Education cannot wait: move into action now

Yesterday, together with UNICEF, the Global Partnership on Education, UNESCO, the UN Special Envoy for Education and the governments of Norway and Denmark, we managed to get an endorsement from key leaders, states, UN representatives and the private sector on the way forward to uphold the right to education in emergencies and conflict.

This is particularly crucial, given the launch of Education First, the UN Secretary General’s new five-year initiative on education.

The call to action includes recommendations and milestones on what needs to happen to ensure education is guaranteed to all children in conflict areas and in the midst of emergencies.

It sets out three key points:

  • Increase levels of humanitarian aid to education and improve its delivery mechanisms
  • Keep education safe from attacks
  • Integrate emergency prevention, preparedness, response and recovery in education sector plans and budgets

It was a very important meeting to ensure that all those who have a key role to play know what they should be doing.

We all outlined what the international community – encompassing education, humanitarian and development actors – need to put in place to move forward.

The plight of children today

The outcomes and recommendations made even more sense given the current plight of children worldwide.

We’re only just beginning to hear what’s happening to children in Syria; children in the Philippines cannot access school because their schools are being used for shelter; and millions of children in South Sudan cannot go to school because the systems are not in place yet.

In all these situations, everyone understands and should acknowledge that education becomes a top priority. No one can dispute the role of education in these, and all, emergencies.

Key areas for follow-up

A few interventions were particularly striking for me:

  • Baroness Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, who spoke about the importance of integrating education in humanitarian responses and ensuring there are more cross-sector interventions and integrated approaches are more commonly used. This is one of our key asks from our latest report, A creeping crisis: the neglect of education in slow-onset emergencies.
  • Education International’s Teopista Birungi Mayanja reminded everyone of the importance of teachers – ultimately the frontliners of any education system. In the interest of working towards guaranteeing every child an education, we must guarantee teachers are adequately trained and supported to deliver on their key role.
  • Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser of Qatar reaffirmed her commitments towards ending the practice of attacks on education and ensuring legal systems criminalise attacks and hold perpetrators to account.

We must do everything we can

The most striking, and the one that impacted me the most, was Liberia’s Minister of Education. I have quoted her below:

“Liberia is a country that has lived through terrible conflict… young people [could] either follow the path to war or choose another path. There was a lack of attention to teaching children how to survive. The focus was on other things, food and shelter.

“We now have the challenge of undoing this neglect. This cannot be allowed to happen again. It is essential that governments facing conflict and the international community wake up to the critical role that education has to play and must play in education in emergencies. I cannot believe that people cannot understand how important this is. And it needs many resources, both human and capital…”

She ended her statement by saying what we’ve all been trying to say:

“Please please, can we invest more in education in times of conflict? Not doing so is UNACCEPTABLE. It’s short-sighted and immoral. We must all do everything we can now and SOON.”

Education cannot wait. The call to action outlines exactly what needs to happen.

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