A girl attends a psychosocial support session where she shares her experience through drawings and short stories. Photo: UNICEF Uganda /Bongyereirwe

Q&A with Sarah Harrison, International Federation of the Red Cross, Co-Chair, Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Reference Group

In June 2020, ECW joined other donors in contributing funds to support the work of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC)’s Mental Health and Psychosocial  Support (MHPSS) Reference Group, through a consortium partnership with one of their Co-Chairing agencies: the International Federation of the Red Cross’ (IFRC) Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support.

In this time of pandemic, the IASC MHPSS Reference Group has played a key role in coordinating and taking immediate and rapid action to address children and adolescents’ wellbeing facing unprecedented school closures due to COVID-19.

 MHPSS is a core priority of ECW’s investments. It is at the centre of the Fund’s COVID-19 emergency responses in 33 crisis-affected countries and emergency settings in 2020 as well as in ECW’s Multi-Year Resilience Programmes in protracted crises.    

ECW: What are some of the MHPSS needs of children and adolescents who are out of school because of COVID-19 related school closures?

Sarah Harrison: Many children and adolescents living in humanitarian settings do not have access to what is necessary to meet their basic needs and protect themselves from the virus. For example, they do not have the ability to physically distance in multi-generational households, nor do they have access to clean water or healthcare when symptomatic. Similarly, many are unable to quarantine or stay home in isolation when weighed against need to obtain a family income and finding food to eat. 

Children out of school also have disrupted access to peers and other family members.  Social interaction and the formation of positive relationships are key to healthy child development.  The closure of informal learning spaces and schools, plus the lack of access to education for migrant children, denies children the safe space to develop positive social relationships, to play and learn with their peers, and to develop and practice social and cognitive skills.

ECW: The IFRC Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support and the IASC MHPSS Reference Group have published several key resources in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us more about these?

Sarah Harrison: The IASC MHPSS Reference Group has produced a number of publications over the past 11 months in relation to COVID-19.  [All are available on the Reference Group website in multiple languages.] 

All products were developed with strong involvement of end users (humanitarian practitioners at country level – individual volunteers, caregivers, teachers, MHPSS staff from humanitarian organisations and affected populations for some products).  End users were consulted on the generation of content, reviewing content provided, providing input to graphic illustrations, translations, and the overall need for a product.

  • Briefing Note: Released in February 2020 in response to the virus outbreak in Eastern Asia, this Briefing Note was subsequently updated in March 2020 as the virus spread became more global. It is aimed at policy makers and programme planners.  

  • Basic Psychosocial Skills Guide:  Released in May 2020 to help agencies and frontline responders bridge the gap between providing immediate psychological first aid and the long term accompaniment and support for populations now that the impact of the virus has stretched out into months and potentially, years.  The guide was written in a pictographic/ illustrative way with frontline emergency responders and essential workers (e.g. delivery persons, police officers, community health & social care workers, shopkeepers, pharmacists) – anyone interacting with public and supporting essential services during the lockdown in respective countries.

  • Children’s storybook My Hero is You – and its country level initiatives/ adaptations:  Now available in over 131 languages, the book has undergone adaptations into animations with support from Stamford University, puppet shows in Iran, radio dramas in Gaza & Palestine, audio format in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, South Sudan, Niger and Myanmar (among many other countries), read by Royal families over the radio, TV & YouTube in many countries, a Braille version is available produced by a group of blind mothers from Zimbabwe as are multiple sign language versions.  [Learn more about how the book was made in this video].

    My Hero Is You is the most downloaded product on the IASC website and the fastest book to be translated ever into so many languages. A second book, Action for Heroes is now underway and focuses on the same characters and their return to regular activities and school, in addition to key facilitator notes for parents, children’s activity facilitators and teachers to use within their work.  

  • Operational Guidance Note on Multi-sectoral MHPSS Programmes: Released in May 2020, the note aims to help operational humanitarian organizations prioritize their MHPSS activities, to make judgment calls on which activities to continue and how to adapt them in relation to the severity of the virus outbreak.  It offers highly practical and operational guidance covering the full spectrum of MHPSS programming. 

ECW: Bearing in mind the lessons learned from COVID-19, what are your recommendations for the education sector to ‘build back better’?  

Sarah Harrison: Building back better requires governments and the international community enforce that education is open and accessible to all girls and boys on their territory – this means including children who are refugees, children who are migrants, children with disabilities alongside the ‘regular school-age population’. 

It means ensuring that schools are regarded as protected areas free from attacks: schools are free from bombing and unexploded ordnance/mines, children are not abducted from school or on their way to/from school, teachers learn positive discipline approaches, schools are not used by the military/armed interlocutors or used as temporary shelters for unnecessary lengths of time in natural disasters, etc.

Teachers also need to be paid fairly and on time – it is their right and feeds into teacher well-being.  A happier and healthier teacher is a more positive teacher and role model for children.  Additionally, creation of parent-teacher associations and groups to help address parent’s queries in relation to COVID-19, can reinforce the link between caregivers and their children’s education.

Finally, in order to ‘build back better’ the education sector will need to equip teachers with practical tools on how to manage children who present with behavioural challenges, how to help a distressed learner, how to talk about conflict and emergencies, how to talk about COVID-19 and its impacts, and how teachers can concretely change lessons plans and daily structure to adapt to children and adolescents who are coming back to school. 


Responding to the intensifying humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) today announced US$22.2 million in catalytic investment grants to accelerate the nation’s education in emergency response. The initial programme will run for three years, with the goal of leveraging an additional US$45.3 million in co-financing from national and global partners, the private sector and philanthropic foundations to reach over 200,000 children and youth.

In response to large-scale, complex and protracted crises, the three year programme aims to reach over 200,000 internally displaced, returnee and refugee girls and boys – as well as host community children and youth – with safe and equitable quality education.

18 December 2020, New York – Responding to the intensifying humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) today announced US$22.2 million in catalytic investment grants to accelerate the nation’s education in emergency response. The initial programme will run for three years, with the goal of leveraging an additional US$45.3 million in co-financing from national and global partners, the private sector and philanthropic foundations to reach over 200,000 children and youth.

“Education is a top priority for the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, contributing to sustainable development and peace in the country,” said Jean-Marie Mangobe Bomungo, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Technical Education. “Refugee, internally displaced and host community children must be able to benefit from education like all children. Thanks to Education Cannot Wait funding, this new multi-year resilience programme will help us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and leave no one behind, especially as we work to guarantee inclusive, quality education for every girl and boy in the country.”

