A month before the world marks the 5th anniversary of the start of the war in Syria the international community will meet in London on 5 February for a high level donor conference to address the humanitarian needs of those affected by the conflict.
This includes 13.5 million vulnerable and displaced people inside Syria, and the 4.2 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.
A critical priority for the conference is to close the humanitarian funding gap: current funding to the 2015 UN appeals has not even reached last year’s levels – $3.3 billion against an appeal of $8.4 billion. It’s abundantly clear that the international community must do more and finding the funding necessary to meet the basic needs of people caught up in the Syrian conflict will be a key test of the conference’s success.
Participants also need to ensure that the funding pledged in London has an impact on the ground and this especially true in realising the promise that all children affected by the conflict have the opportunity to continue their learning.
There are currently 2.1 million children in Syria who are out of school because of the conflict and 1.7 million child refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt whose education has been disrupted because of their displacement .
With direct knowledge and experience of educational support and provision across the region, 12 international and local non-government organisations have consequently issued a call on conference participants to develop a comprehensive plan for education that includes:
- Closing the education funding gap
- Enacting policies that guarantee access to quality education inside Syria and in host countries
- Protecting students, teachers and educational facilities from attack.
In London donors must commit at least $1.4bn annually to ensure that all children and young people affected by the conflict are in education and learning during the 2016/17 academic year and on an ongoing basis.
In the refugee-hosting countries this funding needs to be invested in national education systems so that they are better able to accommodate the children from Syria. Where the formal system can’t accommodate refugee children the funding should support non-formal programmes, without which children will be out of education.
The urgently needed additional funding that will be pledged in London must form part of a compact that delivers changes at the national level designed to ensure that new resources can in fact be spent to scale up educational services.
The national, regional and international policy and operating environment must be unequivocally committed to ensuring all children and young people enjoy the opportunity to learn and do so in safety.
Policy and practical reform must include improved registration and documentation of students, the payment of teachers, an increase in certified informal learning opportunities, and improvements to children’s safety, wellbeing and inclusion.
The conference should also recognise that Syrian refugees in all host countries must feel sufficiently protected, have access to legal stay during their displacement, have freedom of movement and are in a position to meet the basic needs of their families, all of which are critical to ensuring meaningful access to formal or non-formal education in practice.
According to data gathered by UNICEF, since the conflict began, more than 4,200 schools have been damaged, destroyed or militarised, or are currently used as shelters by internally displaced people.
Schools have become some of the most dangerous places in Syria, along with markets and hospitals. Not only they are deliberately targeted, but the use of explosive weapons in populated areas results in children being denied access to education opportunities.
National governments and other stakeholders with influence over armed forces and armed groups inside Syria must call for the immediate cessation of attacks against educational facilities, personnel and students, as well as a stop to the military use of such infrastructures.
Participants in the London conference should urge all parties to the conflict to:
- immediately vacate the schools they are using
- ensure that schools are safe for students to return
- issue orders to commanders not to use school buildings or school property – in accordance with the ‘Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict’ – and more generally to abide by international law.
An unparalleled opportunity to address the crisis in education
In advance of heads of state and government arriving in London on 4 February – just one month before the 5-year anniversary of the Syria conflict – they have an unprecedented opportunity to fix the humanitarian crisis in general and its educational dimensions in particular.
In order to realise that opportunity, the participants in the London conference must launch a process of plan development in which the recommendations set out in Funding, Policy and Protection: delivering a quality education to children affected by conflict in Syria and the region are ultimately delivered.
Apart from the denial of the right of individual children to their education, the continued neglect of educational provision to children and young people affected by the Syrian conflict has serious, far-reaching consequences for societies and economies across the region. The window of opportunity for getting back on track is closing fast.