For children in conflict areas, education can often remain elusive during periods of violence and for years after. What are the main challenges to address for the education sector in such contexts ? Interview with Sarah Beeching, Executive Director of Oshun Partnership and speaker in the recent ‘Post-2015 Development Challenges in Conflict Zones’ conference.
What are the financial and policy commitments required to target fragmentation in the field of development during conflict situations?
Essentially, there are two levels that need to be coordinated – the actual humanitarian response in conflict situations and the overarching architecture and policy environment within which humanitarian aid and our response to conflict is situated. Both levels have their problems.
In the context of the broader architecture, we’ve created an interesting challenge in how we conceive of humanitarian aid. It is a somewhat ad hoc process which focuses on immediate needs but fails to adequately consider non-life saving interventions, even when these contribute to mental well-being, and longer term recovery.
It is hard for any institution to plan responses effectively because resources are allocated on a short term basis. This means we may be missing opportunities to build greater resilience in our response to disasters. We need to reform the architecture to join together those working on humanitarian and development response. The stop-go nature of financing, leads to poor planning and in some sectors, such as education, inability to fund critical inputs, such as teacher salaries.
In protracted crises such as Syria, due to the security situation, the ability of any agency to respond is limited. There is very little media access. The global visual on what is happening is virtually nonexistent. That makes it very easy to forget the people living and suffering there. For those living in surrounding countries, some have been assimilated into local communities, whilst other refugees are living in camps. The needs are very different, and often do not neatly correlate with the political interests of those offering support. Water and food are tangible requirements that are easy for donors to fund and may be over-resourced relative to actual needs. Other issues like education are under-resourced – less than 2 per cent of humanitarian resources are allocated to education. If you are a Syrian child who has lived in a refugee camp for the last four years with no access to education, it is very difficult to recoup those lost years of learning and get back that childhood.
We need to rethink our humanitarian discourse. Of course, survival needs are critical, but recovery requires more than this. Meeting long-term education needs has to be factored in. Coordinating better between the different ‘types’ of aid is critical to recovery and longer-term resilience.
What recommendations would you give related specifically to the education sector in addressing development challenges in conflict zones?
First and foremost, there are insufficient resources for education in emergencies. Statistically, fifty per cent of children not attending school live in conflict-affected environments. That’s around 26 million children without access to schooling. Moreover, these are children who have already faced trauma and are further challenged by not having the opportunity and stability provided by education. The school environment can and should provide protection for children – a safe haven.
Why is education so underfunded? In part, it comes back to how the international system allocates resources in the context of humanitarian crises. Education is not a quick and easy fix like a vaccination – it is a long-term project about individuals and their variable needs. Often children have already missed years of schooling and have had to move around a lot. The average amount of time somebody remains a refugee is 17 years – that’s an entire childhood. If we don’t invest more in education, we are missing huge opportunities. Over and above basic survival, education is essential for a child to reach their potential. We have a huge potential demographic dividend that could be realised with greater focus on education. Without it, our growing global population, with its young demographic will not be tooled to contribute to their personal or our global future.
What do you think the recent push for financing for education during emergencies will need in order to sustain itself?
There is a clear recognition that if we are to deliver education for all children, then we need new financing instruments for delivering education in emergencies and conflict situations. There is a global effort underway – involving some governments, the United Nations, Global Partnership for Education and various civil society organizations – to determine options for a new platform for education in emergencies. For instance, the World Education Forum in Korea this May made great strides, promoting further discussion on the issue of education in emergencies and analysing different financing modalities and ways of working.
We’ve made strong collective progress in working together on development issues over the last 15 years. Nonetheless, more is required. We need to break down the barriers between various sectors. When we think about a child living in poverty, we need to think about the entire child. Development actors often think about only parts of the child’s well being. One group may work on vaccinating the child, another is concerned with delivering water to the child, and a third may work on providing education. Instead of piecemeal service delivery, we have to understand that all elements of a child’s wellbeing are essential – water, health, sanitation, nutrition, gender empowerment, etc. As we move towards the next development goals, we have to find a way to work across different sectors, together under the leadership of developing country partners, to achieve poverty eradication and improvement in overall wellbeing. Working across sectors is where we will have the most success.