Millions of children who are not in school because of wars, natural disasters and diseases can only be helped if the international community works closely with businesses and NGOs.
The need for urgent and collaborative action rang out loud and clear from a meeting of members of the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education) on how to deliver education in emergencies. Held in New York, it featured passionate pleas from leading government officials, heads of business and United Nations agencies.
They included government ministers from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey - three countries bordering Syria, which have all taken in huge numbers of refugees fleeing from the conflict.
GBC-Education Executive Chair Sarah Brown said one of the greatest educational challenges today is delivering education in emergencies. She added: “Solving this crisis requires a unique partnership between governments, donors, business, NGOs and philanthropists. And of course the young activists all over the world."
Sarah Brown addresses the meeting Picture: Steve Gong
Setting the scene for the meeting, she said the Syrian conflict has robbed 2.7 million children of an education. Violence in South Sudan, the Nepal earthquake and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa meant millions more out of school or in poor learning environments.
Despite that, education receives less than 2% of the world's humanitarian funding. Sarah added: “That failure to solve this leaves girls prey to marriage, it leaves girls and boys forced into labour or vulnerable to extremism. It’s leaving regions and countries unstable, hindering economic recovery and future growth and prosperity.”
United States Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the meeting: “Every day, from South Sudan to Afghanistan, we are reminded that the tragedy of conflict falls most heavily on the smallest shoulders. Of the primary drivers of migration and refugees coming from Syria, they are forced out by violence and they’re forced out because their children lack education."
Mr Bliken said conflicts were a crisis like any natural disaster, adding: “For Syrian children, this is a tsunami without the water. A five-year hurricane without the wind.”
Elias Bou Saab talks about Lebanon's schools Picture: Steve Gong
UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown said there were 10 million child refugees in the world - two million of them in the countries neighbouring Syria. He said: "We have a duty to do something big to help them."
He praised a plan of action drawn up by by GBC-Education which could help get one million children into school in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Three detailed reports - one for each country - look at how to get hundreds of thousands of children into school this school year and commit long-term funding for education in the three countries.
The ministers from those neighbouring countries told what is being done to help the syrian refugee children being hosted by their people.
Lebanese education minister Elias Bou Saab said four out of nine children in government-run schools are Syrian. He added: “We have decided that the Syrian children now are embraced as our own. That’s why we opened the schools in double shifts.
Turkish minister Fuat Oktay Picture: Steve Gong
“What we need now is the international community to stand by us. I am worried that if funding stops next year, the entire region will go down. Then we will have a Lost Generation.”
Imad Fakhoury, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation in Jordan, said his country is hosting about 1.4 million Syrians - about 20% of the population.
He said: “We made a decision to keep our border open and we offered free access to primary and secondary education to Syrians. We have absorbed 143,000 students but we still have 97,000 Syrians who are out of the formal system." Mr Fakhoury said the double-shift system had been a great way to deal with the immediate problem but now almost half of Jordan's classrooms are overcrowded.
Fuat Oktay, Turkey's President of Disaster and Emergency Management, told how his country has more than two million registered Syrians - nearly 35% of them school-age children.
EU humanitarian aid commissioner Christos Stylianides Picture: Steve Gong
He said: “We have tried our best to prevent a lost generation. But at least 650,000 to 700,000 school-age kids need education. Our goal is to get 400,000 into school by the end of the year.”
Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said the European Union was increasing the education element of its humanitarian funding to 4% - and urged all donors to do the same.
Other government ministers who spoke were Norway's Foregn Minister Børge Brende, Liberian Education Minister George Wender and Christiaan Rebergen from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.