“Millions of children and youth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are being left behind. Facing the compounding risks of violence, conflict, food insecurity, natural disasters – as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple health crises over the years including cholera and ebola – girls and boys are at high risk of dropping out of school permanently, being forcefully recruited into armed and militant groups, or being pushed out of school to join the workforce. For girls, the situation is even worse. They risk all forms of gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation, forced child marriage and early pregnancy and various forms of abuse,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. “Working together with the speed of humanitarians and the quality of development in crisis contexts, this new joint programme helps bridge the humanitarian-development-peace nexus and aims to address the current needs, while also building long-term solutions to keep Democratic Republic of the Congo’s most crisis-affected children and youth in school with a real opportunity for learning. Their education cannot wait. Now is the time for hope.”

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a severe impact on education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Following the closure of schools as a preventive measure, around 27 million students have had their schooling interrupted. This is in addition to an estimated 15 to 23 million school-aged children and adolescents who were out of school before the COVID-19 crisis. The government is stepping up its response, with recent initiatives to support free primary education allowing more children the opportunity to attend school, but this has also caused overcrowded classrooms and is depleting resources.

Attacks on schools and recruitment into armed groups are on the rise. Recruitment into armed groups doubled from the previous year in 2017, with over 1,000 verified cases. Schools are being destroyed during armed conflicts and are being occupied by armed groups or displaced persons. In crisis-affected Tanganyika, Ituri and Kasai Central provinces, one out of every four children and youth are out of school. Across the country, teachers are hard to retain and receive low pay, and only 5 per cent of children have access to pre-school education, with girls receiving more access than boys.

This new, multi-year education programme – implemented by UNICEF in coordination with the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, national and international partners, and a broad coalition of partners on the ground – the programme will improve equitable access to inclusive learning environments in the provinces of Tanganyika, Ituri and Kasaï Central.

Fully funded, the programme will reach over 200,000 internally displaced, returnee and deported refugee girls and boys – as well as host community children and youth. Out of this total, Education Cannot Wait seed funding will focus on Tanganyika province to reach 68,000 children and adolescents aged 5–17 years, 52 per cent of whom are girls. These include children from internally displaced, returnee and refugee populations and children with disabilities (15 per cent of the total). Teachers and school communities, indigenous people, former child soldiers, victims of gender-based violence, unaccompanied children, children from host communities, and other vulnerable children and adolescents are also targeted through the intervention.

Notes to editors:
Programme outputs:

  • The programme focuses on increasing access to safe and quality education for all children and adolescents with a focus on the most vulnerable, including those with disabilities. This will be partially accomplished through the construction or rehabilitation, and equipping of learning spaces for formal (pre-primary, primary and secondary) and non-formal education (remedial education and vocational training centres). The school environment will be adapted to ensure equity of access and to meet local safety, hygiene and sanitation standards.
  • To address high numbers of out-of-school children, and to prevent further dropouts, particularly during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, the programme will address the underlying issues that lead to drop-out. Collaboration between the Education Cluster and the government together with the Health, Nutrition and Child Protection Cluster will develop a multi-sectoral approach to nutrition and wellbeing. To address issues of food security, learners will be provided school meals and will also be taught to grow gardens and to learn about nutrition and ecology.
  • The programme will ensure that children and adolescents have access to a holistic package of education that is relevant to their academic, physical and socio-emotional development.
  • The programme will work with the local, provincial and national government to improve key capacities for the provision of quality and relevant learning. It will also ensure the systems are in place that monitor the quality of learning, respond to crisis and improve equity of access to education.
  • The programme will address the significant protection risks faced by children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in particular for children affected by armed conflict. This starts with creating a safe and protective learning environment. A safe school approach will be developed and adapted in accordance with the joint education needs assessments results and through joint planning with the Child Protection Cluster.
  • The programme will address gender equity and inclusion through direct action and by creating a supportive environment that establishes space for greater inclusiveness in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the long term. In line with the programmatic approach, the programme will address immediate barriers to learning, particularly for girls, while also strengthening systems to ensure that these barriers are reduced indefinitely.


In response to the armed conflict and escalating humanitarian crisis in northeast Nigeria that has left over 1 million girls and boys in need of educational support, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) today announced US$20.1 million in catalytic investment grants to accelerate the response to the protracted crisis.

Three-year education programme for the protracted crisis in northeast Nigeria aims to reach 2.9 million children and youth in response to armed conflict and ongoing humanitarian needs

18 December 2020, New York – In response to the armed conflict and escalating humanitarian crisis in northeast Nigeria that has left over 1 million girls and boys in need of educational support, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) today announced US$20.1 million in catalytic investment grants to accelerate the response to the protracted crisis.

The initial programme will run for three years, with the goal of leveraging an additional US$98.7 million in co-financing from national and global partners, the private sector and philanthropic foundations to reach over 2.9 million children and youth.

“Education Cannot Wait has been supporting the education in emergencies response in Nigeria since 2018 through the First Emergency Response intervention. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ECW was the first donor to offer support to conflict-affected North East Nigeria. Once more, ECW is supporting Nigeria in the advancement of education in emergencies through the multi-year resilience programme. This is highly commendable, and a much appreciated endeavor,” said Dr. Shettima Bukar Kullima, Executive Chairman, Borno State Universal Basic Education Board Nigeria.

“Children and teachers are being targeted in violent attacks. Killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, abduction and child recruitment are putting girls and boys at extreme risk. Education is not only every child’s right, but the protection it provides is also all too often life-saving,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. “This new education in emergency response, which delivers across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, helps sow the seeds of peace and tolerance, while also ensuring girls and boys have access to safe and protective learning environments.”

“Nigeria is making progress in addressing the protracted crisis in the northeast of the country, but with limited resources and continued violence, progress has been uneven,” said Sherif. “There are still approximately 1 million children, including 583,000 girls, and 18,000 education personnel that are in rapid need of support to either resume or sustain education in northeast Nigeria. I call on public and private sector donors to urgently help close the $98.7 million funding gap for this crucial programme. There is no time to lose.”

The number of children and youth with chronic needs in education remains high across the three states targeted through the Education Cannot Wait investment. Estimates indicate that nearly 60 per cent of primary school-age children and adolescents are not attending school, with girls disproportionally affected. Despite a decrease in the number of security incidents targeting education structures since 2017, the risk of violent attacks, abduction, and kidnappings remains a constant threat.

Poverty remains one of the greatest barriers to educational access. Parents simply cannot afford to send their children to school. COVID-19 has made matters even worse. Classrooms often lack school furniture and water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, teachers are poorly paid, and schools and learning centres often lack high-quality learning materials.

Implementing in partnership with the Government of Nigeria by UNICEF, Save the Children, and a consortium between the Norwegian Refugee Council and Street Child, the overall multi-year resilience programme targets 2.9 million children and adolescents from 2021 to 2023. Half of the targeted beneficiaries are displaced children and youth, while the other half live in host communities that are affected by conflict.

