Opinion: World leaders can and must do more for girls’ education in emergencies

That’s why we’re calling on the U.K. government to build on its leadership to date, including by increasing support for the Education Cannot Wait fund to £75 million ($94.7 million) over three years and supporting the fund to increase the amount it allocates to secondary education.

Multiple crises in neighbouring countries has triggered an influx of 450,000 refugees into Chad over the last several years, critically burdening an already strained education system. Recent analysis indicates ECW investments have already reached over 180,000 children in Chad alone. Photo © Devaki Erande/JRS

By Yasmine Sherif and Stephen Twigg

Originally published on Devex

16-year-old Kwanye’s education came to an end after militants started kidnapping girls from her school. She lives in the Lake Chad Basin, where one of the world’s most severe and underreported humanitarian crises has left 2.2 million people displaced, half of them children. The conflict has already claimed her parents and siblings and left her struggling to survive.

Now she reads her old school books so that she doesn’t forget. “I always thought education would give me a better life,” she said. “I can’t go to school when I can barely afford to eat.”

Right now, around the world, there are 39 million girls, who, like Kwanye, have had their education disrupted as a direct result of humanitarian crisis. Of these, 13 million have been forced out of school completely. That’s the equivalent of three girls for every girl in school in the U.K. — three girls whose full potential may never be realized.

World leaders are starting to listen, but more can be done to tackle this. In 2015, they launched the Sustainable Development Goals, promising that every young person completed a good quality education by 2030. Yet a new report published this week by Plan International UK warns that they are way off-track. At current rates of progress, it will be a further 150 years before the goal is reached. By 2030, 1 in 5 girls in crisis-affected countries still won’t be able to read a simple sentence.

For girls affected by crisis, education is a lifeline — and it mustn’t just be primary but a full 12 years of education. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable in times of disaster or conflict due to their age and gender. They’re more likely to be married by 18 than to finish school. They’re at greater risk of exploitation, gender-based violence, and early pregnancy. In fact, there’s a two in three chance they won’t even start secondary school.

Education can offer these girls a safe space to learn and develop the skills they need to thrive and contribute to the peaceful recovery of their communities. Secondary education also provides an entry point for girls to access health services including mental health support and information about staying safe during natural disasters.

There are some signs of progress. In 2016, the Education Cannot Wait fund, which delivers life-changing education for girls and boys living in humanitarian crises, was established and continues to receive strong and growing support, including from the U.K. government.

Nevertheless, funding for education in emergencies remains much too low, especially for secondary education. As Plan International UK’s report shows, governments and the international community need to take much bolder action if they are to deliver on their promises.

That’s why we’re calling on the U.K. government to build on its leadership to date, including by increasing support for the Education Cannot Wait fund to £75 million ($94.7 million) over three years and supporting the fund to increase the amount it allocates to secondary education.

However, this is a global challenge and requires a global response. All governments and donors must play their part.

In times of crisis, girls want to be able to go to school. They want to be doctors, pilots, and engineers. They want to rebuild their countries. But too often their dream remains just that.

Right now, millions of girls are being left behind, and without committed political leadership, increased resourcing, and targeted action, their chance for a decent education may be lost forever. We can and must do more. Their right is our obligation.

About the authors

Yasmine Sherif
Yasmine Sherif is the director of Education Cannot Wait, a global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crisis established at the World Humanitarian Summit and hosted by UNICEF. A human rights lawyer with 30 years of experience in international affairs, Yasmine joined the United Nations in 1988 and served in New York, Geneva, and in crisis-affected countries in Africa, Asia, Balkans, and the Middle East.

Stephen Twigg

Stephen Twigg is a Labour MP and chair of the U.K.’s International Development Select Committee. He was previously shadow secretary of state for education and served as a government minister from 2001-2005, first as deputy leader of the House of Commons and later as an education minister.



