Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly

Donor conference must deliver on the promise of education for Syria

Joseph Nhan-O’ReillyBy Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly, Head of Education Policy & Advocacy at Save the Children UK. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Global Partnership for Education and Chair of the Board’s Strategy & Policy Committee. He is also a member of the Technical Strategy Group overseeing the design of the new common platform for education in emergencies.  

Funding, policy change and enhanced protection will be tests for this week’s London conference.

A bullet-hole scars the blackboard at the local school after armed groups occupied the school in Northern Syria.
A bullet-hole scars the blackboard at the local school after armed groups occupied the school in Northern Syria.

In a few days, representatives from donor governments, regional nations hosting refugees and the UN will arrive in London to agree how to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of people affected by the war in Syria.

Five years since the start of the conflict and there are 13.5 million vulnerable and displaced people inside the country,4.2 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and thousands more are on the move seeking asylum elsewhere.

A key measure of the event’s success will be whether the meeting helps to close the humanitarian funding gap: current funding to the 2015 UN appeals has not even reached last year’s levels and stands at $3.3 billion against an appeal of $8.4 billion. There is no doubt that the international community must do more.

The conference is set to address three pillars: protection, livelihoods and education.

The education dimension of the conflict is massive with 2.1 million children in Syria who are out of school because of the conflict and 1.7 million child refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt whose education has been disrupted because of their displacement.

There is growing pressure on the international community to ensure that everything possible is done so that the children of Syria who have already lost their homes do not face the double jeopardy of losing their education.

Rami*, 9, sits behind his desk in a school supported by Save the Children in northern Syria.Rami was forced to flee his home with his parents over a year ago due to the conflict. Not long after, two missiles destroyed part of his house and his beloved bike. The family moved to another village where they thought they would be safer and Rami started going to school again. After a few months his new school was also bombed and his father said that he is was no longer allowed to return to a school in the city because it was too dangerous. Rami was afraid that if he didnât go to school he wouldnât have the chance to become a lawyer like his father. He now goes to a Save the Children supported school outside the city
Rami, 9 sits behind his desk in a school supported by Save the Children in Northern Syria.

The initial response to that pressure is promising: a number of donors and host country governments are exploring a commitment to ensure all children affected by the conflict are in school and learning by the end of the current academic year.

It’s a commitment which will fulfill the basic right of individual children to their education and one which will help prevent to avert the otherwise negative impacts for societies and economies across the region of continued neglect.

Delivering all children in education and learning during the current school year

Twelve international and local non-government organisations have consequently issued a call on conference participants to develop a comprehensive plan for education that delivers on that commitment by:

1.     Closing the education funding gap

2.     Enacting policies that guarantee access to quality education inside Syria and in host countries

3.     Protecting students, teachers and educational facilities from attack

Closing the funding gap

The growing recognition among world leaders that education offers both immediate dignity and enhances the long term prospects of individuals and communities increases the prospect of raising sufficient funding to ensure every child caught up in the conflict has the opportunity to learn. In practice this will mean that donors must commit at least $1.4bn annually to education in Syria and the region.

In the refugee hosting countries this funding needs to be invested in national education systems so that they are better able to accommodate children from Syria. Where the formal system can’t accommodate refugee children the funding should support non-formal programmes, which will be essential if the promise of ensuring all children get to go to school this year.

Guaranteeing children’s access to education

Fatima*'s wish: I want to become a teacher.
Fatima’s wish: I want to be a teacher.

Funding on its own will not deliver immediate access to quality education for refugee children. Money must form part of a compact that delivers changes at the national level designed to ensure that new resources can in fact be spent to scale up educational services.

Although host countries have undoubtedly done their best in the face of exceptional need and demand, they haven’t always been in a position to implement new policies and practices that deliver educational services to refugee populations in a timely manner. This includes, for instance, allowing non-government agencies to provide education when host government schools weren’t able.

Protection of education from attack

Destroyed school in the suburbs of Idleb in Northern Syria.
Destroyed school in the suburbs of Idleb in Northern Syria.

In a truly tragic twist schools have become some of the most dangerous places in Syria. Not only are they deliberately targeted, but the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, including in and around schools results in children not going to school.

Since the conflict began, more than 4,200 schools have been damaged, destroyed, militarised or are currently used as shelters by internally displaced people.

National governments and other stakeholders with influence over armed forces and armed groups inside Syria must call for the immediate cessation of attacks against educational facilities, personnel and students, as well as a stop to the military use of such infrastructure.

Participants in the London conference should urge all parties to the conflict to:

Develop and deliver a plan that embodies these recommendations

Hibaâs* seven children and her husbandâs brotherâs six children who they care for, play together in the camp for displaced people where they live in northern Syria.On Thursday when refugee hosting countries and donors meet the eyes of Syria refugee children will be peeled, waiting to see if the promise of education will in fact be delivered. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for all those parties to fix the humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the war in Syria and to specifically resolve its educational dimensions.

To do so participants should make a clear commitment to the principles that underpin the three areas that civil society has identified as key to progress. They should launch a plan in which the detailed recommendations set out in Funding, Policy and Protection: delivering a quality education to children affected by conflict in Syria and the region are agreed and ultimately delivered.


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