Last month at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), humanitarian actors such as UN agencies, governments, nongovernmental organizations, and donors once again agreed that education is a humanitarian priority. This prioritization of education in emergencies was demonstrated through the announcement of Education Cannot Wait, a new global fund that aims to provide children and youth affected by crisis with free access to high-quality education. The fund will bring together private and public partners to raise $3.85 billion in the next five years, enabling it to reach 13.6 million children living in crisis situations such as conflict, natural disaster, and disease outbreaks. The Education Cannot Wait Fund ultimately aspires to reach 75 million children living in crisis by 2030.
However, this is not the first time that education has been set as a priority. The 1989 Convention of the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, has been ratified by 196 nations and recognizes education as a fundamental human right that must be guaranteed by governments to all children. The World Conference on Education for All held in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990, launched Education for All (EFA), a movement that established education as a global priority and aimed to ensure that all children around the world had access to education by the year 2000. Once again, at the World Education Forum in 2000, 164 governments pledged to work toward education for all by the year 2015, with education in emergencies identified as one of nine flagship initiatives.
Global support for education in emergencies was further solidified by the establishment of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), an international network that promotes education in crisis contexts and the subsequent Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response, Recovery, which has been published by the INEE in 19 languages. The Minimum Standards lay out standards of what education in emergencies should look like and serve as a tool to enhance the effectiveness and quality of education provisions in areas of crisis.
Despite the multiple agreements, movements and conventions that support and prioritize education in emergencies, it remains significantly underfunded in humanitarian work. On average, less than 2 percent of humanitarian funding disseminated around the world goes toward education. Moreover, education efforts in areas of emergency and crisis only receive approximately 38 percent of the funding that is requested (NRC & Save the Children, 2015). For example, the Regional Refugee and Resilience Response Plan (3RP), a coordinated regional response to the Syrian refugee crisis, reported in its March 2016 update that of the $638 million required to fund education across five refugee hosting countries (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey), only 26 percent ($164 million) has been received. The earthquake in Nepal that occurred in April 2015 destroyed or damaged approximately 53,000 classrooms, impacting over 1 million children (ODI, 2015). Yet, only 1.3 percent of the $24.1 million required for education was funded (ODI, 2015).
So in May of 2016, key actors of humanitarian aid once again prioritized education in emergencies. As the international community rallies around the Education Cannot Wait fund in a renewed commitment to prioritize education, it is essential to ask some challenging questions: What makes this commitment different? Will the international community come through on their pledge to support education in humanitarian contexts? Will education providers and funders collaborate on education provisions to ensure they are of the highest quality? Who will hold providers and donors accountable to upholding this commitment?
As the world faces some of the largest humanitarian crises it as ever seen, including record high numbers of refugees around the world, it is essential that the international community gets this right so that children in all circumstances have access to safe and high-quality education.
Elisheva Cohen is a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota in Comparative and International Development Education. She specializes in refugee education with a regional focus on the Middle East and North Africa.
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