A frontlines champion for education in emergencies, Maria Alberto is incorporating disaster preparedness into school lessons to help children recover from the devastating cyclones. Photo Manan Kotak/ECW

In Mozambique, communities are reeling from the devastating Cyclones Idai and Kenneth which caused widespread destruction affecting 1.5 million children across the country. In the wake of the disaster, Education Cannot Wait is supporting the swift resumption of education services to ensure children get back to safe and protective learning environments. Teachers are returning to their classrooms with an eye on the future, serving as a beacon of hope for their communities, nurturing young minds and helping them to heal and recover a sense of normalcy in their lives.

By Manan Kotak, Education Specialist at Education Cannot Wait

 “I want to support these children more and more. I want to be able to help the people of our town and the children in need.”

As she sits in her classroom and gets her lesson plan done before the class starts, 42-year-old Maria Alberto talks about her dedication for her pupils and the traumatic experience of the recent disaster.

“I always wanted to be a teacher, I think a teacher is the foundation of a child’s education,” she says.  “We have never seen this type of cyclone before and were not prepared for this disaster.”

The mother of five, whose house was partially destroyed by the cyclone, stresses how this ordeal has transformed her perspective on teaching, community engagement and disaster preparedness.

“After a week, we were still recovering from this loss and I got a message from school headteacher that we had to resume school and all the teachers should come and start teaching.”

Maria Alberto and her family had already lost a lot. But she decided to return to school.

She wasn’t alone in dealing with the stress, anxiety and uncertainty of the disaster. At least nine teachers and more than 100 students in her school had lost their homes to the brute-force winds, rains and floods.

Rather than do nothing, Maria Alberto decided to push her sorrow to the side and work to restore a normal life for herself and for her students.

“Children and individuals need to cope with the current situation,” she says.

As they dug through the rubble and went to returning to normalcy, the sheer devastation of the cyclone hit home. Eight out of 11 classrooms had lost their roofs, and most of the desks and school materials were totally damaged. There wasn’t even a place for children to sit.


Maria Alberto and her colleagues, alongside with school’s headteacher and district education offices mobilized some basic resources and started classes outside. Children resumed their educational paths, and Maria Alberto and her counterparts were able to do what they do best: teach. 

With support from teachers like Maria Alberto, community organizations, the government and non-profits, children are slowly beginning to return to a normal life.

“Once [children] started to regain their confidence – despite the difficult situation – it is now our duty as teachers to help them to take the next steps and bring them back to a normal life and continue their education with bright future prospects,” Maria Alberto says.


“If I were more prepared for this nature of disaster and knew what to do before and during the cyclone, I could have helped more people in my town,” she says.  

Through Education Cannot Wait’s funding to the emergency response in Mozambique – and in other countries affected by the devastating cyclones – teachers like Maria Alberto are receiving training to teach children about disaster preparedness and facilitate the psychosocial support needed to help children recover. Thanks to the Fund’s support, partners on the ground have already begun rehabilitating classrooms, establishing temporary learning spaces, distributing teaching and learning materials, and training local teachers and community members.

To date, Education Cannot Wait has allocated close to US$15 million to support children affected by the cyclones in Mozambique and in the neighboring countries of Malawi and Zimbabwe.





‘Foundations along with both governments and the private sector can play a critical role in achieving the SDGs by sharing information, resources, and capabilities. Therefore, collaboration is key to fulfill the goals; it’s not the sole responsibility of one entity – we should altogether join our efforts for the common good.’ Tariq Al Gurg, CEO Dubai Cares. UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha
‘Foundations along with both governments and the private sector can play a critical role in achieving the SDGs by sharing information, resources, and capabilities. Therefore, collaboration is key to fulfill the goals; it’s not the sole responsibility of one entity – we should altogether join our efforts for the common good.’ Tariq Al Gurg, CEO Dubai Cares. UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha


By Johannes Kiess, Innovative Finance Specialist, Education Cannot Wait

To fill the estimated US$8.5 billion annual gap for education in emergencies that has left millions of children behind, we need to accelerate our work and engagement with a wider range of partners. A key group of partners that possess vast potential, resources and know-how are found in the foundations space.

