United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg during the opening ceremony of the Oslo Summit for Education. Photo by: Norway Foreign Affairs Ministry / CC BY-NC-ND

Despite the world reaching a consensus on the importance of education in ending poverty and spurring sustainable economic development, funding for the sector is still short $22 billion annually, leaving 124 million children — many of them living in conflict and disaster-prone zones — out of school. Today, key stakeholders from all over the world gather in Norway for the Oslo Summit on Education for Development to put increased pressure on global leaders and decision-makers to walk their talk when it comes to education.

Building on the outcomes of the World Education Forum in South Korea last May, the Oslo Summit aims to mobilize more concrete resources and support for education, particularly for those living in emergency settings, possibly through the creation of a global humanitarian fund for education in emergencies.

A newly published Overseas Development Institute report has put the number of children whose education is most directly affected by emergencies and conflict at 65 million, a figure that includes both out-of-school youth and those at risk of dropping out. To close this education gap, about $74 per child, or $4.8 billion per year, is needed. However, a UNESCO study reported that education received only 2 percent of total humanitarian aid in 2014 — just half of 2011’s already meager minimum target of 4 percent.

Susan Nicolai, ODI researcher and chief author of the report, believes the money is out there — but donors need a clear and accountable place to put it.

“Development actors aren’t typically set up to respond to education in emergencies, and the funding would often need to flow through humanitarian providers,” Nicolai told Devex. “A common platform for education in emergencies and protracted crises, which would include a dedicated fund, can establish the partnerships to get the money where it is most needed.”

Rashid Javed, country director for Plan International Pakistan, holds a similar opinion and urges global leaders to step up to the plate and turn commitments into disbursements.

“I think there’s been no concerted effort [for education in emergencies] from the donor agencies and international global donors,” Javed told Devex. “Having a separate global fund for education provides the concentration and coordination needed for people to realize the importance of education in emergencies.”

While education is especially important to children living in the midst of conflict or natural disasters — as it provides a sense of normalcy, stability and structure — it is also one of the most easily disrupted systems.

“The schools are used as shelters, are used for protection,” Javed said. “And unfortunately in the Pakistan context, in the northern part of the country, when there are insurgencies, schools are actually targeted.”

Moreover, when up against shelter, food and water sanitation, education just falls to the bottom of the list of priorities during a disaster.

“For humanitarians, education hasn’t typically been seen as lifesaving,” Nicolai said. “And for development actors, funding education in crisis contexts was long seen as too risky. This leaves gaps in the aid architecture in terms of who responds in these contexts.”

A study released recently by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Education for All Global Monitoring Report seeks to bring more attention to the negative trend in international support for education, with aid to the sector remaining below 2010 levels.

According to the report, two-thirds of Syrian refugee children are out of school, with classrooms having been turned into barracks, as well as detention and torture centers. Some fear the Syrian crisis will lead to a “lost generation” of uneducated children.

“Before the conflict, nearly every child was enrolled in primary school but by 2013 nearly 2 million children and adolescents were out of school,” said Silvia Montoya, director of the UIS. “It took just two years of civil war to erase all education progress made since the start of the century.”

The picture for emergency education in quake-ravaged Nepal is, unfortunately, not much brighter. A U.N. flash appeal for education in the immediate aftermath of the disaster received just half of its funding target, and a month after the tragedy, almost 1 million Nepalese children were out of school, some homeless and on the streets.

Unsurprisingly, the impact of insufficient support for education in emergencies is especially heavy on young girls.

“For any sort of education program, you have to really look at it from a gender lens, seeing where the barriers are,” Javed said. “It has to do with providing girls with opportunities, girls who are really excluded. Equality looks at the roles and responsibilities of governments, ensuring they have the right laws and policies in place, which look at the hurdles that girls face.”

Henry Garneo, an Oslo Summit delegate and Plan International youth blogger from Liberia, also stressed the need for an emergency education fund, which would greatly benefit the boys and girls affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

“We need a fund for education to support less privileged children, children who lost their parents due to the Ebola crisis,” he told Devex. “They live in foster homes, they live in infant care centers, and they will not have adequate access to education. So we need this funding to cover those gaps and enable children who are greatly affected by Ebola to have equal access to education as any other child around the world.”

Yesterday in Oslo, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the global body’s final progress report on the Millennium Development Goals. The past 15 years has seen mixed progress on education: While net enrollment rates increased from 83 percent in 2000 to 91 percent in 2015, the goal to achieve universal primary education was not met.

Other expected outcomes at the Oslo Summit include the formation of a Champions’ Group on Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises, which will endorse a set of consolidated principles and guidelines for education in emergencies, and the establishment of a Commission on the Financing of Global Education Opportunities.

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About the author

  • 034 devex%2520aug2015  pamstacruzphotography liana

    Liana Barcia

    Liana is a former Manila-based reporter at Devex focusing on education, development finance, and public-private partnerships.