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UNICEF at Oxford: Education experts to confer on reaching children in conflicts

A girl reads aloud in class in a dilapidated school building in Kabul, Afghanistan.

NEW YORK, USA, 10 April 2006 – Around the world approximately 115 million children are out of school. At least half of those children live in countries affected by conflict, while many more are excluded from the basic right to an education because of natural disasters and other crises.

These issues are at the heart of a two-day conference – ‘Education and Conflict: Research, Policy and Practice’ – co-hosted by UNICEF at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. At the conference, which begins tomorrow, UNICEF representatives will share their experience from the field with academic and policy experts.

“We hope there can be some mutual reinforcement so people can learn from each other,” says UNICEF’s Chief of Education, Dr. Cream Wright. “Academics who are doing research will learn a bit more about the reality of what seems to be working in the field, and those practitioners who are working in the field can benefit from the insights that are coming from research work.”

© UNICEF/HQ04-0309/Nesbitt
An adolescent girl sits outdoors near two UNICEF tents where other children are attending school in the Perry Town displacement camp near Monrovia, Liberia.

A foundation for peace

The key message of the conference is that education has a crucial preventive and rehabilitative part to play in meeting the needs and ensuring the rights of children before, during and after conflict situations. Rebecca Winthrop of the International Rescue Committee, who is the current Chair of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, is one of the featured speakers.

“Education in emergency and disaster contexts is very important,” said Ms. Winthrop. “In the short-term acute phase, it protects children and provides psycho-social support and key life-saving messages. In the longer-term phase, it is life-sustaining because it provides key skills and empowers youth and adults to negotiate their way in a complicated environment.

“In the very long term,” she added, “it can build the foundations for lasting peace and development by providing a whole generation with the skills they need to rebuild their country.”

Education is a key element of UNICEF’s response to emergencies. The organization is committed to having every child back in school within the first six to eight weeks following a crisis. This includes setting up temporary learning spaces and reopening schools, reintegrating teachers and children, and organizing recreational activities – all while paying special attention to the particular needs of girls.

An adolescent girl sits outdoors near two UNICEF tents where other children are attending school in the Perry Town displacement camp near Monrovia, Liberia.

Long-term partnership

To illustrate the issues surrounding education and conflict, four case studies will be presented at the conference from Afghanistan, Kosovo, Timor-Leste and Northern Ireland.

Speaking before his departure for Oxford, Dr. Wright described Southern Sudan as a good example of UNICEF’s work on education in emergencies. A civil war that lasted for two decades wiped out most of the region’s infrastructure and left three-quarters of its 10 million people unable to read or write. Then on 1 April this year, UNICEF, the Government of Sudan, various UN agencies, non-governmental and community organizations launched the ‘Go to School’ initiative, which aims to get 1.6 million children into school.

“It is very crucial because it is the first dividend for peace for Southern Sudan since the peace declaration was signed” in 2005, said Dr. Wright. “Many millions of people are wondering what this has brought for them. The fact that some sense of normalcy can begin again and children can start going to school again, there’s a new sense of hope. Children can start thinking about the future again rather than hiding from the present.”

The Oxford conference aims to produce a research agenda to guide policy-makers and academics in this emerging field. Dr. Wright will also present an outline of UNICEF’s new strategy on education. He hopes the conference will be the start of a long-term partnership between UNICEF and the world of academic research.

“For all of us, ultimately,” said Dr. Wright, “the goal is to have countries develop an education system that is self-fulfilling and can expand to reach all its citizens.”


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30 March 2006:
UNICEF’s Chief of Education, Dr. Cream Wright, discusses the joint UNICEF-Oxford University conference on education and conflict.

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30 March 2006:
Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies Chair Rebecca Winthrop explains why education is a crucial element of humanitarian response.

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