A Syrian refugee looks out of a window at Zahi Alsameen school serving as a refugee camp for students and women in Jaramana district, southeast of Damascus, capital of Syria, on May 31, 2014 (Xinhua/Pan Chaoyue)

Education cannot wait, and yet it always does

For many years now there have been calls for greater attention to education in crisis situations from a multitude of advocacy organisations and influential spokespeople. Despite this noise, although there have been some indications of progress, there have been no major improvements for children’s education chances in emergencies. It was exciting to hear at the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) annual meetings that have been taking place this week in Geneva, therefore, that 2016 might be a break-through year for the sector. Might this finally be the year that statements get turned into commitments?

The global momentum built up this year at the Oslo Education Summit, World Education Forum and the UN General Assembly has created a real urgency to finally position education up on the list of priorities in emergencies. This has resulted in a large amount of activity on the issue planned for 2016:

  • The World Humanitarian Summit offers a great opportunity to have education’s voice heard with a different audience, and to position education centrally in any outcome document produced. Hidden within the synthesis report of the Summit’s global consultation is a target saying that “No one should miss a month of schooling due to conflict or disaster”. This is a target many in the sector would have formulated differently, no doubt, but it is a target nonetheless, and an ambitious one at that. This should be seen as good news for our sector, which has been singled out by having a target assigned to it in the text.
  • The new Sustainable Development Document, Transforming our Worldnames refugees among those vulnerable populations needing to be addressed. The Education 2030: Framework for Action due to be adopted in early November underscores the need to address education in emergency situations. Both policy priorities give rallying calls for us all to use in our work.
  • There is a vast amount of continuing media attention on Syria, and the resulting refugee crisis, within which education is more frequently mentioned than in many emergencies that have hit the press in the past. The convergence between the complexities of this crisis and the scope of the new SDG 4 could open up a conversation where the voices of advocates might finally be heard.
  • There are also three important publications or pieces of research that will help build the arguments for education in crisis, notably the International Commission on Financing of Global Education Opportunity, the work being done by the Overseas Development Institute on the platform for education in crises, and the GEM Report 2016. It will be important for these publications to make the argument for investing in education early – either when conflicts are on the horizon, or immediately after a crisis, rather than waiting for the costly repercussions that arise from leaving it until the development stage.

Combined, these multiple dates on the calendar in 2016 make it a year full of opportunities that our sector must seize upon.

However, there are persistent, almost insulting remaining challenges that show this will not be easy. Only 2% of humanitarian aid is allocated to education. The proportion of out of school children living in conflict-affected areas is on the rise. Frustrations were aired by different INEE members present in Geneva about how deep the problem lies at the country level. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, education is excluded from pooled funds. In Iraq there are significant funding gaps still for education. Education is still not a priority sector in Yemen and there is no money for the sector in the humanitarian envelope in Afghanistan.conflict

As a member of the INEE network said at the meeting, ‘Education is not only broke, but it is also broken’. Finding funds is not the only problem. We need to make sure they are not then assigned according to political priorities but are going to those people and those projects which need them the most. We need practical solutions to stop the artificial divide between development and humanitarian work from pulling the rug from any effectively delivery of aid to the sector.

The advocacy work of INEE used to be under the title of ‘Education Cannot Wait’. While this branding may change in the future, the sense of the title lives on. We must do all we can to come together as a sector next year to make a solid case for education as a vital part of preventing, and resolving crises.



  1. I should congratulate UNESCO and specially the DDG for continuing to publish this valuable report annually. This report provides researchers, policy makers, practitioners resources to find out, act and research into the flaws while it provides guidelines to politicians, the steps they should take to enhance QOL in their countries through enhancement of education for all.

    S.B.Ekanayake Ph.D
    former Basic Education Adviser UNESCO/UNHCR Afghanistan
    CEO, Association for Educational Research and Development Sri Lanka

  2. “Only 2% of humanitarian aid is allocated to education.”

    That’s an alarming statistic! Education is overlooked when aid is being allocated to development projects following conflict. It is a very real problem.

    1. I agree that is an alarming statistic that only 2% of humanitarian aid is allocated to education. With all of the advancements in technology, access to information should be desired to educate citizens of these countries mentioned in this report but sadly in order to keep people in an impoverished state, they limit this access.
      Education is key in order to rise out of poverty.

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