Standing up for children in 2016: the good, the bad and the heroes

Barriers to education, Child marriage, Children in conflicts, Double-shift schools, Early childhood development, Education Cannot Wait, Education funding, Education in emergencies, Girls' education, Global Youth Ambassadors, Gordon Brown, Refugees and internally displaced people, Right to education, Safe schools, Sustainable Development Goals, Teachers and learning, The Education Commission, Theirworld, United Nations General Assembly

In the fight for children's rights, 2016 saw a global plan to get every child in school and a new education in emergencies fund - but sadly children continued to suffer in conflicts and huge numbers of refugees are still out of school.


The Education Cannot Wait fund is launched at the World Humanitarian Summit

About 75 million children and adolescents have their education disrupted each year by humanitarian emergencies. Apart from losing out on schooling, that puts them at risk of child labour, early marriage, exploitation and extremism.

Campaigners, youth advocates, education experts and more than 60 leading charities – including Theirworld – called for a new way to meet the education needs of those children.

In May, the Education Cannot Wait fund was officially launched at the first World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey. It aims to raise almost $4 billion to provide quality education to more than 13.6 million children and youth over the next five years – and to reach 75 million children by 2030.

The summit was the first in the 70-year history of the United Nations and produced a new Agenda for Humanity.

The Education Commission delivers its Learning Generation plan

A group of world leaders, policy-makers and researchers spent a year researching, consulting and discussing how to tackle the lack of funding for education.

The Education Commission delivered its Learning Generation report to the UN General Assembly in September. It said bold action and radical funding could see every child in the world getting a quality primary and secondary education by 2030 – one of the Sustainable Development Goals agreed by world leaders.

The commission said proposed measures will increase the number of qualified high school graduates in low and middle-income countries from 400 million to 850 million by 2030 and to 1.2 billion by 2040. The numbers in the lowest-income countries will rise from just eight million to 80 million.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees are in school

Huge numbers of Syrian refugee children have fled from the conflict with their families to neighbouring countries in recent years. That means the host nations have to integrate them into the local school systems – and the international community needs to help them financially.

More than 600,000 children are now learning at schools in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. 400,000 of those are in Turkey and 200,000 in Lebanon, where the double-shift system sees refugee and local students using the same classrooms at different times of the day.

More than 100 of Jordan’s state schools now also have double shifts.

Some of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls are set free

Girls abducted by Boko Haram from their Nigerian school in April 2014 were found safe this year. In October, 21 were released by Boko Haram following talks with the Nigerian government brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government. Another Chibok girl was found last month and two more earlier in the year.

But most of the more than 200 missing girls are still unaccounted for.

Action is taken in several African countries to tackle child marriage

An average of 40,000 children and young women under the age of 18 are married every day – about 15 million each year. More than 60% of child brides in developing countries have no formal education.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 66% of women with no education were married before age 18 compared to 13% of those who went to school after the age of 12.

But many African countries took action to tackle child marriage during 2016. The Gambia banned child marriage and announced long prison sentences for the groom and parents of any child bride.

Tanzania said men who marry schoolgirls or get them pregnant now face 30 years in prison – to help ensure all girls are able to complete their education. Mozambique also launched a plan to end child marriage, which affects nearly half of the country’s girls.

Antonio Guterres is chosen as the new UN Secretary-General

After 10 years of Ban Ki-moon overseeing the United Nations, the new Secretary-General from January will be Antonio Guterres. The former prime minister of Portugal has been UN High Commissioner for Refugees for a decade.

So he is seen by many as the ideal person to take control during the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War and with one in four children living in a country affected by a humanitarian emergency.

A movement starts to build on early childhood development

2016 was the year when early childhood development came to the forefront of the global agenda. ECD supports development from birth to age five and includes programmes and services that support nurturing care including health, nutrition, play, learning and protection.

In April, an alliance to accelerate action and investment was announced by the World Bank and the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

As part of this global growing movement, Theirworld launched the ground-breaking #5for5 campaign, along with several reports, and the Education Commission highlighted the need for investment in ECD in its Learning Generation report. There were also influential reports by The Lancet and Harvard University


The Syria summit fails (so far) to deliver education for one million children

The Supporting Syria and the Region summit – held in London in February – looked like a turning point in the efforts to get all refugee children into school in the region. 

