Tag Archives: Education First

Education Cannot Wait – A Call to Action

5 Oct

Last week in New York City, the field of education in emergencies took a critical step forward. International leaders across governments, international organizations and civil society discussed and endorsed an urgent Call to Action to secure the provision of quality education to 28 million youth living in countries affected by conflict, plus several millions more victim to humanitarian emergencies due to natural hazards worldwide. The youth in the former category account for 40% of all primary school-age children currently not enrolled in school. The Call to Action entitled “Education Cannot Wait: Protecting Children and Youth’s Right to a Quality Education in Humanitarian Emergencies and Conflict Situations” is a part of the UN Secretary-General’s “Education First” initiative, which seeks to improve access and quality of education and foster global citizenship.

The Call to Action stresses efforts to be made in three key areas:
1)      Increase levels of humanitarian aid to education in emergencies
2)      Keep schools and education safe from attack
3)      Integrate emergency prevention, preparedness, response and recovery with sector plans and budgets

The realm of education as a provision of humanitarian assistance has long been relegated to an afterthought among aid providers. I am thrilled that the United Nations has since taken steps to close this critical gap. I think Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser of Qatar says it best:

“The mind of a child has only one opportunity to develop. If the education of a girl or boy is lost through conflict we have not only deprived them of their birthright, we have denied their generation the chance of development or recovery – and we have robbed an entire society of its chance for a better future. That should not be acceptable to any one of us.”

A more substantial inclusion of education into the humanitarian imperative is long overdue. The current expenditures on education in emergencies stand at roughly 2% of humanitarian aid spending. This initiative aims to double levels of humanitarian aid to education in emergencies to 4% of aid budgets, which, while still a modest figure, could guarantee education for entire generations of youth who would otherwise lose the opportunity to conflict. I feel that this push indicates a growing recognition of the vital role that education plays in breaking cycles of violence in many regions of the world. Plain and simple, education provides hope. Hope for opportunity, hope for a future. Without this hope, children may likely seek other opportunities, or will be more easily forced into exploitative situations. Education provides a safe and structured environment in which youth can focus their energy and attention towards improving not only their own lives, but their communities and national economies as a whole.

To this, I attribute much credit to the work of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), whose seminal document, the INEE Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response, Recovery guides the planning and implementation of education in emergencies programs around the globe. My former colleagues at INEE were in attendance at the launch of Ban Ki-Moon’s Education First campaign, and contributed to this Call to Action.

Yesterday I was able to attend the INEE Global Meet-up hosted by the International Rescue Committee here in New York. The meet-up surrounded the Education Cannot Wait and Education First initiatives. There was much curiosity regarding concrete plans for action moving forward, and an interesting discussion arose pertaining to the timing of this particular initiative. Perhaps it has received a greater push at this point with the close proximity of 2015 and how close the UN is to reaching the Millennium Development Goal on Education For All. Perhaps this will create a surge in the interim period towards greater funding and advocacy behind education in emergencies.

But in this blogger’s humble opinion, perhaps this will yield rushed results. Education in emergencies is a vast and complex sub-field within education, with marked differences between crises caused by natural hazards and those that arise out of conflict, and even further differences between education in acute conflict and protracted conflicts leading to long-term displacement and instability. Here the lines between humanitarian action and international development become blurred.

One would hope, in this case, that increased focus on the complexities of education in emergencies will yield the necessary increase in cooperation between actors in the humanitarian camp and actors in the development camp. Education programs cannot simply be set up during a crisis and abandoned for development education programming as soon as the crisis subsides. Actors across the board need to work together to truly provide education to the staggering number of youth trapped in conflict around the world, with a concerted focus on quality and content.

I am very excited about the implications of this Call to Action, and the plain and simple truth is that education NEEDS to be made a priority. It NEEDS to be at the center of the discussion. At the end of INEE’s Meet-up, we were asked to consider what our organization was doing to help in the push for advocacy and action for education in emergencies, or for us students, what our university was doing to raise awareness. The easy answer that came to mind: nothing. I will be keeping a close eye to see if this call to action lives up to its name and acts on the fact that education truly cannot wait, and will be doing my part to ensure that awareness at my institution increases in what little time I have left. I implore you all to do the same. This is a groundbreaking initiative…the world is listening…let’s see what we can all accomplish.