New Theirworld report shows international community breaking promises to Syrian children

by Ben Hewitt, Director of Campaigns at Theirworld

Two little words that demand you listen and that you act – “YOU PROMISED”.

When a child utters them – always in a pleading, accusatory fashion – there is no hiding place. You have to answer and remember, what they really mean is: You promised, now deliver.

It was Nelson Mandela who said “promises to children should not be broken” and I absolutely get it. What other power does a child have to hold you to your word?

In February, world leaders met in London and made a promise to more than a million Syrian children. They told them that they would be going to school in neighbouring countries where they have been forced to flee.

Now, with less than 60 days until the school term starts a new report published by children’s charity Theirworld reveals that we are on the brink of a catastrophic broken promise.

The report says that almost 90,000 Syrian children are at risk of being forced to drop out of school due to a lack of funding from governments and it estimates a funding gap of at least $1 billion to get every child in school this coming year.

World leaders vowed to Syrian refugee children that they will be in school this coming year but have not yet kept their promise. These are children who have lost their homes, their friends, their schools and their relatives. They want to be safe and to be educated – and then return home to start rebuilding their country.

The report is a major wake up call to those of us who campaign for global education. It should cause some reflection and I hope it will result in a change of tactics.

Campaigners and education experts have worked tirelessly over the past few years to build a global movement to get every child in school. We have held rallies, signed petitions, published world-class research and even shared films of Michelle Obama and Missy Elliott in the car singing about girls’ education!

Education is now high on the list of priorities for world leaders. It’s the central pillar of the new Sustainable Development Goals and this has been a huge achievement.

The right of every girl and boy to a quality and safe education is now a major global campaign issue, backed by all the leading global charities and organisations.

It is now time to for us to seize this opportunity and move from rhetoric to reality, from celebrating pledges and promises to tracking real delivery and keeping world leaders to their word. Our campaign success can only be judged on whether children are walking through school gates or doors and receiving a quality education.

All of this, of course, has to start with a plan. Over the past year, 25 leading education experts, world leaders, economists, civil society activists and Nobel Prize Winners have been working on a major new report to set out exactly what needs to happen to get every child in school.

The findings will be published next month at the United Nations. The Commissioners have looked at submissions from hundreds of experts around the world as part of the consultation. But if the plan is to result in getting the next generation of children in school and learning then we will need a radical response from education campaigners to drive real delivery and action.

There are signs of hope. Mohammed, aged 16, fled Syria five years ago and spent 12 months out of school before entering Lebanon’s public school system. Last month he finished second top in the secondary school exam for the entire country. Like other Syrian refugees, Mohammed was able to restart his education because of the Lebanese government’s decision to open its public schools to refugees.

It’s a story about courage and determination and hope and it reminds us that nothing is impossible.

So whilst the words “you promised” have left me feeling sick in the pit of my stomach on any number of occasions, I can also recall the moments I have fulfilled a promise to my own children.

The look on their faces when I do exactly what I said I would do is priceless.

It’s time for us to build on the momentum underway, double our campaign efforts and set our sights on delivering on the promise to get every child into school.

Please visit our report page at A World at School to learn more about the report and see how you can help these children’s messages reach world leaders.