The international community pledged more than $12 billion to help Syrian refugees, with $1.4 billion going to education. But as 2016 comes to an end, a large proportion of the money has still to be delivered and almost one million Syrian refugee children are still out of school.

Theirworld and the Overseas Development Institute published a report titled No Lost Generation: holding to the promise of education for all Syrian refugees – in September. It said: “The London conference is in danger of following a lengthy list of summits that have promised much but delivered little.”

Schools are bombed in Syria, killing children and teachers

It didn’t seem possible – but the horror in Syria was ramped up this year. In the past few weeks, children and teachers have been the victims of air strikes on schools.

The worst loss of life was at a school complex as Hass in Idlib province in October, when 22 children and six teachers were killed. UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake condemned the attack was “an outrage”.

As the battle for Aleppo raged, even the underground schools were closed.

The conflict in Yemen leaves two million children out of school

The number of children missing out on education in Yemen stands at nearly two million, according to UNICEF. It estimates that 2108 schools across the country can no longer be used.

Half of the population – 14 million people – is going hungry. A child is dying every 10 minutes because of preventable diseases and child malnutrition is at an all-time high.

One in four of the world’s children live in countries affected by wars or disasters

Nearly 500 million school-age children live in countries affected by humanitarian emergencies. 

About 75 million children and adolescents are either already missing out on their education, receiving poor quality schooling or at risk of dropping out of school altogether.

The Lake Chad Basin crisis is threatening education for one million children

Poverty, terror and threat of famine have seen 2.7 million people flee their homes and nine million left in dire need of humanitarian aid in the Lake Chad Basin, which includes Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad.

The education of at least one million children has been threatened by the spread of Boko Haram in the region.

1000 schools in Afghanistan are closed by security fears

The worsening security has forced about 1000 schools to close this year – more than double last year’s total. Education officials fear next year could be even worse if Taliban insurgents seize more territory.

About 3.5 million children are out of school, 75% of them girls, due not only to violence but also a lack of female teachers, early marriage and social restrictions in the conservative society.


The international leaders

As outlined above, 2016 was the year when the Education Commission revealed its Learning Generation plan, when the Education Cannot Wait fund was launched and the historic World Humanitarian Summit was held.

Two of the driving forces behind these breakthroughs were Gordon Brown – the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and commission chair – and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

The Education Commissioners included several former world leaders, Nobel Prize winners, policymakers and researchers. Two of them have also led from the front throughout 2016 in highlighting the need for education in emergencies – UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and Julia Gillard, Board Chair of the Global Partnership for Education.

Another commission co-convener, Irina Bokova, is Director-General of the UN agency UNESCO. She has continued to spotlight the lack of funding for education.

In Lebanon, Elias Bou Saab bowed out as education minister this week after almost three years. His legacy is getting 200,000 Syrian refugee children into Lebanese schools.

The children

Students in war-torn countries including Syrian and Yemen showed incredible courage and resilience this year by continuing to go to school. Students were killed at school or on their way in both countries.

In Lebanon, Syrian refugees were determined to show that going to school allows them to develop their talents as well as getting education. Three rapping Syrian refugee brothers who featured in a powerful video made by Theirworld became a hit in the Middle East and beyond.

The film of brothers Samir, Adbulrahman and Mohamed Karbouj called on the international community to back the Hope for Syria’s Young Talent petition – ensuring refugee children secure an education this year.

The teachers

Teachers around the world do amazing work every day – often in difficult and dangerous situations. Here are just three who stood out for their determination to help children to fulfil their potential.

Aqeela Asifi used the prize money she received from winning the Nansen Refugee Award to expand the school in Pakistan where she has helped more than 1000 Afghan girls get an education.

For more than 30 years, “Master” Muhammad Ayub has been running an open-air classroom for poor Pakistani children in a park in Islamabad. Many of his students have gone on to work for businesses or the government.

Noelia Garella had to overcome prejudice to get a job at a nursery school in Argentina – and she is thought to be the first teacher with Down’s syndrome in Latin America.

The campaigners

Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassadors are a network of 500 young advocates in more than 80 countries. In a very busy 2016, some of our GYAS travelled to the Supporting Syria conference in London, the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey and the UN General Assembly in New York to spread the message about education.

They also continued to do fantastic work in their own communities to champion the right of every child to get the best start in life and get a quality education.

As well as our GYAs, the Theirworld family of supporters have backed our campaigns throughout this year. 

Here’s how you can help

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