Sunday, 16 February 2014

From Conflict to Classrooms!

Reflections on my recent visit to Canada talking about education in conflict-affected countries

By Alice Albright
This past week I traveled to Toronto, Canada to discuss how the Global Partnership for Education supports fragile and conflict-affected countries.  I had the great pleasure to share the stage with the Chief-Executive-Officers from UNICEF Canada, Plan Canada and Save the Children Canada. These organizations do a lot of admirable and quite impressive humanitarian, development and advocacy work to ensure that all children are able to realize their right to education.

The Global Partnership supports children in conflict-affected countries

The recent launch of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report underscores how timely this discussion is. Of the 57 million children who are not attending school, more than half live in countries affected by conflict and fragility.  Reaching these children requires a renewed political commitment to ensure education for all.  Almost half of all GPE partner developing countries are fragile or affected by conflict, and we have disbursed $800 million in grants to these countries.
Education has long been a neglected sector within humanitarian response. In 2012, the proportion of humanitarian assistance going to education plummeted from 2.3% to only 1.4%, leaving a $221 million shortfall. Education was virtually ignored in one third of all appeals and is further neglected in financing for early recovery and transition to development.

The members of the Global Partnership know that education saves lives and is essential in times of conflict and fragility. My travels to Afghanistan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have underlined for me how clearly education is needed to provide a sense of continuity and a space for children to be safe and learn. We simply cannot afford a generation or more missing out on education because their classrooms have become staging grounds for conflict, or because their teachers have fled.

The nuts and bolts of education in crisis environments

One of the most intriguing questions from the audience in Toronto was for the panelists to describe the nuts and bolts of building an education program in these difficult contexts.  In addition to all of the regular inputs for a successful education system – trained teachers, safe spaces, learning materials, and an administration system to manage all of this – there are some additional pieces unique to working in these settings.

It is essential for working in education in fragile and conflict-affected states – and indeed throughout the education sector – is an understanding that this is a long-term investment that may be slow to show results.  But that does not mean our involvement there isn’t critical, or couldn’t have a tremendous impact. We should not underestimate the importance of getting children and teachers back in school as soon as possible after a crisis, as education is the only safeguard against future instability.

We need to strengthen education systems

The Global Partnership emphasizes the need to strengthen education systems and local capacity, and to harmonize and align with nationally or locally-owned goals. This takes time and is difficult to measure, especially in these circumstances.

Underlying this is the necessity to be quick and nimble in our approach to working in education in fragile and conflict-affected states, with the ability to adjust as we go.  The Global Partnership has developed an Operational Framework for Effective Support to Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries that allows the use of funding that can be quickly disbursed and used as a bridge between emergency interventions and long-term development activities.

If there is one thing that I came away with from my visit to Toronto, it is that we have many experienced partners committed to providing meaningful support for education in very challenging settings.  This will ensure, above all, that there is a continued commitment to achieve results for all children, wherever they reside and whatever the circumstances.

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