The programme builds on the success of the Education Cannot Wait funded ‘first emergency response’ in northeast Nigeria that reached 290,000 children.  Education Cannot Wait seed funding will initiate the implementation of the programme by focusing on reaching girls and boys in the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. In total, over 482,000 girls and boys will access learning opportunities of whom over 60% are girls and adolescent girls. The programme also targets 48,000 girls and boys in early learning programmes, 380,000 at primary level and some 50,000 at the secondary level, in both formal and non-formal education settings.

Among its various outputs, the programme will build and renovate classrooms and learning spaces, support stipends for teachers and increase continuity by working with local partners to keep children and youth in school. It will also ensure educators have the training and tools they need to build gender-responsive learning plans, and safe and protective learning environments that respond to the specific needs of girls, children with disabilities and crisis-affected children in need of psychosocial support.

Notes to editors:
Programme outputs:

  • Continued delivery of strong education in emergencies programming: The programme will continue the delivery of holistic education in emergencies programming for conflict-affected children, adolescents and families in Northeast Nigeria. Initiatives to strengthen access, equity and quality all remain a primary focus.
  • Mainstreaming of learners into formal education: Many learners remain in temporary learning spaces or alternative education programmes. As the situation stabilises, the formal education system will need to increase its capacity to ensure the delivery of quality, equitable education to all children currently in informal programmes. Further efforts will need to promote the flexibility and adaptability of the formal education system to meet the needs of learners, especially those affected by conflict.
  • Addressing key crosscutting issues, with a special focus on gender, disability and mental health and psychosocial support: Myriad crosscutting issues have also been incorporated into this programme, with a key focus on gender, disability, inclusion and vulnerability. Meeting the needs of those traditionally not included within education systems comprises a primary focus of this programme. Moreover, the programme aims to mainstream protection and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services for learners and teachers as they access schools.
  • Strengthening educator and school leader capacities and motivation: Local educators and school leaders continue to need substantial support with regards to their capacity and motivation to deliver quality, equitable, and inclusive education. As learners are mainstreamed into formal education programmes, the programme will ensure these educators have the required skills to deliver effective education well into the future. A key focus of this programme is addressing the MHPSS needs of the teachers themselves – their own psychosocial needs must be considered and addressed if they are able to support those of their students,
  • Strengthening local leadership to take full ownership of delivery and transitions to formal education: Local stakeholders in government (at the national, state and local government levels), as well as in National NGOs, are expected to take on increasing leadership and responsibility for the education in emergencies response.

UNHCR & Education Cannot Wait launch second phase of the Humanitarian Education Accelerator (HEA) – seeking promising education innovations that are ready to scale

Turning the commitments made on refugee education at the first Global Refugee Forum into concrete action requires innovative solutions, identifying what works and successfully scaling to meet the education needs of the millions of children who are living in emergency or crisis settings.

17 December 2020 – Following the success of the first iteration of the HEA, the Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Acceleration Facility is funding UNHCR $2.2 million to identify and support a further cohort of education innovations, in 5 countries: Chad, Ethiopia, Jordan, Lebanon and Uganda.

This second phase of the HEA will continue to address gaps in evidence and scaling capacity in humanitarian education, taking common elements from an accelerator – such as mentorship, internal capacity building and establishing a cohort that works together – and merging these with an evaluation-based programme. Through this unique approach, the HEA seeks to:

1- Build the evidence base on how to effectively scale education innovations in humanitarian settings, through investing in rigorous research;

2- Strengthen internal monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) processes and provide targeted support for selected organisations to navigate scale;

3-Assist organisations to build strong, supportive partnerships with governments, humanitarian and development actors, donors and other practitioners for sustainable scale;

4- Develop a community of practice, capturing knowledge and sharing lessons learned on scaling humanitarian education innovations, including the development of global public goods for the wider education sector. 

A call for applications for this new phase of the HEA will be released here on 17 December 2020, with a deadline for applications of 15 January 2021, using a stage-gated application process

  • Stage 1 (first week March): Capacity building by experts in scaling innovations, M&E and partnerships for up to ten innovations through a week-long Scaling Bootcamp;
  • Stage 2 (April – July 2021): Tailored mentorship and further capacity building support  on research, Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) and scaling for five innovations over 3 months;
  • Stage 3 (August 2021-December 2022): Funding of up to USD 200,000 for the final 3 selected innovations – to be used towards internal capacity building in M&E and investments in research, project implementation and scaling.

More detailed information on eligibility criteria and the HEA selection process is available through our Applicants’ Guide and FAQs on

About the Humanitarian Education Accelerator (HEA): 
The HEA has been working since 2016, through an initial partnership with UNICEF and the UK Department for International Development, to support promising humanitarian education innovations on their journey from successful pilots to projects that can operate at scale – in order to reach more children and youth with quality education. 

Through capacity building in M&E and scaling, tailored mentorship and rigorous research on what does (and does not) work in humanitarian education, the HEA has built valuable evidence on the scaling process for education in crisis settings.

The HEA is managed by the UNHCR Global Education Section, which is based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Additional information about the lessons coming out of the HEA so far can be found here: HEA Learning Series

For press inquiries or additional information on HEA: Charlotte Jenner, HEA Communications & Reporting Officer:  

About Education Cannot Wait: 
ECW is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies. It was launched in 2016 by international aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent needs of 75 million children and youth whose education is disrupted by armed conflicts, disasters, and other crises. ECW provides rapid funding to immediately address needs in new and escalating crises and supports multi-year investments and stronger collaboration and coherence among emergency relief and development aid organizations to achieve quality education outcomes in protracted crises. Education Cannot Wait is hosted by UNICEF. The Fund is administered under UNICEF’s financial, human resources and administrative rules and regulations, while operations are run by the Fund’s own independent governance structure. 

Additional information is available at:

For press inquiries:
Kent Page,, +1-917-302-1735
Anouk Desgroseilliers,, +1-917-640-6820

For any other inquiries:




Editor’s note: This post is cross-published by ECW, FHI 360, INEE, NORRAG, and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Last week INEE, ECW, and the UIS launched a new Reference Group on education in emergencies (EiE) data aimed at tackling some of the sectoral challenges in EiE data collection, storage, sharing, and use. This new group fulfills part of the 2019 EiE Data Summit Action Agenda by enabling data experts from a range of organisations to collaborate on systemic EiE data issues that exist within and between their organisations.

In 2019 in Geneva, EiE data experts from almost 50 organisations participated in the EiE Data Summit to discuss and agree on ways forward on the following challenge: how, with limited resources and a growing number of crises, the EiE sector could collect more meaningful data and make new and existing data more accessible. More and better data improves coordination, strengthens funding appeals, and informs monitoring and evaluation. Many of the challenges discussed – lack of incentives to share data, lack of standardised indicator definitions and methodologies, exclusion of marginalised groups – were identified as collective action issues that could not be solved by single institutions but instead require collaboration between a range of actors. The Summit’s Action Agenda therefore recommended the creation of an expert group to address some of these core issues.

