– ‘Stronger collective efforts and collaboration are key to meeting the urgent education needs of children and youth affected by crises’: this is the unifying message from leaders and youth advocates brought together by Education Cannot Wait (ECW) and Devex in a high-level, Global Discussion held online on 12 August, on the occasion of International Youth Day.
Over 2,550 people from across the world tuned in to watch the ‘Stronger Together: Education in Emergencies & Protracted Crises’ event live, which was chaired by UN Special Envoy for Global Education, the Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, hosted by ECW Director Yasmine Sherif, and moderated by Devex Editor-in-Chief, Raj Kumar. The Global Discussion shone a spotlight on the challenges faced by girls and boys caught in humanitarian crises to access education.
The discussion was particularly relevant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic that has further compounded barriers and plunged the world into the worst education crisis of our lifetime. Eminent expert speakers from around the world underscored potential solutions to meet these challenges and the progress made in recent years, as evidenced in the new ECW Annual Results Report. They stressed the importance of building on these achievements and ramping up efforts to avoid losing hard won gains to the pandemic.
UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of the ECW High Level Steering Group, the Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, kicked off the discussion by emphasizing that the world’s most vulnerable crisis-affected children and youth are now doubly hit by COVID-19. While 13 million refugees, 40 million displaced and an overall 75 million girls and boys in conflict and emergency zones already had their education disrupted, with the impact of COVID-19, another 30 million – who were in school before the pandemic – may now never continue their education. ‘It is incumbent upon us to send out a message of hope that, by getting every child who is in a conflict or an emergency zone into school, we can be the first generation in which every child is getting the chance of schooling,’ he said.
UNHCR High Profile Supporter and Syrian Youth Advocate for Refugees Nujeen Mustafa underlined that education is an inherent right and that it is ‘unacceptable and inexcusable’ for millions of children and young people to be denied this right. Recounting her story and the difficulties she faced in accessing learning opportunities as a disabled girl growing up in Syria, she called on policymakers not to see children from conflict zones as ‘a burden or a problem to solve’ but rather as ‘treasures’ who should be valued and provided with the opportunities they deserve.
Norway’s Minister of International Development, Dag Ulstein, stressed that ‘we are in the midst of a crisis that we never thought would come, which makes it even more difficult for the most marginalized ones to access education, especially in areas affected by conflict and crises.’ Minister Ulstein reaffirmed Norway’s commitment to education in emergencies and protracted crises saying ‘no one should be left behind.’ He underlined how Nujeen’s personal story is a testament to why it is so crucial to invest in the most marginalized girls and boys to fulfil their right to education and unlock their full potential.
UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Kelly T. Clements, stated that ‘education is a lifeline for refugee children and youth’ and it is ‘our duty to provide it to them’. She highlighted how COVID-19 is making it even more difficult for refugees to access education, especially for those who lack the necessary connectivity for remote learning solutions or for those who can no longer access the specialized support they need. Clements stressed the urgency of increasing support, in particular for refugee girls, who face heightened risks of child marriages, early pregnancies and sexual violence.
ECW Director, Yasmine Sherif, presented key highlights of the new ECW 2019 Annual Results Report showing how stronger collaboration and multilateral efforts are key to achieving inclusive, equitable quality education outcomes for children and youth in crises settings. She underscored ECW’s flexibility and lean structure as instrumental to increasing the speed of education emergency responses and the accountability to crisis-affected communities. Sherif also stressed encouraging funding trends with close to $800 million mobilized to date by ECW at both the global level and with ECW-supported country-based programmes, as well as the growing share of global humanitarian funding allocated to education that went from 2.6 per cent in 2015 to 5.1 per cent in 2019. Despite this progress, she said ‘much more remains to be done’ and appealed donors to urgently contribute an additional $310 million to ECW. ‘We are about to enter a new phase where education will be put at the forefront. If we all work together, we jointly can take this to the next level’, she stressed.
‘If my education had waited, I would not be the Minister of Education today in Afghanistan,’ said H.E. Rangina Hamidi. The first female Minister of Education since the post-Taliban era of Afghanistan related how her father’s determination for his girls to be educated led him to seek refuge with his family in the United States. Minister Hamidi stressed that 3.7 million children are out of school today in Afghanistan, 60 per cent of whom are girls. She said the COVID-19 pandemic must be seized as an opportunity to be creative and think beyond the traditional provision of education. ‘If girls cannot attend school and access traditional education, then, we need to take education to girls where they are: in their villages, in their homes,’ she said. Minister Hamidi stressed that Afghanistan has become a leader in community-based education: ‘We have successful results that show that when you take education to their communities, girls do get educated’.
UNHCR DAFI Scholar and Youth Advocate for Refugees, Deborah Kalumbi, recounted her story as a refugee girl forced to flee her home in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo for Zambia, and the challenges she faced in accessing education in a different language in a new country. Education helped me embrace and accept my new life,’ she stressed. She also highlighted how important education is to protect refugees, in particular refugee girls who face increased risks of child marriage and early pregnancies if they are out-of-school.
UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta H. Fore, stressed that ‘education is the foundation of all humanitarian and development responses’ and must the addressed as a continuum from the first day of an emergency through to recovery and longer-term development. She underscored five areas that must be prioritized to ensure girls in emergencies and protracted crises can have a better access to education: affordability of education, access to distance learning, community mobilization and mentoring, protection and youth participation. ‘Education is the greatest asset we can give to a young people,’ she said. Fore called on all event participants to join forces to connect every child and young person to learning in the coming years – including through access to distance learning and digital skills – which has the potential to truly ‘change the world.’
Canada’s Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, Kamal Khera, stressed that ‘Education Cannot Wait has been a leader in demonstrating how education programming can be quickly and efficiently rolled out within the humanitarian, development and peace nexus’. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, she stressed the importance of seizing the opportunity of the reopening of schools to create better and more resilient education systems that provide access to the most marginalized and vulnerable children and youth, including the inclusion of refugees in national education systems.
Theirworld President, Justin Van Fleet, called on world leaders and policymakers to deliver on their commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals. ‘We have the technology and the resources we need, we have all the partners and we know what needs to be done. There is no excuse to not achieve these education goals,’ he stressed. ‘We know that education is what unlocks the solution to the pandemic: economic growth, jobs for young people, better health, nutrition, and we know that investing in early years is what gives a child the best start in life,’ he said. Van Fleet underscored the importance for young people to hold leaders to account and to keep pushing this agenda. ‘There is no excuse to give up right now,’ he said.
Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary-General, Jan Egeland, wrapped up the discussion stressing the importance of recognizing achievements in the field of education in emergencies and protracted crises in recent years. ‘There has been progress, we need to build on that.’ However, Egeland stated that youth (15-24 years old) have been excluded from this progress and are largely ‘out of education, out of livelihoods and out of hope’ and must urgently be prioritized. He also underscored the massive setback of the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘The crisis is profound, therefore the investment in alternative education, remote education, new technology has to be much bigger,’ he said. Egeland concluded his remarks with a message from children: ‘we need education as much as we need food, it is a question of survival.’
Source: Education Cannot Wait (ECW)