World Humanitarian Summit: Education is the headline

“Children in conflict zones deserve to be educated. They should not have to suffer without hope for the future”

HE President Ibrahim Keïta, Mali

The first United Nations World Humanitarian Summit took place in Istanbul, 23-24 May 2016 with an ambitious agenda to overhaul an overstretched global relief system.   Though opinion is mixed about whether the hoped-for ‘Grand Bargain’ between governments and aid agencies will really generate the $15bn annual additional resources that are required to deliver humanitarian needs, one clear winner emerged. The launch of a new financing facility for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait, holds the potential to mark a critical turning point for children whose education is affected by conflict and turmoil in their countries.

World Humanitarian Summit

Leaders gather at the World Humanitarian Summit 2016

Today one in four of the world’s school-aged children – nearly half a billion – live in countries affected by crises. Around 75 million of these children and youth are already missing out on their education, receiving poor quality schooling or at risk of dropping out of school altogether.

Education Cannot Wait was announced at the World Humanitarian Summit and aims to reach more than 13.6 million children and youth living in crisis situations, such as conflict, natural disasters and disease outbreaks, with quality education over the next five years, and 75 million children and youth in desperate need of education by 2030. At the launch event $90m was contributed by donors including DFID, USAID, EU, Norway and the Netherlands.  The private sector contributed another extra $100m in cash and in kind.  On average less than 2 percent of humanitarian aid goes towards funding education, and yet without education generations of children are unable to effectively contribute to rebuilding their societies when conflict ends.

“The new fund will help make the crucial link between humanitarian aid and long-term development ensuring that children’s education is not forgotten,” said Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). “GPE strongly supports Education Cannot Wait and is committed to making it a success so children can continue to go to school during times of conflict, emergency and protracted crisis.”

The day after the launch GPE co-hosted a side event focused on this issue in the context of Africa, the continent most affected, with the highest numbers of refugees and internally displaced, and with many countries still recovering from the devastating affects of the Ebola outbreak.   Oshun’s Executive Director, Sarah Beeching, was the lead organiser for this important meeting that saw the Presidents of Somalia and Mali share their perspectives alongside former Prime Ministers, Gordon Brown and Julia Gillard, Commissioner Christos Stylianides of ECHO and Graça Machel, a former Minister of Education and First Lady of both Mozambique and South Africa.

There was a clear recognition of the need for education systems strengthening, going beyond buying books, building schools and funding teachers. “Education is where we shape the nation.” said His Excellency President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud from the Federal Republic of Somalia, himself a former education professional.   In 2013, his Government started the first public schools in Somalia for 22 years.   Although they were able to get schools ready to open, the children did not go to them.   People said they had other priorities besides sending children to school. In order to resolve this challenge the government provided incentives to families to send their children to school, such as basic household provisions – rice, cooking oil, books etc.  The aim of the ‘Go to School’ programme is to send 3 million children to school by 2018. “Having school, books, teachers is important,” he said, “but what is more important is to overhaul the whole education system.”

Finally, the issue of education in emergencies is coming up the political agenda. Though no individual or institution can claim sole credit for this, we can track this progress back to 2011 and the launch of principles for delivering education in conflict-affected environments, through to the side events on the issue that Oshun led for GPE in the margins of UNGA in 2012 and 2013, the work of the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative that highlighted the critical gap in provision for children in conflict-affected environments. The spotlight that GPE put on this issue during their 2014 replenishment was timely and the Oslo Education Summit in 2015 gave the issue renewed political traction.  It has taken another year of painstaking technical work to get to the point of launching the Education Cannot Wait financing facility, but finally, this is an issue, which has a forceful tide of political and public support behind it. Oshun has supported this every step of the way and will continue to do so, ensuring these ambitious aims are delivered.