Since then, the INEE Data and Evidence Collaborative – co-chaired by FHI 360 and NORRAG – consulted a range of actors on how best to constitute this group before inviting ECW and the UIS to co-chair the INEE-convened group for the first year. Leadership from ECW and the UIS brings the best of both emergency and development context expertise to address increasingly prominent nexus issues.

Although there are a broad range of current education data initiatives globally, the consultation phase identified a specific gap in emergency contexts. This group does not intend to duplicate existing work but builds on and connects relevant initiatives within the group. As such, this group will replace a planned sub-group on emergency contexts for UNESCO’s Technical Cooperation Group on the Indicators for SDG 4.

The first meeting of the EiE Data Reference Group was held on December 10th, 2020. The group has been initially formed for one year, at which point it will review progress before agreeing on new chairs and strategic priorities for the subsequent year. The group currently includes representatives from UN agencies, civil society, donors, Ministries of Education, universities, and foundations, and will work to include further representation from diverse national and regional stakeholders. This first session presented a problem analysis and proposed four core domains for the Reference Group to address (see presentation here):


Intended change

Global data reporting & advocacy

Increased use of EiE data in global advocacy and SDG4 reporting

Data sharing

Increased EiE data accessibility

Data production, analysis, & use

Increased use of EiE data and evidence in policies and programs

Increased availability of relevant, quality and timely EiE data and evidence

Enabling environment

Strengthened environment for the production, sharing and use of quality EiE data and evidence

It is envisioned that the group address these domains through the following illustrative activities:

  1. Strategy development/review: this group would develop and agree on core challenges and develop an overarching Theory of Change (ToC). This would be an INEE-hosted online living document, regularly updated with new evidence and enabling members to engage with the group’s work as well as track progress against key milestones.
  2. Capacity development: this group could advocate for, or produce capacity development tools for, global or national level actors; and/or agree on EiE data competencies.
  3. Resource mobilisation: this group could advocate for resource mobilisation on key issues of EiE data. 
  4. Knowledge sharing/co-create solutions: a key function of the group would be linking the various ongoing EiE data initiatives and ensuring that information is shared and disseminated amongst members and to the broader INEE network.
  5. Norm setting/advocacy: this group could work towards and advocate for key issues related to EiE data e.g. the designation and use of a core list of EiE indicators and better positioning of crisis-related issues in the SDG4.

The Reference Group will meet next in January 2021 to agree on workstreams, identify co-chairs for these workstreams, and create work plans for the rest of the year. The full Reference Group will then meet quarterly to assess progress and ensure work is not siloed. We look forward to sharing updates as the group progresses and encourage you to reach out if you are interested in learning more or joining the group ( /

Authors’ Note: The views discussed in this piece are the opinion of the authors, and do not necessarily represent any organizations.

About the authors:

Sébastien Hine is an education and international development consultant who has previously worked on education in emergencies for the Global Education Monitoring Report, Save the Children, and the Overseas Development Institute.

Dr. Anne Smiley is Associate Director of Research and Evaluation at FHI 360 and leads the EiE data component of the USAID Middle East Education Research, Training and Support (MEERS) program, which is implemented by Social Impact and FHI 360.

Patrick Montjouridès is Senior Research Associate at NORRAG and a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. He previously worked as Education Program Specialist at the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Research Officer at UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report and at the Institute for Research in the Sociology and Economics of Education (IREDU) of the University of Burgundy from which he holds an M.A. in Economics Education.

Sonja Anderson is the Evidence Coordinator at INEE where she manages INEE’s various evidence initiatives including the E-Cubed Research Fund, the INEE Data & Evidence Collaborative, and the INEE Learning Agenda consultation process to develop an online interactive EiE Evidence Platform. Sonja holds an M.Ed. from HGSE in International Education Policy.

Dr. Silvia Montoya became the UIS Director in 2015, bringing the Institute extensive experience in a wide range of national and international initiatives to improve the quality, management and use of education statistics, with a specific focus on learning assessments. Since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), she has taken a leadership role within the international education community by helping to build consensus around the standards, methodologies and indicators needed to measure progress towards Education 2030.

Dr. Christian Stoff is ECW’s Chief, Monitoring, Evaluation and Global Reporting, responsible for results monitoring, global reporting, evaluations as well as partnerships and capacity development initiatives to strengthen EiE data systems, including on financing, holistic learning assessments and EMIS. He previously worked with UNICEF, UNESCAP and NGOs in the areas of Education, Statistics and Social Policy in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. He holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, where he also lectured in Micro-Economics and Econometrics for several years.


María Victoria Angulo is Colombia’s Minister of Education. She holds a Master´s Degree in Development Economics from the Universidad de Los Andes and a Master´s Degree in Specialized Economic Analysis from Pompeau Fabra University (Barcelona, Spain). The minister has more than 20 years of experience in educational policy development.

Education Cannot Wait recently announced US$12.4 million in catalytic grant financing for a multi-year resilience programme in Colombia. The initial programme will run for three years, with the goal of leveraging an additional US$70.5 million in co-financing from national and global partners, the private sector and philanthropic foundations. The programme will reach at least 30,000 children through early childhood education, 90,000 children through primary education, and 30,000 children through secondary education.

ECW: Colombia has set an example for the world in welcoming Venezuelans who have fled instability and insecurity back home. One important component of that response has been to receive over 350,000 Venezuelan children and adolescents into the country’s school system, mainly in public schools. It would be useful to highlight good practices that your Ministry has put in place that could help other countries respond in a similar positive manner.

Minister Angulo: In Colombia, education is a fundamental right and a public service, consecrated in our Political Constitution. We recognize that “Children’s rights prevail over those of everyone else”, regardless of nationality, migration status, race, sex and political and religious beliefs, among others. So, we recognize that equal rights includes all foreign citizens in our country.

One of the first actions we took in our country, and in particular in the education system, was to make the requirements to access the education system more flexible for children with Venezuelan origin in regards to documents and records. As a consequence, we have seen a 1,067 per cent increase in enrollment, from 34,030 Venezuelan students in 2018 to 363,126 in 2020.

This exponential increase in enrollment has led us to generate innovative and transformative actions, in addition to the lines of work established in the National Development Plan “Pact for Colombia, Pact for Equality” 2018-2022, where education quality, coverage increase, school permanence and the protection of complete educational trajectories have been prioritized.

In this context we can highlight the following good practices:

  • Migration regularization: We are very close to officially telling the country the results of the joint work the Ministry has advanced with other government sectors to create the Special Permanence Permit for the Education Sector which will be a migration regularization tool for those students enrolled in the education system, (preschool, primary and secondary education) to facilitate access, continuance and promotion within the education trajectory for students with migrant status who do not have a valid identification document in Colombia; this applies to close to 85 per cent of migrant enrolled students with Venezuelan origin.

