By Yasmine Sherif, Director, ECW, and Coalition Education
Available in French
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the world, jeopardizing the education of 1.18 billion learners in 191 countries, some are even more severely affected than others. These are the 75 million children and young people, including 39 million girls, already marginalized by armed conflict, forced displacement and natural disasters – and whose numbers continue to increase.
Beyond endangering the continuity of education, closing schools increases the risk of abuse and exploitation, including child labor, forced marriage and gender-based violence. It is also likely to have serious psychosocial consequences for children, especially the most vulnerable, including girls and the disabled. Today, the future of an entire generation is in question.
Faced with a challenge of such magnitude, only joint mobilization and a coordinated response can make a difference. Education Cannot Wait has therefore responded to the crisis within the framework of the humanitarian appeal of the United Nations and has participated since the beginning of the crisis in the global coordination group for education led by UNESCO. But to succeed, all actors, including governments and civil society organizations, must come together in a spirit of humanity and multilateralism to mobilize the financial resources required to provide a future to 75 million children and youth left behind.
ECW commends the work of Coalition Education, a coalition of French organizations defending the right to education, which recently published a report on French aid to education. This report highlights the central role of education for peace and development, especially in crisis contexts. Quality education is today more than ever the central vector for accelerating development, strengthening the protection of human rights and enabling the current generation to live a life of dignity, productivity and opportunity.
France was one of ECW’s first partners and shares with ECW a strong commitment to education and gender equality. France’s support to education issues in the global South is essential, both in response to COVID-19, but also for strengthening education systems in the longer term. France’s leadership and influence are even more important in contexts of crisis and fragility where education already suffers from a lack of visibility and investment.
Thanks to the support of France, ECW has piloted in partnership with UNESCO and the Lebanese Ministry of Education innovative learning solutions to respond to COVID-19 to improve access to education for vulnerable children, including refugee and displaced girls and boys, in Lebanon. But we must go further. Education, already underfunded in emergency and protracted crisis contexts, risks being further undermined by the COVID-19 crisis, as development and humanitarian funding may decrease due to economic recession. It needs not be like that if we chose to focus on our hope, rather than our fears.
Some regions are also more vulnerable than others. As highlighted by the report published by Coalition education, the Sahel region and more generally sub-Saharan Africa have a very large number of children and young people out of school, and for these children, access to a protective learning environment means hope for a better future. These regions are at the heart of ECW’s investments, with more than 16 million USD already invested in the Sahel region (Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger) in 2019, and an additional 15 million USD planned for 2020.
Education Cannot Wait looks to France as a great strategic partner to help the collective efforts to succeed in delivering education to children and youth in Chad, Central African Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, just to mention a few countries in urgent need. More broadly, ECW aims to raise $ 1.8 billion by 2021 to reach 9 million children and youth in crisis-affected countries. Maintaining the right to education is essential to prevent crises, fight poverty, and reduce inequality. It is the foundation for sustainable development. Without education, there will be no foundation.
Provided that we all come together to reach the 75 million children and youth left furthest behind in conflicts and forced displacement – now doubly affected by COVID-19 – it is not impossible to transform their lives and that of the world. In any case, we must make the impossible possible.