, in June, inaugurated 62 classrooms and 130 pit-latrine units in Kigeme and Gasaka sectors, Southern Province, to benefit up to 5,170 Congolese refugee children.
The same case applies to other Congolese refugee camps like Kiziba in Western Province, which has a primary and secondary school, and Gihembe refugee camp in Northern Province.
Over 3,600 children are enrolled in primary schools alone at Kiziba camp.
However, Alice Albright, the chief executive officer of the Global Partnership for Education, said education in emergency situations is severely underfunded, accounting for only 1.4 per cent of humanitarian aid.
She suggested doubling the amount and improving coordination among governments, donors and humanitarian agencies.
Quality education, she said, requires investment and planning to give children living in some of the toughest parts of the world hope and a chance to shape their futures.
The leaders at the Education Cannot Wait meeting also called for more planning for emergency prevention, prioritising education in emergencies by increasing humanitarian aid, and protecting children, teachers and education infrastructure from attacks.
“In emergency situations, parents and caregivers ask for education for their children; it’s one of the first things they talk about. They know education’s value,” said Lori Heninger, the director of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies.
“If we are not providing education in emergencies, we are not being accountable to those people we are serving, those who have already lost so much.”
Tove Romsaas Wang, the chief executive officer of Save the Children Norway said education cannot and must not wait. “We all have a duty to the children of the world to deliver good quality education regardless of the hostile conditions under which they live.”
The leaders also agreed that education must play a central role in any post-2015 development plan.
“Education must be built into peace building–not bolted on–and it must be tied with longer-term development,” said Irina Bokova, the director-general of Unesco. “This is essential in the push to 2015 and in the global agenda that follows.”