This innovative process, unique in the world, will allow these children and youth to overcome the barrier of a lack of identification documents, and allow them not only to have access to education services, but also to health and social protection services offered by the Colombian government, under the same conditions as Colombian citizens.

  • Grade Leveling: Given that the Colombian and Venezuelan education systems are different, the measures taken in the ‘Strategy for Attending Migration from Venezuela’ – established in the policy document CONPES 3950 – have allowed the Ministry to advance in different fronts like designing proficiency tests and grade leveling processes.

With Decree 1288 of 2018, we have also advanced in terms of strategies of school grade accreditation. This decree established that Venezuelan children and youth can validate grades through evaluations or academic activities in the schools they are attending, with no additional cost. This process allows grade validation for preschool, primary and secondary education until 10th grade. In the case of 11th grade, the process must be done with the Colombian Institute for Education Evaluation (ICFES).

  • Improvement in validation processes: To facilitate the validation of primary and secondary education studies, the National Ministry of Education has updated its orientations to define leveling strategies and proficiency tests for Venezuelan migrant and returned Colombian students. The Ministry validation platform has been improved to speed up the process for Venezuelans, and a specialized group has been created to solve them in less than 15 days.
  • Teacher training: Regarding integration into the school system, this Ministry has identified the need to strengthen teacher support to provide them with the necessary tools to implement the welcome and well-being strategy for the migrant and returned population within the education system. Currently, through the “All to Learn Program” and the school cohabitation system we aim to prevent any type of discrimination.
  • School Food: The School Feeding Program has been improved so that migrant Venezuelan students can have access to this program under the same conditions as Colombian students. The only requirement is that the school and grade they are enrolled in are focalized by the local education authority. This has allowed us to serve in 2019 around 140,000 students, and in 2020 around 260,000 students of Venezuelan origin.
  • Humanitarian corridor for education purposes: The National Ministry of Education has not only strived to guarantee education access to the Venezuelan population living in Colombia, but also to the population living in a situation of back-and-forth migration in the border zone. For them we designed a humanitarian corridor for education purposes, which has benefitted, since its creation, around 4,000 students living in municipalities in the border area, who study in schools in Cucuta, Villa del Rosario and other municipalities on the Colombian side of the border. Since the creation of the humanitarian corridor, the National Ministry of Education has led the necessary normative, technical, political and financial processes needed for its effective operation. Between 2015 and 2019, $13.137 billion pesos have been allocated for its operation, and for 2020, $5 billion pesos have been allocated.
  • Technical assistance: To assist territorial education authorities in regards to the education for migrant population of Venezuelan origin, actions to provide general technical assistance for local education authorities and their directive teams from different areas of the Ministry of Education have been organized. To this end, meetings are programmed to take stock of the activities that are being implemented in the territories to guarantee education service provision, as well as well-being and permanence strategies.

ECW: While there are good practices that the Government of Colombia has developed, we know that welcoming such record numbers of Venezuelans to your country has also presented challenges.  Knowing how this can strain local communities, particularly those hosting large concentrations of Venezuelans, could you elaborate on the model community and communications strategies to promote social harmony and discourage xenophobia, which has had a positive impact in schools, that the Government has put in place.

Minister Angulo: As a sector, we are committed to enabling the conditions and developing in each child, adolescent, youth and adult both respect towards diversity and a positive appreciation of differences.

To this end we have been working at identifying the best strategies for providing services for the Venezuelan population with education needs, to be able to offer them a service that accommodates their needs and recognizes their prior knowledge. Education is thus one of the best tools to prevent an attitude or behavior that goes against recognizing the dignity and equality of people in regard to their rights.

For this reason, we have promoted actions that allow us to:

  • Strengthen the socio-emotional development of educators, children and adolescents to prevent and combat expressions, acts and manifestations of xenophobia, exclusion and stigmatization against migrant and other social groups.
  • Design protocols with which we can identify risk and vulnerability situations migrants have to face in the social and cultural dynamics of school environments, to incorporate pertinent inclusion processes in the Institutional Education Projects of the schools.
  • Produce reflection exercises to transform beliefs and views present in social representations to guarantee that all ethnic and cultural identities are valued based on equality.
  • Stimulate dialogue and sharing of situations present in schools to improve school cohabitation and understand that diverse beliefs, interests and interpretations of reality exist in the education community, and that we need to value them as learning opportunities.

Understanding that migration is a social process linked to different factors, and that, until the conditions in the neighboring country and the provision of basic services like education, health and housing, among others do not improve, Venezuelan citizens will keep on seeking better life conditions in Colombia or other countries. In view of the above, we will continue working to:

  • Strengthen disclosure processes of the available route and means for access to the education system.
  • Facilitate transition and leveling mechanisms for Venezuelan students into the Colombian education system.
  • Strengthen and activate cohabitation mechanisms to prevent xenophobia.
  • Train and accompany teachers on how to receive migrant populations into the education system.
  • Strengthen mechanisms that allow us to identify the demand for education services outside the education system.

ECW: With the number of Venezuelans who have fled into Colombia having reached 2.4 million, making it the largest humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere and among the largest globally, ECW has just provided seed funding totaling US$12.4 million for a multi-year programme to assist the country in addressing the educational needs of Venezuelan children and youth, as well as the children and youth in the communities hosting Venezuelans.  Could you comment on the impact of this catalytic grant from ECW, and more specifically what activities the Ministry, in collaboration with a range of UN and NGO partners are planning to implement?

Minister Angulo: The project presented by Colombia within the framework of the multi-annual window of ECW has been turned into a tool to activate the participation of other actors, inject new resources and delve into the strategies we are developing.

We have worked with different actors to define and agree upon the priorities of the Multi Year Resilience Programme for Colombia, convinced that this seed funding can amplify the response we are currently already giving regarding the right to education for migrant people. With ally organizations who have been with us in the formulation process, we have agreed to focus the project on four lines:

  • Increase access to education and permanence. Developing strategies to create opportunities for inclusive, gender-sensitive learning that will help children and adolescents with any disability, who have been victims of armed conflict or who are living with the effects of the migration process to overcome the barriers they find.
  • Improve quality of education and learning: Through resources and materials for work in classrooms, teachers with the capacity to respond with pedagogical practices adjusted to the characteristics, interests and barriers that are found in crisis situations, and finally the support for parents and caregivers to strengthen their abilities to accompany the integral development process of their children at home.
  • Promote socioemotional wellbeing and mental health: Provide support to parents and teachers to develop practical abilities for well-being and personal care, stress management and exhaustion prevention.
  • Strengthen the education sector: Improve capacities for an inclusive response, with gender perspective, articulated between the national and local levels and sensitive to crisis and emergencies.