Education Cannot Wait has engaged with foundations since its inception. Dubai Cares, the foundations’ representative on our governance structures contributed US$6.8 million to ECW so far and was a major force in establishing the Fund. Dubai Cares also is one of the main private funders of education in emergencies.

“The establishment of Education Cannot Wait as a new global fund for education in emergencies allows foundations like us to support a mechanism that enables improved delivery of education to children and young people displaced by conflicts, epidemics and natural disasters through a coordinated and collaborative effort that minimizes transaction costs and maximizes impact,” said Dubai Cares CEO Tariq Al Gurg.


Our new policy brief “Foundations’ Engagement in Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises” outlines that education in emergencies is becoming a priority for an increasing number of foundations. It’s an evolving space, but our analysis indicates a good potential for growth, strengthened coordination and mutually beneficial partnerships.

This isn’t necessarily news. The International Education Funders Group has hosted a group on education in emergencies for some years. This group took significant steps towards a more purposeful collaboration in 2018, and will be essential in any future planning.

We are also seeing a substantial increase in engagement from foundations. In 2017, the MacArthur Foundation awarded a US$100 million grant to Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to educate young children displaced by conflict and persecution in the Middle East. In 2018, the LEGO Foundation awarded US$100 million to Sesame Workshop to bring the power of learning through play to children affected by the Rohingya and Syrian refugee crises.

In our policy brief – prepared with substantive inputs and data from members of the Education in Emergencies subgroup of the International Education Funders Group – we explore strategies to expand and strengthen our engagement with foundations for delivering quality education in emergencies.


  • Education in emergencies is an important theme for several major foundations but not the only focus of their work. We are also witnessing new foundations entering the education in emergencies sector. This increasing engagement may be just the push needed to grow the pool of resources invested on education in emergencies beyond what traditional donors are giving. This engagement is expected to grow modestly with established funders and may increase with some large entrants from foundations previously not involved in the space.
  • Overall, foundation grantmaking to education in emergencies increased slightly between 2008 and 2016, the years for which data was available. Total contributions are estimated to be US$294.5 million over the past 9 years. Graph
  • About 5.4 per cent of all foundation funding to countries in emergencies went to education. This is above the global target of 4 per cent and above the actual proportion of 3.9 per cent of education funding as a share of humanitarian aid in 2017.
  • Foundations gave on average 39 per cent of funding directly to local recipients and not through international organizations. This exceeds the 25 per cent target for humanitarian aid under the Grand Bargain commitment.
  • Compared to official donors, foundations granted relatively more funds to secondary and early childhood education. Other priorities included ‘child educational development’ for children of all ages to foster social, emotional and intellectual growth, educational services, and equal-opportunity education.
  • Foundations’ giving modalities are in line with recent developments in humanitarian finance to provide less earmarked funding, invest in data and evidence-driven programme management, and support broader systems reform and collaboration.


These findings lead to a number of conclusions and recommendations for continued engagement and partnership with the foundations space.

First, while foundations already provide a significant financial contribution to overall humanitarian aid across education levels and for important priorities such as gender equality and equity, the enormous need to mobilize US$8.5 billion annually for education in emergencies requires foundations to rethink the scale and speed of their giving.

Second, foundations increasingly see funding as just one and not the only tool in their toolbox. They sometimes have deep roots in a country that go back well before a crisis started. If the education in emergencies community reaches out to foundations narrowly as just another source of funding, then it is unlikely to engage the foundations to their full potential. Taking this to heart, the education in emergencies community should engage with foundations in a way that shares and builds knowledge, networks and systemic capacity.

Third, closer collaboration, cooperation, and co-financing with other humanitarian and development actors – both non-profit organizations and UN agencies – may lead the way forward to strengthen the role of foundations in contributing to education in emergencies. Engagement in the multilateral funding system can help influence the global agenda.

Fourth, in order to operationalize coordinated financing on the ground, all education in emergency actors should develop and/or review their operating procedures and frameworks. This would enable public-private partnerships between foundations, governments, and multilateral organizations including global funds.

