“Education offers safe spaces for learning – it should be a key component of humanitarian response to emergencies”

Vernor Main
Vernor Muñoz - Plan International’s Global Advisor on Education (UN)

Barriers to education, Child marriage, Children in conflicts, Children's welfare after natural disasters, Discrimination of marginalised children, Early childhood development, Education funding, Education in emergencies, Girls' education, Refugees and internally displaced people, Right to education, Safe schools

In our series featuring leading figures in global education, we talk to Vernor Munoz of the charity Plan International about education in emergencies and other key challenges.

As part of a special series of Big Interviews with influential people involved in education in emergency situations and other challenges, Theirworld spoke to Vernor Muñoz – Plan International’s Global Advisor on Education.

A university professor, he has worked for over 30 years in human rights – working for governments and non-governmental organisations – while also writing a number of books.

Muñoz – the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education – talks at length to Theirworld writer Billy Briggs.

Could you briefly explain your role and which projects you are currently focused on?

I am Global Advisor on Education for Plan International, leading the global education network, providing technical support on programming and international policy and advocacy processes.  

I am currently supporting the development of the new global strategy, specifically involved in development of the inclusive, quality education framework.

With regular attacks on schools around the world and 75 million children having had their education disrupted by emergencies, what can be done to provide safe schools for children?

During times of conflict schools can become recruitment centres for children, who are forced to become soldiers, which is in itself an attack on children’s education and lives.

Usually teachers, students and parents become the targets of violence, so parents keep their children at home to avoid the risks involved in the trip to and from school and also to avoid falling victim to landmines.

Few statistics record the impact of violence in schools themselves in times of conflict, despite reports that levels of teacher violence against students also intensify.

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Plan International are calling on heads of state and government representatives to address the funding gap for quality education (Plan International)

We are aware that schools are frequently occupied or used by military forces and armed groups. So, for Plan International, education provision is prioritised in humanitarian settings, including protection of schools from attack and occupation.  

Communities – including teachers, parents and caregivers – are mobilised to provide access to safe, quality and inclusive education including early childhood education in conflict settings.

We also work to ensure and increase access of children to safe inclusive and quality education – in line with INEE (Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies) minimum standards – and their education continuity in emergency, refugee and displacement settings.

Plan also works with and influences governments to increase investment in the resilience of education systems and for the provision of safe, accessible and diverse learning and education opportunities (formal and non-formal).

This includes accelerated education, mobile learning approaches and the implementation of specific measures for school safety and protection before, during and after, in emergencies, as well as in fragile settings and protracted crises.

Parents and communities should also actively encourage and support particularly vulnerable and excluded children and young people - especially girls - to access and complete education. Vernor Munoz, Plan International’s Global Advisor on Education

What should the international community be doing more of generally to ensure girls get a quality education and avoid falling into child marriage or child labour?

According to Plan International’s gender equality policy, we confront and challenge discrimination and human rights violations based on gender, including gender-based violence, and other forms of exclusion. 

And we foster an organisational culture that embraces and exemplifies our commitment to gender equality, girls’ rights and inclusion.

Governments, donors and the international community should invest in consistent and gender responsive legislation, law enforcement and strengthening of child protection systems

There should also be robust monitoring of violence against children and child labour.

Parents and communities are key actors to practise and promote positive behaviours. They should also actively encourage and support particularly vulnerable and excluded children, and young people – especially girls – to access and complete education.

The international community should support consistent programming and advocacy focus on girls at risk of child marriage, so they can build understanding of their rights, as well as harmful practices.  

Access to adolescent and youth-friendly health services and comprehensive sexuality education is crucial to avoid forced marriage and unwanted adolescent pregnancy.


Why is education so important in the field of humanitarian assistance?

As an enabling human right, education should be always guaranteed to everyone.  

However, education is frequently found to be interrupted, delayed or even denied during the reconstruction process and early response to emergencies.  

Beyond the human rights imperative, education also provides physical, psychosocial and cognitive protection that can be both lifesaving and life-sustaining.

It offers safe spaces for learning, as well as the ability to identify and provide support for affected individuals, particularly children and adolescents.