ECW: Recognizing that ECW’s grant is intended to kickstart the multi-year programme and acknowledging the strides the Government is making in implementing the country’s commendable peace accord, could you please comment on how important it is for the international community donors to fully fund the multi-year programme with an additional US$ 70.5 million in co-financing.  What could happen to school children and their education if the funding gap is not be filled?

Minister Angulo: We thank ECW for the initial investment and ask the community of international donors and the private sector to give us support in our efforts to close the financing gap.

It is important to remember that Colombia has invested important resources to increase access to education for migrant and refugee children. We estimate that for 2020, the investment in education made by the government is close to US$120 million. However, the needs of children affected by the crisis are increasing, especially for migrant children who need more support to remain at school.

Parallel to this situation, in Colombia we must cope with multiple challenges. For example, the recent hurricane in the San Andres archipelago almost completely destroyed the education infrastructure. In La Guajira, due to flooding, many migrant and refugee children in informal settlements have lost their learning materials. The different emergencies we have had to respond to in Colombia exceed the capacity of any government.

We continue to be committed to providing quality education and protection to every child in our country. To achieve this enormous task, it is important to join efforts with the international community, made up of donors and partners in the private sector.

Our objective is that all children receive the same opportunities, are protected and can learn. If the financing gap for this programme is not covered, we run the risk of not providing an integral education service that will allow children to learn, prosper and be prepared for the work force of the XXI century. If we do not act now with enough resources, many children will not have access to education, and many others will drop out. If we do not act now, it will be more difficult and expensive to address the topic of access to quality education where children can fulfill their dreams to complete their education trajectory.

ECW: In fully funding the multi-year programme in Colombia, could you elaborate on the important role that the private sector and philanthropic foundations can play, such as the KOYAMADA International Foundation (KIF), co-led by Colombia’s own TED Talk Speaker and producer Nia Lyte and her husband, actor and producer Shin Koyamada, and perhaps give examples of other foundations providing funding for children’s education in Colombia.

Minister Angulo: In the Colombian education sector, we work with both the public and private sector, as well as civil society and international organizations. We share a common goal: to leave no one behind. This work is strengthened by an inter-institutional approach which is based on experience and optimizes efforts and resources to respond to the particular needs of each region, including challenges already overcome, and those yet to be faced.

Being able to count on organizations like KOYAMADA International Foundation (KIF) and its work for the empowerment and leadership of young people and women, means it will, without a doubt, offer a great boost to the mobilization of resources for educational care, helping us reach those most in need and ensuring our commitment to quality education in long-term crisis contexts.

ECW: ECW would like to reiterate its gratitude for your remarks at the UN General Assembly side event this year entitled “THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION IS HEREFor those left furthest behind.”  With Colombia leading the way for education under the very difficult challenges that the Venezuelan situation has created in the region, it would be good if you could comment on the importance of SDG 4 quality education.

Minister Angulo: The targets set for the Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular those of SDG4, are central elements for the 2018-2022 National Development Plan. One of our main pledges is the generation of conditions that ensure, progressively, a quality educational service, within the framework of a multidimensional approach (Atención integral). We want to positively impact the consolidation and monitoring of complete educational trajectories of all students.

In this regard, the country is focusing its efforts on the following areas:

  1. As a fundamental right, quality education is one of our most important pledges and its progressive universalization stands as one of our main goals to achieve in order to move forward. This is based on the multidimensional attention approach and a cross-sector perspective.
  2. Secondary education, as one of the educational levels lagging behind the most in the country today, requires special attention to strengthen and make it more relevant.
  3. One of the great challenges of the country is to guarantee all the conditions of access, quality and permanence so that all people achieve a complete educational trajectory, from initial to post-secondary education, and also facilitate the transition to the labor market. In this sense, inclusion is one of the cross-cutting concepts that guide sectoral policies.

To achieve the aim of the Declaration of Incheon of Leaving No One Behind, the Colombian government has directed its efforts so that children from Venezuela, as well as all children and adolescents in Colombia, can enjoy quality education as a fundamental right and constitutionally enshrined public service. For this reason, we are committed to the assistance and protection of children to ensure their harmonious and integral development and the full exercise of their rights.

In this sense, the Ministry of Education has determined a management strategy that combines coverage and quality actions within the framework of the Welcome, Welfare and Permanence Strategy. Cross-sector coordination has been developed due to active search processes, effective enrolment, monitoring, knowledge generation and information-driven decision-making processes. This has allowed us to strengthen teacher skills, infrastructure, school food, transport and endowment, among others, which allow migrant students to benefit equally from the available strategies.

It is also important to mention that strategies are being strengthened to facilitate psychosocial support and the effective integration of this community into the Colombian citizen environment.

ECW: Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better on a personal level. Can you tell us what education means to you personally? Could you also share with us the three books that have influenced you the most personally and/or professionally, and why you’d recommend them to other people to read?

Minister Angulo: Education for me is the most powerful tool for the integral, personal and professional development of people. It also represents the epicenter where all social policy in the region comes together. Education generates social mobility and innovation, touches the lives of many people and is the axis of processes of development, resemblance and reconciliation, where I have developed my vocation of service.

As for the 3 books that have influenced me and that I would recommend that people read, they would be:

Love in the Time of Cholera by the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, I recommend this book because it is a literary work that reaches the soul. It is dedicated to true love, a love that survives despite the challenges of a traditional city, and the changing times of the Colombian Caribbean from the late nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century. This book manages to portray human nature in a simple way, with beauty and humor, through a romantic story where the reader can feel the representation of love as the purest feeling, around each life is built.

Ética para amador by the Spanish writer Fernando Savater. I read this book in my teens and it really left an impression on me because it was a window into the world, and it led me to reflect on topics essential to life, which guide our decisions and explain why ethics, morality, freedom and choice are needed. This text reminds us that our greatest quality as human beings is to be able to think, to be aware and to create our future according to our expectations of it.

The last book I would recommend is Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by Professor John Hattie. This research helps us to categorize in a very clear way how to improve the effectiveness of the school system, and I think it is a necessary book to read for those of us who work in education.

And from this text I can highlight two conclusions that are vital to me: the most influential aspect in learning is feedback, both the one offered by the teacher to the student and the one that the teacher receives from the student. In the first case, you have to distinguish between feedback and flattery, the latter has little value if it is not associated with the work that has been done. The teacher-student relationship also has a big impact. Developing a pleasant socio-emotional climate in the classroom, promoting effort, and involving all students requires that teachers step into the classroom with certain ideas about the possibilities of progress and the relationship with students.


Mission provides the opportunity to initiate with partners the process for the   planned ECW-funded multi-year resilience education programme in Lebanon

15 December 2020, Beirut – Concluding her latest mission to Lebanon, Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises – highlighted the severe impact of multiple crises on the lives and education of the country’s children and youth, and urgently appealed for additional funding to support them: “We must all invest in education in Lebanon today; if not now, it may soon be too late. I call on public and private sector donors around the world to support Lebanon’s education system with the fierce urgency of now.”

