Sunday, 16 February 2014

Education Under Attack!

New report shows alarming funding gaps for education in conflict-affected countries

This is a joint blog post by Will Paxton and Elin Martinez
Today Malala Yousafzai – the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban just for wanting to learn – celebrates her 16th birthday by occupying the United Nations building and making her first speech. Remembering her story, Will Paxton and Elin Martinez present some key findings from a new Save the Children report on education in conflict-affected countries.     
There are now fewer than 1000 days to go until the end date for the Millennium Development Goals.  In all the debates about post-2015 frameworks and how best to define learning it is easy to lose sight (by some distance!) of the fact that the world is on track to miss the key education goal: Getting all children in primary school.
Recent years have seen a slowdown in progress – the overall number of primary- aged children out of school was 57 million in 2011, just 4 million below the number in 2008.
In a new report, Attacks on Education: the impact of conflict and grave violations on children’s futures released by Save the Children today we focus on one of the reasons progress has been slow: the particular difficulty to get children in school in conflict affected countries. The report has been inspired by the experience and bravery of Malala Yousafzai, who today is leading an occupation of the UN to draw attention to the global education crisis.

No progress on education in conflict affected countries?

In partnership with UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report (GMR) team, Save the Children looked at the number of children out of school in countries affected by conflict.  This is the most comprehensive assessment of these numbers since the GMR’s own report The Hidden Crisis: Armed conflict and education.  The key findings in the new data released today are:
  • In 2011, there were 28.5 million primary school-aged children out of school in conflict-affected countries: a small increase on the 2008 number, which was 28 million.
  • The proportion of out-of-school children in conflict affected countries has increased significantly – from 42% in 2008 to 50% in 2011.
  • When lower secondary school-aged children are included, nearly 50 million children are out of school in conflict-affected countries.
  • For both primary and secondary school, girls are disproportionately more likely to be out of school than boys: 55% of the 28.5 million are girls.

As always there are some health warnings with this kind of data – for example, as conflicts emerge and deepen, such as in Syria, it takes some time for the data to catch up.  It is also possible that the underlying problem in some contexts is less conflict and more state fragility.

But in many cases conflict is patently the cause of children being kept out of school.  In our report we highlight what appears to be a growing trend towards schools, teachers and pupils being the target of attacks.
In 2012 alone more than 3,600 attacks on education were recorded by the United Nations, a dramatic increase on the number recorded in 2011.
These ranged from pupils being attacked, just as was the case with Malala, to schools being bombed or teachers being singled out.
Both the ‘education challenge’ in conflict- affected countries and the apparent trend towards increased targeting of education have important policy implications.

Focusing on conflict affected countries and humanitarian aid

One implication is the relatively well established argument that development aid should be more targeted at conflict affected countries.  Donors like the UK Department for International Development (DfID) are leading the way on this, with 30% of its development budget being allocated to conflict-affected fragile states by 2014. And the Global Partnership for Education is also continuing to shift its focus to such countries, including by providing flexible disbursements during a crisis.
But other donors are laggards. Worryingly, previous key donors, like the Netherlands, have backed away from education and other donors have not stepped up to cover this gap.  As a recent OECD report shows, the lack of funding available to conflict-affected fragile states is having serious knock-on effects on investment in basic services.
On humanitarian aid the picture is not positive either.  The chart below shows the recent trend in the percentage of humanitarian aid which is allocated to education – in short it was and remains a ‘Cinderella service’ in the humanitarian world.

education share of humanitarian aid chart
Source: New research from the Education For All Global Monitoring Report.

As part of the new analysis that the GMR team carried out for Save the Children we also assessed the funding shortfall in 2012 – that is the gap between assessed need and the level of funding provided.  This figure was a shocking $221 million. No one is denying that basic needs like shelter and food are priorities in humanitarian contexts.  But surely there is something wrong when education, with its potential to provide a hub for delivering other services and given the costs of disrupting a child’s education, is allocated a mere 1.4% of humanitarian aid.

Looking ahead to 2015

In 2015, Malala will be celebrating her 18th birthday.  What better present to her than to have made sufficient progress on ensuring all children are receiving a quality education, particularly in the most challenging environments for children. This will require concerted action on many fronts, but critical will be a continued and improved focus on countries struggling with the effects of conflict.

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