By: Oliver Mawhinney, Education Policy & Advocacy Adviser at Save the Children UK
Notwithstanding strong rhetoric on education in crisis and girls’ education, how the Transforming Education Summit now delivers for the millions of girls whose education is at the risk of collapse is the real test.
Nowhere is this more urgent than in Afghanistan where children, and particularly girls, are facing an unprecedented education crisis and denial of their basic human rights.
Despite the Summit coinciding with exactly one year since adolescent girls were banned from attending secondary school, there was no breakthrough of coordinated diplomatic pressure to ensure the country’s de facto authorities let girls learn or urgent new humanitarian funding for education.
Our new analysis now reveals the extent to which Afghanistan’s education system is at extreme risk of collapse.
Covid-19, conflict and climate change are derailing children’s learning
For the second consecutive year, Save the Children ranked 182 countries by the vulnerability of their school system to hazards – including Covid-19, conflict, climate change and displacement – that threaten children’s right to learn and by deficiencies in preparedness to confront these hazards.
Our analysis unsurprisingly shows that Afghanistan had the highest level of risk, dropping from fourth place in 2021, meaning its education system has significantly worsened since the Taliban gained control of the country.
Afghanistan was closely followed by Sudan, Somalia and Mali, all of which also have education systems ranked as being at ‘extreme’ risk of ongoing and future crises disrupting education. This puts the futures of nearly 49 million children in jeopardy across these four countries.
Girls’ education is at much higher risk
Our analysis shows that while there is often considerable overlap in the threats facing boys’ and girls’ learning and wellbeing, girls’ education is at much higher risk.
During a crisis, girls tend to experience higher rates of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in and around schools. Childbearing and increased domestic work can also surge. Additional barriers include lack of adequate facilities and menstrual hygiene management, lack of female teachers, attacks against schools, families in economic hardship favoring boys’ education, and more.
New research by Save the Children also shows that girls living in conflict are at higher risk of child marriage. The Global Girlhood Report 2022: Girls on the Frontline, which launched today, shows that girls affected by conflict are over 20% more likely to marry as children than those living outside of conflict zones.
Furthermore, girls are less likely to return to school after conflict or a disaster. In conflict-affected areas, girls are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys, and if current trends continue, by 2025 the climate emergency will be a contributing factor in preventing at least 12.5 million girls from completing their education each year.
Building Forward Better
Our Risks to Education Index demonstrates that education – especially for girls – is in crisis. The Transforming Education Summit helped shine a spotlight on this crisis. But the Summit is only the beginning and warm words aren’t enough.
That’s why Save the Children is calling for every country to have a preparedness plan to secure children’s learning and wellbeing in future crises.
Governments with school systems with extreme or high levels of risks must also take rapid action to avoid a prolonged learning catastrophe.
Leaders must put their money where it matters
Donors and the international community need to act too. An early opportunity is Education Cannot Wait’s (ECW) High-Level Financing Conference in February 2023, where we are calling on bilateral donors and foundations to provide at least $1.5 billion to ECW.
Meeting this funding target – which would ensure 20 million children and young people affected by crises, including 12 million girls, receive a quality education over the next four years – will require major donors, like the UK, to step up. That’s why we are asking the UK government to pledge £170 million to ECW between 2023 – 2026.
We also want to see the UK and its G7 partners accelerate their efforts to reach the most marginalised girls in the crisis-affected countries with greatest need, including through implementation and transparency about action towards the G7 Girls’ Education Declaration targets.
Act on the priorities of girls
Above all leaders must ensure the voices of girls, and indeed all children, are heard and acted on, not only on International Day of the Girl Children but all year round. That means listening to children like Nagina (name changed to protect identity), 13, who was enjoying school and had dreams of becoming a doctor before the Taliban took control in Afghanistan:
“Before, we had a good life,” Nagina told Save the Children. “I was going to school, and I was happy. School is a very good thing, and all girls should go to school. But now the situation has become worse”.
How the TES has a real and lasting impact for children like Nagina is now what really matters.
Our hearts go out to the women and girls of Afghanistan. Once again their basic human rights are being trampled on by the Taliban. In the early 1990s as ADG/Ed I confronted the Taliban insisting that under inter national
Law (Convention on Discrimination in Education) they must allow women to teach and girls to go to school. They refused – and we refused to acknowledge their regime. However we did find ways via radio to support women teaching at home, while continuing to pressure the regime to respect the rights of girls and women
(see pages 22-23, 235 and 263 of my book C.Power “The Power of Education: Education for All, Development and UNESCO”. Springer, 2015). UNESCO and the aid community once more need to find creative ways of supporting the millions of girls and women who right to quality education is being denied. Millions more can be expected to suffer as a result of climate change, pandemics, conflict (eg Ukraine) and the resurgence of authoritarian regimes
Prof Colin Power
Culture can hinder Girl education