Fifth, going local is key for foundations. Foundations tend to work more directly with local actors than government and multilateral donors, according to the policy brief. This offers a clear value-add to potential partnerships. Foundations could help the wider education in emergencies community to better implement the localization agenda.

Sixth, foundations are a crucial voice in advocating for education in emergencies. They can play an important role in joint advocacy, engaging private sector champions, and lifting the profile of education in emergencies on the global agenda.

Finally, foundations have implemented education innovations – such as socio-emotional learning, development of soft-skills, learning through play, empathy, leadership skills, teamwork, conscientiousness, and creativity – supporting a holistic approach to children’s well-being. These are crucial for addressing some of the challenges faced by children living in crises.

By working more closely with official donors, foundations could share their knowledge, help scale up what works and ensure these programs are available to a much larger number of learners in emergency situations by integrating them into the larger programmes of official donors.

Taken from a 50,000-foot perspective, investing in education in emergencies offers plenty of opportunity for foundations to have real impact. As we step up engagement and convene dialogue and partnership between foundations and key education-in-emergency actors, it’s clear that there is a tremendous amount of growth potential. Only through strengthened collaboration and joining forces towards collective outcomes will we, as a sector, be able to meet the full scope of needs, and ensure every child, everywhere – even the ones most at risk that are living in war zones, conflict and crisis – has the hope, opportunity and protection of a quality education.


Working with the Government of Bangladesh, UNICEF, UNESCO and UNHCR, Education Cannot Wait launched a new US$12 million grant in November 2018 to benefit 88,500 refugee and host community children and adolescents. With efforts to mobilize resources from multiple partners and donors, the multi-year grant will connect with other initiatives to reach more than half a million refugee and host community and youth, and 9800 teachers over the coming years. Photo UNICEF/Bangladesh.
Working with the Government of Bangladesh, UNICEF, UNESCO and UNHCR, Education Cannot Wait launched a new US$12 million grant in November 2018 to benefit 88,500 refugee and host community children and adolescents. With efforts to mobilize resources from multiple partners and donors, the multi-year grant will connect with other initiatives to reach more than half a million refugee and host community and youth, and 9800 teachers over the coming years. Photo UNICEF/Bangladesh.


Special contribution by Yasmine Sherif, Director Education Cannot Wait to the Commonwealth Education Report 2019

The 75 million children and youth in humanitarian crises have challenged us to make good on our promise to leave no one behind. The Commonwealth is neither immune, nor shies away from this challenge. It is afflicted by emergencies and protracted crises due to conflict and natural disasters. It is also the place where solutions are produced. Countries such as Canada and the UK are the driving force behind the historic 2018 Charlevoix Declaration on the quality of education for girls, adolescent girls and women in developing countries. At Education Cannot Wait (ECW), a global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crisis established by the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, we embrace the ethos of the Declaration and commit to reaching eight million children and youth in crises with quality education by 2021.

Having served for 30 years in some of the most conflict-affected areas in the world and led ECW since 2017, I am convinced that quality education for children and youth in crises is key to unlocking the Agenda for Humanity and the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030. At present, some Commonwealth countries are coping with significant humanitarian challenges. In Uganda, 1.3 million refugees, of whom half are children, are displaced due to conflict in South Sudan and neighbouring countries. Since 2017, Bangladesh has struggled to provide education for over 400,000 Rohingya refugee children and youth. As of early 2018, in Cameroon, more than half of the 3.3 million people in humanitarian need are children. In Nigeria, more than six million people – of whom 45 per cent are under the age of 15 years old – are now displaced due to protracted conflict. In Papua New Guinea, more than 23,000 school children were challenged to stay in schools affected by the 7.5 magnitude earthquake in February 2018. Safety, dignity and the right to thrive are at risk for these children and youth.

