Save the Children: Not enough money for child education in conflict zones

Samia (name has been changed), 32 years old, is a teacher in the Palestinian territories. Here she stands in the teachers room in her school: “This is a catastrophe. This is a disaster... I was on maternity leave but I could not stay away... I decided to come and see the destruction of the school. The moment I entered the school I was shocked. I was surprised. The school is unusable for students or teachers, and from both a psychological and a physical point of view.” Humanitarian relief funding is not geared for education activities, according to Save the Children's Heather Simpson. Photo by: Eman Mohammed / Save the Children

Nearly 50 million children are reported to be out of school in conflict-affected countries, yet the aid community allotted this year only $4 in every $100 in humanitarian funding to help children continue learning amid war in those nations.

A new report from Save the Children reveals the extent of rising attacks on education: Just in 2012, 75 children and 212 teachers were killed or injured and 3,643 attacks were documented.

“The humanitarian relief funding is not geared for education activities,” Heather Simpson, Save the Children senior education and child development director, told Devex. “[The aid community is] looking at different things, but they’re not seeing as attacks on schools, attacks on education as an issue or concern.”

The scant funds dedicated to the education of children in conflict zones, she explained, underscores how the aid community deals with the complexities of conflict, war and natural disasters — segmenting a whole range of issues and preserving a hierarchy of needs on the ground. As donors prioritize some needs over others, aid implementers work separately on their own sectors.


This year, humanitarian needs for children’s education are estimated at $362 million, but donors so far have only pledged $87 million.

Chad and Niger are asking for $8.7 million to fund the education needs of conflict victims. Until now, donors have yet to heed their call, according to data from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: 2012 pledges, commitments and contributions for about 16 conflict-affected countries from Algeria to Pakistan seem to ignore the education sector.

Donors usually commit funding to specific sectors and concerns, leaving aid partners on the ground little flexibility to mount cross-sector response, so with food and health taking the big chunk of humanitarian money, education remains at the bottom of the pyramid.

“Children’s needs are not segmented,” Simpson said. “The whole community needs to work holistically across sectors to make sure that an attack on schools is a child protection issue, an education issue, a health issue.”

More flexible programs

On the ground, Simpson suggested education and child protection workers work together to come up with ways to hash out programs that both integrate caring and learning of children.

For instance, in conflict-torn villages in Ethiopia, Save the Children sets up centers that act as a both daycare and learning places for children who need caring and teaching. These centers sadly are not found everywhere — even if the nonprofit group wants every child to learn somewhere, somehow when conflict bombs schools, tortures teachers and forces students to take up arms.

“In humanitarian relief situation, we need to be more flexible,” noted Simpson. “We need to think not only that learning happens in school. So if schools are attacked, children need to learn elsewhere.”

Despite the challenges, a few bright spots can be seen on the horizon, according to the Save the Children officer.

In Nepal, Simpson mentioned the government has declared schools as zones of peace, and Afghanistan and the Ivory Coast are looking to follow suit with the Norwegian government’s help.

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • John Alliage Morales

    As a former Devex staff writer, John Alliage Morales covered the Americas, focusing on the world's top donor hub, Washington, and its aid community. Prior to joining Devex, John worked for a variety of news outlets including GMA, the Philippine TV network, where he conducted interviews, analyzed data, and produced in-depth stories on development and other topics.