In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic devastated education systems throughout the world, making the year exceptionally challenging for children and adolescents already left furthest behind in emergencies and protracted crises.

Education Cannot Wait and its partners quickly adapted their response to continue to support quality education outcomes for girls and boys caught in armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate change-induced disasters and protracted crises.


children with school supplies

Total Children and Youth Reached
with ECW support:

4.6 million

children with school supplies

Total Resources Mobilized
(in $US):

1.7 billion

children with school supplies

Total Number of


(256 including COVID-19

The pandemic acted as a risk-multiplier, as it not only created new challenges but also amplified existing risks for the most vulnerable groups, particularly girls and children and adolescents with disabilities.

UNESCO estimated that globally, 1.5 billion students, from pre-primary to upper-secondary level, experience some sort of learning interruption as a result of school closures in early 2020. This learning loss will only aggravate the pre-pandemic rate of learning poverty, affecting 53 per cent of children in low- and middle-income countries who by 10 years of age could not read or understand a simple text.

Shortly after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic on 11 March 2020, Education Cannot Wait responded rapidly and decisively to the crisis, initiating a substantive package of grants targeting all countries with ongoing investments: US$23 million was allocated from the FER reserve within 21 days, and a further US$22.4 million was approved in July 2020 – a total of US$45.4 million. This funding was distributed across 85 grants in 32 countries and emergency contexts to minimize the impact on education in crisis-affected areas and ensure children and adolescents were able to continue learning.

© Street Child/Ellen Fitton

ECW’s mandate supports SDG 4, which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Funds from over 75 per cent of COVID-19 FERs were sent to partners within eight weeks, making this ECW’s most rapid disbursement of funds to date. As a result, over 29 million crisis-affected children and adolescents (51 per cent girls) were reached and supported with distance-learning opportunities, COVID-19 awareness activities, and health and hygiene products in 2020. In addition, over 300,000 teachers (55 per cent female) were trained on how to facilitate distance learning, adhere to and implement COVID-19 protocols, and promote health and hygiene standards.

These successes amid a global pandemic are testament to ECW’s mandate and the resilience of the fund, its partners and the communities, children and adolescents they serve. The systems and support structures that have emerged after COVID-19 will remain critical tools in enabling children and adolescents to continue their studies when schools are being attacked, damaged or made inaccessible due to conflict, crisis, disaster or future pandemics. Efforts by partners and grantees are guided by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, and align with ECW’s focus on ensuring that the children and adolescents left furthest behind can access and enjoy their right to a quality and safe education.

Despite the pandemic, ECW maintained its focus on addressing the education needs of children and adolescents in protracted crises and, in line with its Strategic Plan 2018–2022, approved an additional eight new Multi-Year Resilience Programmes (MYRPs), bringing the total to 18 at the end of 2020. In addition, four existing MYRPs re-programmed their funds to respond quickly to COVID-19 challenges that the education sector faced.

In 2020, ECW distributed US$138 million to 29 grantees in 32 countries (US$69 million via FERs [including COVID-19 FERs], US$62 million via MYRPs and US6.5 million via the Acceleration Facility) in order to scale innovations and build institutional capacity for coordination within the education in emergencies and protracted crisis (EiEPC) sector.

Regular, non-COVID-19 grants active in 2020 reached more than 2.6 million children and adolescents (48 per cent girls), bringing the total number of children and adolescents reached since ECW’s inception in 2016 to nearly 4.6 million (48 per cent girls). ECW mobilized US$91.9 million in 2020 from both public and private sources, for a total of US$684.5 million mobilized globally since 2016. In addition, ECW and its partners leveraged an additional US$1 billion in 10 MYRP countries.

ECW’s mandate is articulated around five core functions:

children learning outside

© UNICEF/UN0473540/Mulala

Our Strategic Objectives

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At a beneficiary level, the work done by ECW and its many partners is grouped around five collective education outcome areas:

children learning in a classroom

© UNICEF/Marish

Our Results for Children

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