Five reasons why an emergency fund for education is vital

Education funding, Education in emergencies

Injured Nepali girl at a UN tent clinic in Yanglakot

We all load up the news these days with trepidation. The disasters seem to keep on coming this year.

Whether we look to Nepal, to the Middle East, the Mediterranean or Ukraine, humanitarian crises are shaping the way that hundreds of millions of people live their lives.

This is no more acutely felt than among the millions of children and young adults who find their access to education quickly and often permanently removed.

More than half of the world’s out-of-school children are unable to access education because they live in conflict or emergency-affected areas. And the circumstances of many humanitarian crises often mean that aid is short-lived or non-existent, with education low on the agenda.

In 2014, only 1% of humanitarian funding went to education, meaning children in these crisis areas find themselves more vulnerable to exploitation as child soldiers or in child labour, forced into early marriages or slipping further into poverty.

A World at School and aid agency Plan International last week made a joint call to the international community to back a humanitarian fund to ensure education in emergencies is prioritised and paid for.

The #UpForSchool Petition is asking world leaders to keep to their promise to get all children into school and learning. Having an emergency fund for education will go a long way towards achieving that.

Here are five countries and five reasons why children’s education is devastated by emergencies and why funding is so vital:


Kshamwati Higher Secondary School in Susma Chhema Picture: Plan/Matt Crook

Another aftershock. Kathmandu already flattened. Villages that can’t even be accessed to assess the damage.

Fortunately the earthquake happened on a Saturday or the death toll of 8000 would have been much higher. More than half of the schools in Nepal have been damaged and over 5000 completely destroyed.

Teacher Samikshya Dhungel has no answer when her pupils ask: “Are we going to read this year, miss?” At least 950,000 children in Nepal will not be able to return to school in the near future.

Without international aid to rebuild schools, this lack of access to education falls on already heavily-burdened shoulders and opens the door to exploitation and poverty. It is essential for the current and future livelihoods of this grief-stricken country that their children’s education continues in spite of the destruction caused by the earthquake.


A boy wounded by a barrel bomb attack on Aleppo

For many it’s a horrific a choice between the threat of barrel bombs in Aleppo or the fragmented anonymity of refugee status in a neighbouring country.

A breakthrough in Lebanon will provide 200,000 places for Syrian refugee children this September. But this must be considered as just a first step to help put the 2.6 million children out of school in Syria and its neighbouring countries back into education.

Whether it is direct conflict or the economic impact of welcoming such a large refugee community, this region needs our help. The global community must follow the bold steps taken by Lebanon in investing in the futures of young Syrians, wherever they are.


Sierra Leone girls return to St Joseph’s Secondary in Freetown Picture: UNICEF/Irwin

It’s a month now since the schools started to reopen in Sierra Leone. More than 4000 people died in the Ebola crisis, 945 of them reportedly students.

What has not been quantified is the impact on millions of children who missed vital months of school. Outside of the routine of school, children are more frequently put to work, forced into early marriage and subjected to sexual abuse.

The risk of dropping out of education altogether increases the longer children are away from the classroom. We must provide the support necessary to ensure that schools are reopened, and stay open, as soon as possible in Sierra Leone to avoid a more prolonged humanitarian crisis in an area already under significant strain.


Girls at ruins of Chibok school in Nigeria

It’s particularly upsetting when schools and pupils end up being the target in conflict. Boko Haram have attacked more than 300 schools in Nigeria and over 120 schools in neighbouring Cameroon.

This persecution is directed at denying children, especially girls, an education. Just this month, Boko Haram attacked a school in Potiskum.

Mustapha Umar, a student, told an AFP reporter: “When he ran out of ammunition he detonated the explosives under his robe.” To have to face this kind of horror, to live in fear that this might happen at any point, just for wanting to learn, is unacceptable. We can help make a difference.


A child in wreckage of house hit by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013

Recovering from yet another tropical storm – this one called Noul struck earlier this month. About $150 million of damage was caused to the country’s schools by storms between 2011 and 2014, yet the Philippines only received £500,000 worth of school damage repair over the same period.

More than 1.3 million children are out of school in the Philippines today. In spite of the “bahala na” (roughly translated, it means “come what may”) perspective the Philippines applies to  problems, “my children’s education” is first in the set of worries families like the Dopas from Tacloban have as this country continues to strive to rebuild itself.

As the emergency response shifts its focus, it is investment in education that will provide the long-term solution for children growing up as the Philippines rebuilds.

These are just five examples. The list to choose from is long. Whether it is a natural disaster, regional conflicts or disease, education is often the first thing to fall as a community copes with the strain of dealing with the circumstances.

All too frequently schooling is the last thing to return and for many children, the break in education is too much to come back from. The same problems arise in all countries where education fails. We see children sold into slavery. Married early. Spiralling into poverty.

The term “lost generation” can be used too often – but it sums up those generations of children who lost their education to conflict or disaster.

With their own governments and regions under strain, it is imperative that humanitarian aid recognises the fundamental importance of acting fast and effectively around education in situations where children are deprived of a humanitarian right.

You can make your voice heard by asking world leaders to support a fund to support education in conflict and emergency-hit countries. Sign the #UpForSchool Petition.

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