While survival requires access to clean water, adequate food, decent shelter and medical attention, survival also depends on education and attainment of human potential. Education is vital for the next generation to move beyond crisis mode and prepare for a productive future. The notion that no children and youth are deprived of learning opportunities because of crisis, is a constant reminder of the kind of future that the Commonwealth aspires to achieve: one of fairness and inclusion that ensures every child has at least 12 years of quality education. Understanding the full spectrum of challenges faced by these children and youth in accessing quality education, and hence their role in building stable and productive societies based on democratic governance, the rule of law and social cohesion is imperative to ECW.

Humanitarian crises do not only create, but also perpetuate inequality and exclusion. Yet, meeting the needs of children and youth in humanitarian crises is often seen as adding to the deficiencies of the education system; many are perceived as burdening the already overcrowded schools and contributing to high student-teacher ratios.  Teaching methods, curriculum and staff may not address the specific challenges these children and youth face, including trauma and loss of sense of purpose and self-worth. Refugee children and youth tend to experience low levels of educational attainment in their country of origin, constant mobility due to repeated displacement, being over age for their grade level and having little hope for upward professional and social mobility due to interrupted education. Girls are more likely to be excluded from education than boys, and few complete secondary education due to a host of barriers. These include, but are not limited to, violence associated with unsafe travel to schools, rape as a means if warfare, schools without sanitation facilities, teachers who demand sex for grades and early marriage. All of these factors represent very real barriers to girls’ education and need to be holistically addressed. This requires analysis that is more specific than disaggregation of data by gender, to include factors such as: age, ethnicity, marriage status, sexual orientation, disability, educational attainment, and time lived in a protracted crisis.

Solutions to reducing vulnerabilities and increasing resilience through education cannot be one dimensional. They require crisis sensitivity and connecting the dots in tackling crisis-induced vulnerabilities and threats. As such, ECW’s approach resonates fully with the approach of the Commonwealth in implementing 12 years of quality education and learning with girls’ education at the forefront. Together, we address the gendered and environmental dynamics of the complex needs of those left furthest behind. We focus on learning outcomes and prioritise gender, protection and disabilities through coordinated joint programming across the human-development nexus. We tap into the expertise and added value of host governments, multiple UN agencies and nongovernmental organisations and strengthen local capacity to respond to education needs. This multi-prong approach allows us to achieve quality education for greater impact, honour the Grand Bargain (an agreement between more than 30 of the biggest donors and aid providers, which aims to get more means into the hands of people in need) and nurture the resilience of those left furthest behind, through collective action.

In the words of a young Rwandan woman, Amelie Fabian, who recently spoke at the 73th UN General Assembly: “When you give us education, you give us power to decide our fate”. Previously a refugee, she completed her primary and secondary education in Malawi, graduated from university and now works in one of the most-renowned business firms in Canada. As her journey of empowerment shows, collectively, we can and must enable the Commonwealth’s children and youth who are coping with crises to attain the future they deserve – by accessing the opportunities we owe them.


May 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day, which connects people across the globe ‘To create a world in which every woman and girl is empowered to manage her menstruation safely, hygienically, with confidence and without shame, where no woman or girl is limited by something as natural and normal as her period.’
May 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day, which connects people across the globe ‘To create a world in which every woman and girl is empowered to manage her menstruation safely, hygienically, with confidence and without shame, where no woman or girl is limited by something as natural and normal as her period.’


Special Contribution by Rachael Corbishley, Save the Children

Imagine being in the middle of your science class and your period starts. There’s no clean water to wash, no proper toilet to use, and you don’t have any pads. Sadly, that’s the reality for many refugee girls in Uganda.

As we call on education leaders, countries and other key partners to take action on Menstrual Hygiene Day, it’s important to remember the specific needs and risks for refugee girls, displaced girls, and girls whose dignity and access to the safety and opportunity of an education are being pushed aside by taboos, misconceptions, and lack of proper training and materials.

Uganda is home to 1.25 million refugees. Inadequate access to clean and safe hygiene facilities, shame and embarrassment while on their period, and lack of sanitary materials are some of the main reasons that adolescent refugee girls give for why they do not attend school regularly here.  Girls across the country do not attain success at primary school at the same rate as boys. In the Primary Leavers’ Exam, a national examination that all children in school sit at the end of Primary 7, boys consistently pass at a higher rate than girls. Education disparities between boys and girls increase as they get older, as is seen in the Accelerated Education Programme (AEP).

