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At Education Cannot Wait Event, Global Leaders Stress Need to Fund Education - Especially in Emergencies

©UNICEF 2013/Shi
This post originally appeared on the UNICEF site on 25 September 2013.

By Pierette James

At a meeting on education in countries affected by conflict, global leaders stress that children need education not 'even' in emergencies - but 'especially' in emergencies.

NEW YORK, United States of America, 25 September 2013 - Global leaders from governments, international organizations and civil society met at UNICEF on 23 September to increase urgency and renew commitments to help the now 28.5 million children in countries affected by conflict who are denied an education.

While the global number of children out of school has declined, the percentage of these children living in countries scarred by conflict had increased to 50 per cent in 2011, compared to 42 per cent in 2008.

The Education Cannot Wait event, held for the second consecutive year during the United Nations General Assembly, was chaired by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Global Education Gordon Brown. Convened in support of the Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative, launched one year ago, the event called for increased planning for emergencies, prioritizing humanitarian aid for education and protecting education from attacks.

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Education - especially in emergencies
Highlighting the plight of millions of children in the Syrian Arab Republic, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake opened the event describing the situation as a “catastrophe” and stressed that education should never be a casualty of crisis.

Referencing a quote from young education activist Malala Yousafzai, Mr. Lake said, “Children want to pick up their books and pens…and, even in emergencies, in the most terrible circumstances, we must support them. For their sake, and for ours.”

Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan shared a passionate message: “It makes me angry that education in emergencies is such a low priority and terribly underfunded…Our message today is not that children need education even in emergencies. It’s that they need it especially in emergencies.”

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova explained, “Education Cannot Wait is a campaign to ensure every girl and boy gets to school, whatever the circumstances.”

Planning saves lives
CEO of the Global Partnership for Education Alice Albright said, “Planning saves lives. It’s very simple…We must begin to plan ahead, so we do not fail our children in the long run.”

Recognizing the need for planning, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres added, “There is a massive investment that needs to be done…If we are not…addressing the needs of education and children from the very beginning, we are failing our job.”

Norwegian Minister of International Development Heikki Eidsvoll Holmås emphasized the important role of education in restoring a sense of normalcy for children during times of conflict and highlighted the success of programmes such as Schools as Zones of Peace in the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, which has improved school attendance and kept children safe.

Schools are not “battlefields”
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui said, “Attacks turn places of learning into battlefields. We cannot sit idly by….We must work harder alongside students, teachers and communities to ensure conflict does not mean end of schooling for children.”

H.E. Abdi Farah Saeed, Minister of Education for Puntland, Somalia, spoke on behalf of Minister for Human Development and Public Services of Somalia H.E. Dr. Maryan Qasim, sharing the challenges faced in their country. “My people are calling out for help from the international community. Almost half of our population is out of school…[W]e cannot afford to lose the third generation…

“[I]t’s time to interfere.”

“We have failed to deliver”
When it came to prioritizing aid to education, which dropped from 2.3 per cent of global humanitarian funding in 2010 to 1.4 per cent in 2012, the speakers had firm words for the gathering.

CEO of Save the Children Norway Tove Wang said, “If you look at the big picture, we have failed to deliver…we have failed to tell the story. We have failed to convince the donors of how critical education in crisis is. Parents know how critical it is, and so do children.

“We need to take action and find new solutions,” she added.

Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhendawi and youth advocate Chernor Bah, the Chair of the Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group, stressed the importance of acting quickly – and holding the international community accountable to concrete commitments.

“Every time we fall short…behind those numbers there’s a name…[T]here’s a future that’s lost,” Mr. Bah said. “I could have been a statistic. That’s why it’s important. We are all in a very unique position to make change... to change the landscape like we’ve never done before.”

In concluding the meeting, Mr. Brown drew on the importance of hope, saying, ”[I]t is education and the delivery of education to children that is the beginning of hope in a situation of conflict. I urge you to make sure that by next year we have done better as an international community.”

Read the Call to Action from UNICEF, Save the Children, Global Partnership for Education, Office of the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, International Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), Education Cluster, UNESCO, UNESCO-IIEP, Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, UNHCR and Plan International.


Millennium Development Goal 2 is Achieve universal primary education. Among the key interventions necessary to ensuring that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling, is to ensure safe and protective access to quality education in humanitarian emergencies.

More information on progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal targets and remaining challenges


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