Education mitigates the psychosocial impact of conflict and disasters by giving a sense of normality, stability, structure and hope during a time of crisis. It provides essential building blocks for social reconstruction and future economic stability.

For these reasons, education should be a key component of the humanitarian response to emergencies.

What more needs to be done to meet the Sustainable Development Goals target of getting every child into school by 2030?

In addition to reaching the necessary financing for education, teachers’ education and training are key obligations.  A stronger focus on addressing inequalities and violence in education, including school-related gender-based violence, would increase education opportunities – especially for girls, children with disabilities and children from minority belongings.

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High on the agenda is gender equality, girls’ rights and inclusion (Plan International)

The realisation of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (education and lifelong learning for all) requires going beyond access and strengthening focus on relevance and pertinence of education, including mother tongue learning

Education’s share of aid funding has been falling steadily, according to a recent UNESCO report. Why do you think that is and does the case have to be made differently?

International cooperation should meet the target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income as Official Development Assistance (ODA), and donor governments should allocate at least 15% of ODA expenditure to education.

The decrease in the multilateral aid funding is probably linked to the increase of bilateral cooperation, economic crisis and pressure from traditional/conservatories sectors within donor countries.

At the Supporting Syria conference in London last year, the co-hosts – including the EU – promised to get every Syrian refugee child into school in neighbouring countries during the 2016-17 academic year.  Despite great progress, that hasn’t yet been achieved. So when do you think those Syrian refugees will finally be in school?

It is hard to predict, given that – even in development contexts – the universal schooling is also at risk. The Syrian conflict and the refugee situation is still dramatic.

There are over four million Syrian refugees worldwide and an additional 7.6 million Syrians are displaced internally. 50% are children. 

Vernor Munoz Of Plan International Visits A School In Niger

Vernor Munoz visits a school in Niger

Over half a million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe in 2015, double the arrivals for all of 2014. And thousands of migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean.

Plan International has been responding for some time through work with Syrian refugees in Egypt, where there are 300,000 refugees, as well as through some limited work through partners in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.  

What effect is climate change going to have on education in emergencies, with increased flooding, landslides etc?

Plan recognises that children are often more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change but also firmly believes that children should not been seen as passive victims. Instead, children can be active agents of change within their families and communities.

Plan also believes that all children have a right to participate in decisions about climate change.  The first priority for Plan is climate change adaptation helping communities to become more resilient, which aligns closely with Plan’s existing experience in DRR (disaster risk reduction).

While climate change mitigation is a lower priority, many of our projects may reduce greenhouse gas emissions (for example through tree planting or fuel efficient stoves).

Plan has developed a distinctive and innovative approach to child centred climate change adaptation, which aims to build the awareness of children and their communities about climate change and to empower them to be active participants in adaptation efforts, including education.  

Our Safe School Programme aims to provide child-centred climate change adaptation within education.

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Is Plan involved in early childhood development? 

Yes, Plan is very much involved. Our plans include concrete actions to:

  • Influence governments to implement comprehensive ECD policies and access to essential services, including MNCH and pre-school.
  • Hold governments to account for compliance with international commitments and obligations for ECD.
  • Establish legislation, policy and resources for comprehensive, gender-sensitive multi-sectoral ECD services.

We believe that international institutions and development actors should influence national governments to develop, budget and implement gender-responsive social protection policies that support parents from excluded groups to fulfil their child caring responsibilities. And to address critical gaps in policy for maternal well-being.

We also call on donor governments to increase their funding for more effective, coordinated, multi-sectoral programmes and services for children’s early childhood development, in both development and humanitarian settings.

How do you get young people more involved in local and national strategies around education?

Meaningful youth participation is a human right and can be transformative for the lives of young people, their environments and the decisions that are taken about them.

Youth are active social actors capable of designing and carrying out constructive policies, as several recent youth engagement projects by Plan International and other partners.

Plan International believes that engaging young people in the decision-making, implementation and monitoring of education policy, promotes social cohesion.

Moreover, it can help counter the emergence of violence and extremism, which can take place in situations in which the voices and needs of young people are not otherwise acknowledged and channelled.

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