“Our will to revive the educational sector stems from our hearts’ strong determination,” said Lebanon’s Minister of Education and Higher Education, H.E. Dr Tarek Majzoub, during a high-level press conference in Beirut launching the new Education Cannot Wait and UNESCO Beirut partnership to rehabilitate 40 schools damaged by the Beirut explosions and provide 94 public schools with new equipment to replace those damaged in the blast. “The educational system is central to bringing the country back to life. If this system fails, the country will lose its backbone.”

Lebanon hosts the largest proportion of refugees per capita of the local population in the world. Since 1948, it has been home to a large Palestine refugee community. Since 2011, it has seen more than one million Syrians – many of them children – cross the border into an already over-stretched and under-funded society with pre-existing and continuing education challenges for refugee, host-community and Lebanese children.

“I appeal to the international community to stand with Lebanon by providing immediate and generous funding for the education sector. Multiple crises threaten to reverse progress made and further leave behind those struggling through these crises: refugees and host-communities alike,” said The Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education, and Chair of the Education Cannot Wait High-Level Steering Group.

Just four months ago, while already in the throes of the most severe financial crisis in its history, as well as combating the socio-economic effects of COVID-19, Lebanon’s capital Beirut, was struck by a catastrophic blast. The explosion destroyed hospitals and schools, dramatically affecting the city’s infrastructure, disproportionately affecting many already marginalized citizens at a time when the country was ill-equipped to support them.

It was in this context that ECW visited the site of a Beirut blast-damaged school in Geitawi, Achrafieh during which ECW, together with UNESCO and Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education, launched their new partnership to rehabilitate damaged schools following the 4 August 2020 Beirut explosions.

  • ECW’s First Emergency Response (FER): Thanks to ECW’s funding support in September 2020, 40 public and private schools damaged in the explosions will benefit from rapid rehabilitation efforts, and 94 public schools will be provided with new equipment to replace those damaged by the blasts.

ECW’s field trips during the six-day mission included visits to informal settlements hosting Syrian refugees, Palestine refugee camps, and meetings with parents and children from marginalized Lebanese families.

  • Education challenges: ECW’s 2019 Annual Report indicates that some 631,209 Syrian children and 447,400 vulnerable Lebanese children faced challenges accessing education in 2019. This number further increased in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. During COVID-19, ECW is supporting online learning for marginalized children in Lebanon whose schools are closed due to the pandemic.

In south Lebanon’s Ein El Hilweh camp alone, the education of more than 6,000 children is under threat due to lack of continuity of funding for UNRWA, as are the multiple programmes sustained by the organization in regional camps and urgent funding is required.

  • Under-funding challenges: Under-funding is endemic within Lebanon’s current economic malaise, and ECW advocates globally for the restoration of funding to UNRWA – the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

“Every girl and boy in Lebanon has both the right to inclusive, quality education and the right to learn in safety. Education Cannot Wait stands shoulder-to-shoulder in support of every child and every government and non-governmental actor which shares our vision for guaranteeing the delivery of these rights,” said Sherif. “Lebanon’s window of opportunity is closing fast. We are not prepared to stand by and watch it slam shut in the faces of the most vulnerable children and youth when we know a solution is readily in reach if we join hands in their support.”

Beyond addressing first emergency responses, ECW is working to establish multi-year resilience programmes in Lebanon. These aim to bridge the gap between short-term humanitarian responses and longer-term development interventions and will set a milestone in advancing the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on inclusive and equitable, quality education. The mission provided an opportunity to initiate the launch process for the planned ECW-funded multi-year resilience education programme in Lebanon.

“Education is the key to addressing the many challenges faced in this wonderful country, and by investing now in children’s futures it will quickly build a stronger economy and build greater resilience and opportunity for everyone in Lebanon,” said Justin van Fleet, President of Theirworld. Theirworld was the first to advocate for the integration of Syrian students into school system in Lebanon, and views education as the best investment for girls and boys, and for the future of their country.

With its urgent objective to heighten global awareness surrounding education challenges for the most vulnerable children in the country, ECW’s Lebanon visit provided several strategic moments for the global Education Cannot Wait movement to advocate for an even more collective approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve education outcomes in line with the UN’s 2030 reform agenda. Joint analysis, joint planning, and collaborative programming, along with ECW’s value-added approach of bringing local and international actors together with a common aim, ensures effective plans are created on the ground and owned locally.

Education Cannot Wait’s mission – which included Sherif and ECW’s Chief of Strategic Partnerships, Nasser Faqih and ECW’s Chief of Humanitarian Liaison, Maarten Barends – was supported on many levels by the government of Lebanon, to whom ECW extends its heartfelt thanks.

During her six-day mission in the country, Sherif met with: Lebanon government representatives, including the Minister of Education and Higher Education; the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator; UN agencies, including UNRWA, UNESCO, UNICEF and UNHCR; civil society and bilateral partners, including Save the Children, AVSI, NRC, IRC and World Vision; and in-country donors.


About Education Cannot Wait (ECW):
ECW is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crisis. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings. ECW’s investment modalities are designed to usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve educational outcomes. Education Cannot Wait is hosted by UNICEF. We re-emphazise our call to public and private sector donors to step up to mobilize US$400 million in funding in support of the establishment of a series of global multi-year resilience education programmes around the world.

About Education Cannot Wait (ECW):
ECW is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings around the world. ECW’s investment modalities are designed to usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve education outcomes. Education Cannot Wait is hosted by UNICEF. The Fund is administered under UNICEF’s financial, human resources and administrative rules and regulations, while operations are run by the Fund’s own independent governance structure.

On Twitter, please follow: @EduCannotWait  @YasmineSherif1  @KentPage 

Additional information available at:
To support our efforts and donate to Education Cannot Wait, text ‘ECW’ to 707070 (*from the US and Canada only) or visit

For press inquiries:
Anouk Desgroseilliers,, +1-917-640-6820
Kent Page,, +1-917-302-1735
For other inquiries:


These words from SDG advocate Eddie Ndopu, shared during the ‘Disability Inclusive Education Forum – Reaching the most marginalised’ held on 4th December, 2020, ring true this Human Rights Day.

Yasmine, a refugee girl with disabilities living in Bangladesh, is receiving learning support through ECW-funded programmes. Photo UNICEF.

“We have an attitudinal problem and a failure of the public policy imagination to account for the full experiences that children with disabilities in vulnerable contexts embody…This is not a question of misfortune, it is a question of injustice…institutional and structural exclusion and oppression. If we are to really reach those furthest behind, we require a moment of reckoning that society has let down children with disabilities. And we have to act to change that …now.”

