In any humanitarian crisis, normality is the first victim; in a war zone, all ordinary needs are quickly engulfed by new imperatives: food, shelter, safety and basic health become paramount.
But these can’t be the only priorities. A child in a conflict zone or a refugee camp is still a child in need of an education. Yet funding for education at these times is always low and usually unpredictable. This is what has happened in Syria.
Yet we have to realise that unless we provide for their education, we are failing children and young people. Facing a humanitarian emergency is bad enough without losing any prospect of going to school.
Syria is a wake-up call for the international community. Young people’s education really cannot wait.
Basic maths: The numbers speak for themselves
Syria’s children have been hugely impacted by the ongoing conflict. Inside Syria, over 1.8 million children are affected; outside the country, over half a million are registered as refugees. And the numbers keep rising.
Many children have had their education interrupted over the last two years, whether because they have had to flee their homes or because their schools are either under attack or being used for military purposes. Local education authorities and schools in the north of the country, where the conflict is relentless, have no funding to operate.
Outside Syria, children are struggling to gain access to host schools or education interventions in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq.
This crisis has been met with the largest humanitarian pledges to date (although we still need to see the commitments in action); unfortunately, little of that money has been directed towards education. At the beginning of 2012, the Education Cluster requested $23 million – which doesn’t seem like much, to restore an education system that was close to reaching universal primary enrolment in 2010. So far, the sector has received a mere $2.4 million.
No prize for guessing who loses out…
The result is that the sector cannot maintain a school system that has suffered two years of war. And Syria’s children have their futures even more compromised than they already are. Education is stabilising, sustaining, resilience-building and hope-giving. Educating these children tells them that the world has not given up on their future.
It is a universal truth that the longer children remain out of the school system, the lower the probability of them ever returning to school. In the worst-case scenarios, denying them access to a safe learning space may increase their risks of being recruited into or abducted by armed groups, trafficked or married off at a young age. These are all fates that have been reported in the current crisis, both inside Syria and in the surrounding refugee camps.
It is complicated to end a war – especially one as enduring and bitter as Syria’s. But it is not really complicated to fulfil the educational needs of children who are already facing the disruption of everything they know. If we don’t redress this situation, we will continue to fail them.