Millions of children in emergencies are denied an education

The consequences of so many kids missing out on school go far beyond lost geography terms.

Image: Global Citizen / Artolution

Image: Global Citizen / Artolution

In western Bangladesh, Rohingya refugee children are often afraid to go to school because they might get abducted or harassed. In Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, hundreds and even thousands of schools have been destroyed in an effort to subvert girls’ and secular education. In the Dadaab refugee camp of Kenya, just 13% of children have access to post-primary education because of a lack of schools and teachers.

Globally, more than 75 million children have had their educations disrupted because of conflict or disaster. In Nepal, for instance, the 2014 earthquake wrecked schools, erasing the education system in many regions. The seemingly endless Syrian civil war, meanwhile, has made the prospect of walking across a street to a classroom a life-or-death gamble.

The consequences of so many kids missing out on school go far beyond lost geography terms and coding classes, recesses and lunch periods.

When children are denied an education, they’re more likely to experience life-altering violence, forced labor, sex and slavery trafficking, early marriage, hunger and malnutrition, and recruitment by militias, according to Education Cannot Wait.

That’s in the short-term. In the long-term, adults who were unable to get an education because of an emergency are more likely to live in poverty, die early, and contract disease, according to ECW.

Each personal tragedy, amplified by millions of lives, ripples outward on national scales to slow the progress of women’s rights, weaken economies, and destabilize countries.

It’s a crisis that affects girls most acutely. A new report released on International Women’s Day by UNHCR reveals that refugee girls are half as likely to be in school as refugee boys. Yet, if all girls in emergencies completed primary school, child marriage rates, which are higher in emergency settings, would fall by 14%. If they all finished secondary school, it would plummet by 64%.

When girls are denied an education it contributes to intergenerational poverty, since all across the world, women are more likely to invest in their families than men.

But these problems are not insurmountable — all children in crises can be put into safe classrooms with capable teachers if resources are allocated effectively and political will is rallied.

There are ways to bridge this deficit, according to ECW and GPE.

Right now, just 2% of humanitarian funding is earmarked for education, so the first step is to convince countries and foundations to make sure education isn’t neglected and that funding levels reflect the value of schools.

Bringing education funding up to 4%, for example, would nearly halve the current deficit.

The rest of the funding, according to advocates, could come from new sources, such as the private sector, so that the overall humanitarian aid pie is expanded rather than cut up differently.

Further, just six countries currently dedicate 0.7% of their gross domestic product to Official Development Assistance (ODA), despite a pledge by 35 countries to do so. ODA helps funds organizations such as GPE and ECW.

If more countries hit this target, extreme poverty could effectively be wiped out, according to the OECD.

In addition, we need to make sure schools in conflict areas are safe from attack. The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express support for protecting students, teachers, schools, and universities from attack during times of armed conflict. 73 countries have signed up to date, but notably, the US, UK and Japan still haven't.

Ensuring that kids receive an education in crises isn’t a form of charity — it’s an investment in a safer, more prosperous, and equal world.

According to ECW, higher education levels lead to more civic engagement and tolerance for different groups of people, reducing the likelihood of conflict; more opportunities throughout a society, leading to greater economic development; and a better ability to cope with climate change.

The costs of maintaining the status quo could lead to a “lost generation” of children unable to reach their potentials, shed the shackles of poverty, and contribute to greater peace and prosperity, especially since the average displaced person spends 17 years in this uncertain state.

Here are a few of the ongoing education crises around the world.

There are nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh, mostly in tight, abruptly developed spaces. More than half of these refugees — who fled an ethnic cleansing in Myanmar — are children.

The rapidly unfolding nature of the crisis means that key infrastructure is lacking in most camps designated for Rohingya.

“All the children experienced some kind of trauma,” Daphnee Cook, Communications and Media Manager for ‎Save the Children International’s Rohingya Response, told Global Citizen. “Whether that be something like having their parents killed or home burned down, or the trauma of packing up and having to leave their homes, every child in the camps had to go through that.”

Establishing learning centers would allow young people to not just resume their educations, but also to receive essential support services.

“These places provide information beyond math and science,” Cook said. “It’s things like hygiene awareness, hand washing, and road safety, which is an extremely important life-saving field in the camps where road accidents are one of the leading causes of bodily trauma.”

“More than just formal learning, they are places where kids can have a safe space, where they can socialize protected from the threat of trafficking.”

Save the Children currently runs 77 “child-friendly spaces,” or CFS, across the camps, where refugee children can play, interact, and learn, according to Lucie Eches, a child protection manager who spoke with Global Citizen. The organization aims to open two more CFSs and runs a total of around 340 educational spaces including temporary learning centers, home-based learning centers, and 10 education sessions in Girl-Friendly Spaces.

Artolution, a community-based public arts group, is working with Save the Children to teach children in the largest refugee camp cluster, Cox’s Bazar, how to use art to cope with and explore their traumas.