Not all of us are born child prodigies!
Therefore, a quality education can be a great enabler with the capacity to empower and create opportunity, particularly for young girls. Equally, a lack of education can disempower those who need an opportunity the most and can lead to extreme poverty for generations.
When a massive humanitarian crisis, such as the war in Syria and subsequent refugee crisis, is thrown into the mix, there is a massive flow-on disruption to children’s education and the likelihood of disadvantage multiplies.
When emergencies strike – whether conflict or natural disaster – the international community responds with life-saving interventions to safeguard as many lives as possible in the shortest time. But education should be at the forefront of everyone's mind and part of the initial response. Education provides children with safety, a sense of normalcy and the skills they need to bounce back from adversity. It can save and help rebuild young lives.
Education is a major long term solution for those affected, and will require major, long-term funding.
Malala Yousafzai, a global champion for education, has called for funding toward education and indicated that the key for change in Syria can be found by ending the conflict and educating the millions of affected children and youth.
Five years ago, before the conflict started, almost all children in Syria attended school. Now, Syria is dealing with a 50% attendance rate in schools, which is one of the lowest in the world. According to the UN, by 2014 it is estimated that a quarter of Syrian schools were destroyed, causing many parents to (rightfully) be scared of sending their children to school. Outside of Syria only 50% of Syrian Refugees have access to any formal education. Many of these kids have been out of school for the full 5 years since the conflict began, and cannot jump right back into formal education.
And Syria is just the tip of a slippery, devastating, Iceberg.
In 2015, 124 million children and young people had either never started school or have dropped out, and the number is rising. This represents around 59 million children of primary school age and almost 65 million adolescents not in school. Over 100 million young women living in developing countries are unable to read a single sentence. In some of the world’s poorest countries, up to 95% of children with disabilities are out of school. If the current trends of inequitable and stalled progress continue, 15 million girls and 10 million boys worldwide will never set foot in a classroom.
To add to this dire situation, almost half of all children who are out of school are from countries around the world that have been affected by emergencies such as conflict or natural disaster, including Niger, South Sudan and Afghanistan. The Overseas Development Institute estimates that some 37 million children between the ages of 3 and 15 are out of school in conflict and emergency-affected areas.
That’s equivalent to the population of 7 major countries in Europe!
Source: © UNICEF, 2016
The impact on girls is also alarming. Young girls are 90% more likely to be out of secondary school in conflict areas than elsewhere. Investment in education can prevent the risks of forced labour, child marriage, extremism, lost income and opportunities that are becoming all too common alternatives for young female refugees who are searching for meaning and direction or are trying to provide for their families. Education can give their life purpose, renewed opportunities in later life and can protect them from exploitation.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear that every child has the right to a free basic education, so that poverty and circumstance should not be a barrier to schooling. However, however responses to humanitarian emergencies do not prioritize children’s right to learn. Last year, less than 2% of humanitarian aid went toward education.
This leaves a funding need of at least $8 billion dollars per year to provide quality emergency education services to girls and boys around the world. On 4 February 2016, world leaders will convene in London and make funding pledges to support the 13.5 million Syrians affected by conflict, including specific pledges for education. This is an excellent first step to address education needs for around 7 million Syrian children. However, Syria is not alone. Conference funds won’t reach the 65 Million children missing out on schooling in Niger, South Sudan, Afghanistan and beyond, who are also affected by war, displacement, terrorism and natural disaster. Over half these children are girls. Investment in education can prevent risks of forced labour, child marriage, extremism, lost income and opportunities. Books really can help save and rebuild children’s lives.
Global Citizens are responsible for creating a world where education is a priority for every child, everywhere. We can change the story of children who have already lost so much. The 2016 World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) provides a window of opportunity for world leaders to launch a global humanitarian platform for education in emergencies and make new commitments to kick-start the funding platform and provide long-term support and solutions.