A Generation without Education

Can we live up to the promise of an education for all the children of world? Lisa Advani explores the choice between increasing spending on education in emergencies or turning a blind eye to a generation without education.

Last year governments around the world made a significant promise to all the world’s children. In adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they pledged that by 2030 all girls and boys would complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education. However, the world is on course to fall short of achieving that goal.

Rising numbers of emergencies and protracted crises around the world are one of the biggest challenges to ratifying that goal. In 2015, nearly 75 million children and young persons (3-18 years old) across 35 crisis-affected countries had their education disrupted.  Nearly one in three children out of school today is living in a crisis-affected country. For the youngest children, conflict and crisis means schooling never begins. For others, their education is permanently interrupted. With each successive year of education lost, the human, social and economic costs rise exponentially.

Hdptcar / Creative Commons License

Hdptcar / Creative Commons License

Though the number of children and young persons affected by emergencies or crisis is reaching an all-time high, financing for education in emergencies is insufficient. The current aid architecture is under-resourced and thus unable to support countries in fulfilling the right to education for millions of crisis-affected children. In 2015, less than 2% of humanitarian funding has been allocated to education. Governments need an extra $8.5 million a year to close this considerable funding gap.

A number of factors contribute to the interruption of education services during crises.  Despite being prioritized by children and their families, education in emergencies is not a priority consideration and often neglected in relief operations. In many of the cases where education is provided, there is a lack of coordination between the governments, humanitarian and development actors who all have different mandates.  In many places, there is inadequate capacity to provide education in emergencies. There are few teachers skilled in crisis response and international actors often provide short-term deployments due to funding uncertainties.

Recently there has been growing interest from new and established donors to explore joint and innovative mechanisms to finance education in crisis, including in the work of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.

The Education Cannot Wait Fund was launched by Gordon Brown, U.N Special Envoy for Global Education at the World Humanitarian Summit in May this year, to address the global education crisis. The fund aims to provide education to the 75 million children worldwide that are now living in conflict zones and fragile states.

The Open University/Creative Commons License

The Open University/Creative Commons License

The fund takes a collaborative approach in joining up humanitarian and private sector efforts, and has drawn together the United Nations, national governments, international and local nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector. By bringing together public and private partners, the fund aims to leverage additional finance and catalyse new approaches to funding and innovation to deliver education in emergencies and protracted crises.

The goal is for the initiative to reach full funding of $4 billion within five years, starting with a $150 million goal in 2016. So far, $90 million has been pledged for the first year.

The Education Cannot Wait Fund will provide flexible and lengthy grants to eligible crises that include:

  • Natural disasters that trigger formal humanitarian system responses
  • Protracted crises that pose a risk to access to education
  • Crises with large-scale displacement with affected host populations
  • Crises that occur in low-income countries, as well as those in middle-income countries that have limited resource for financing and appropriate response

Comprised of an Acceleration Facility, focused on investing in existing actors to improve education response, and a Breakthrough Fund, which will support both rapid and multi-year country level engagement, the Fund has five main functions:

  • Inspire political commitment
  • Joint planning and response
  • Generate and disburse new funding
  • Strengthen capacity
  • Improve accountability

The world faces a choice, one that must be made collectively: Should we spend more now on education in emergencies, or pay the price of a generation without education who will someday be inadequately equipped to rebuild their shattered societies? It is difficult to think of an outcome further removed from the SDG promise of free, equitable and quality education made to all the world’s children.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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