These words from SDG advocate Eddie Ndopu, shared during the ‘Disability Inclusive Education Forum – Reaching the most marginalised’ held on 4th December, 2020, ring true this Human Rights Day. Thirty-year-old Eddie, who is in discussions with aerospace companies to be the first person with a disability in space, reminded attendees of the Forum that human rights apply to all and that denying access to education and opportunity is an injustice. Particularly, for the billions of young people who have been forced out of schools due to COVID-19 and those already excluded like refugees, displaced students and children and young people with disabilities. The Forum, held the day after the United Nations annual International Day for Persons with Disabilities, issued a timely reminder that, in an unpredictable 2020, children and young people already facing the greatest barriers and highest risk of exclusion are being left further behind, without the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Hosted by the Government of Norway, Education Cannot Wait, the Global Campaign for Education, Special Olympics, International Disability Alliance (IDA), International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC) and Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies, the Forum’s message was not lost on the large audience of self-advocates, organisations of persons with disabilities multilateral, UN and NGO organizations and government representatives who tuned in. Speakers included Norwegian Minister Dag Ulstein, Ecuador’s Vice Minister for Education, Isabela Maldonado, chair of the African Disability Forum and board member of the International Disability Alliance, Mr Alzouma Maiga Idriss; Alejandra Perez, Special Olympics Venezuela athlete; self-advocate Salma Eltabbakh from Egypt and more, echoed that the basic right to education, especially for children and young people with a disability, has been impacted as resources become more strained and they become harder to reach.

The Forum sought to encourage local, national, and international decision makers to ensure that inclusive education for learners with disabilities – particularly in humanitarian emergencies – should be a key focus of education systems, delivery and planning as well as COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. These children and young people, along their families and communities are in need of more support than ever, and countries must step up to the commitments made in Sustainable Development Goal 4 and in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities when it comes to making quality, equitable and inclusive education a reality for learners with disabilities. This resonates in a message from the IDA, which strongly believes that “building a truly inclusive education system is the only way to achieve SDG 4 for all children including those with disabilities.”

Ensuring a positive outlook, several co-hosts and speakers shared indications and descriptions of progress on this agenda. For example, Graham Lang, Chief of Education for Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the global fund for education in emergencies shared with the audience that, “ECW will increasingly focus efforts to ensure that our investments support the design and implementation of inclusive investments to support children and adolescents with disabilities with inclusive education opportunities, which is their right.” Eight distinct breakout sessions following the Forum were attended by a network of advocates, organizations of persons with disabilities, service delivery groups and policy experts also enabled attendees to understand more about what can be done, and how, to support learners with disabilities in emergency settings. From responsive planning, to better service delivery, to overcoming barriers including the impact of COVID-19, speakers like Sk Golam Mohiuddin, an Inclusive Education Facilitator from Bangladesh,  and William Obella, a Humanity and Inclusion project officer on behalf of the IDDC, shared a common dedication to thinking ‘outside the box’ and shared firsthand accounts of innovative service delivery and the challenges of education during COVID 19. For instance inclusive digital, radio and TV learning services and private tutors, which Vice Minister Maldonado shared have been rolled out in Ecuador.

Highlights of the Forum included the large number of passionate, determined and inspiring self-advocates and students with disabilities, who advocated for their basic right for an opportunity to reach their fullest potential and be counted.  Many urged organisations for people with disabilities, global education in emergency networks, governments and donors to ensure their needs are fully integrated and not an add-on or afterthought within education settings.  Moderator, Laila Atshan from Palestine, shared that, “separation is illusion” and that, as a blind child, she was only expected to reach 6th grade at best, but exceeded expectations by attending Harvard. Egyptian advocate Salma Eltabakkh talked about how to ensure all students “respect the culture of difference” in integrated schools, as she shared her own highschool experience, absent of inclusive assistance, ostracized by peers who didn’t understand Down syndrome and disregarded by potential employers before she discovered a career in supporting students with disabilities. Special Olympian Alejandra Perez gave advice for a better future through, “the union between people with disabilities and people without disabilities.” She said, “We in Special Olympics live this… Sport is a refuge. I speak for all of our athletes, not just myself. Through sport…we can learn more about inclusion.”

The co-hosting organisations are now working together to release recommendations that build on the outcomes of the Forum. These organizations will work with the Government of Norway and other organisers of the 2022 Global Disability Summit (GDS), following the UK’s hosting in 2018, to ensure that inclusive education – particularly in emergencies, is high on the agenda for action. The Government of Norway welcomed last week’s Forum and its outcomes and the Minister for Development, Dag Ulstein shared his vision for the Forum and the 2022 GDS: “Norway is committed to the inclusion agenda and is delighted to host the 2022 Global Disability Summit, because we want to ensure that political focus is not veering away from commitments made for the improvement of the human rights situation for persons with disabilities. We believe inclusive education is a vital part of achieving SDG4 and ensuring that no one is left behind, because everyone has a right to education, including children and youth living with disabilities. If they are not provided access to education, we will not achieve SDG4. That is why we co-hosted this Forum. We hope to work with the education community, civil society and disabled persons organisations and advocates over the coming months to plan collaboratively how inclusive education particularly in emergencies, will feature and be prioritized in the Summit.”

To the Forum’s co-hosts, it is unacceptable that 60 years since the adoption of the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, children and young people with disabilites are still subject to systemic disrimination in many education systems around the world, moreso in emergency contexts. With this in mind, a sense of impatience, frustration and urgency to act became clear.  Nafisa Baboo, Global Campaign for Education board member reinforced that, “donors must hardwire disability in all education in emergency programmes, and make sure funding sufficiently provides for better identification, inclusive education teacher training, and the needed accommodations and supports for children with disabilities.” Echoing Eddie Ndopu, Canadian MP Mike Lake, joined by his son Jaden Lake, who is a Special Olympian with autism and an accomplished library assistant, shared that he was “tired of having the same conversations.” And that, “the world is better off when children with disabilities are included, in school, and reaching their full potential.”  The hope of all the organisations listed below, as we recover from a truly global pandemic and progress towards the 2022 Global Disability Summit, is that we don’t lose the momentum and collective will to achieve the human rights for every child through inclusive education.

The final recommendations of the forum are available to download here.

Thank you to the International Disability Alliance, International Disability and Development Consortium, Interagency Network for Education in Emergencies, Education Cannot Wait, The Government of Norway, Special Olympics, The Global Campaign for Education, Light for the World and the Jesuit Refugee Service for their support for this Press Release.

To find out more and get more involved:


n this incisive interview, the minister explores the upcoming Education Cannot Wait-financed multi-year resilience programme and the triple threat of Conflict, COVID-19, and the Climate Crisis, which have come together to displace over 1 million people in Burkina Faso. Learn more about ECW-financed programmes in the Sahel and Burkina Faso.