The Accelerated Education Programme is an approach funded by Education Cannot Wait and other donors to help children that previously dropped out of school to attain a basic education. It provides age appropriate learning for children aged 10 to 18 that had their education interrupted due to poverty or conflict, and condenses seven years of the Ugandan Primary curriculum into three years. Data from the programme shows that girls are less likely to sit for the Primary Leavers’ Exam in the first place (72 per cent of all learners that sat for the exam across 13 centres in December were boys) and then are less likely to pass when they do sit (48 per cent of girls passed the exam, as opposed to 72 per cent of boys).

With funding from Education Cannot Wait, NGOs in Uganda are working to address these challenges and reverse these trends. Uganda’s Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities includes activities for “menstrual hygiene management” to enable girls to stay in school.


Globally, half a billion women and girls lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management. If those girls and women were to join hands, they would stretch clear around the globe – 10 times!

We need some no-nonsense approaches to ensure universal menstrual dignity – especially for girls living in crisis settings. First, schools need to have appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, but in poor rural environments sometimes this isn’t the case. At a bare minimum,  it is critical that toilets are separate and clearly sign-posted for both boys and girls and male and female teachers; that the doors have locks and are well lit; and that there is a space and clean water for washing and changing, and that there is a means for girls to dispose of sanitary materials.

Next, girls need to have access to suitable sanitary materials. The Education Cannot Wait-funded programme is bringing together a range of different approaches to menstrual hygiene and different partners across Uganda are trialling different methods. One approach is to distribute reusable sanitary materials to girls. The packs often come with soap and knickers to ensure that the user is able to hygienically wash the pads. Another approach is to train girls and their teachers on how to make their own reusable sanitary pads from locally available materials. Menstrual cups are a relatively new approach in northern Uganda, and through this programme girls will be introduced to the cup and trained on its use.

These different options are not mutually exclusive. Girls have the right to be provided with a choice between options and enough information and counselling to make a well-informed choice. Thanks to Education Cannot Wait’s support for these menstrual hygiene management activities, more than 18,000 girls in Uganda will access these rights.


It is really important that we do not just hand out sanitary materials, without accompanying this with training, counselling and guidance. Girls need to understand what is happening to their bodies during menstruation – and why. It is also critical that boys, as well as male teachers and members of school management have a good understanding of menstruation as well as the needs of girls. This programme will train all stakeholders in the school community on menstrual hygiene through information sessions. By bringing boys and men on board, too, this can reduce stigma, embarrassment and shame. Involving the whole community has also then resulted in school management committees taking steps to ensure that sanitary materials are included in school budgets and school improvement plans.

When this all happens it can make a huge difference not just to girls’ attendance and attainment at school, but also their self-confidence and active participation in class.

‘If my period being unexpectedly, I don’t feel nervous or embarrassed anymore. I don’t miss school anymore because of my period. I am now able to attend every day.’ - Mary attends the Accelerated Education Programme supported by Save the Children in the Palorinya refugee settlement. Through the Education Cannot Wait-financed multi-year educational response in Uganda, 18,000 girls like Mary will be provided with the dignity and essential human right of safe menstrual health. Photo: Save the Children
‘If my period being unexpectedly, I don’t feel nervous or embarrassed anymore. I don’t miss school anymore because of my period. I am now able to attend every day.’ – Mary attends the Accelerated Education Programme supported by Save the Children in the Palorinya refugee settlement. Through the Education Cannot Wait-financed multi-year educational response in Uganda, 18,000 girls like Mary will be provided with the dignity and essential human right of safe menstrual health. Photo: Save the Children



Rachel Corbishley is the Education Corsortium Manager for Save the Children in Uganda


Learn more about Global Menstrual Hygiene Day |#MHDAY2019

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Children at one of Save the Children’s temporary learning spaces in Qayyara Airstrip IDP Camp, Iraq © Dario Bosio/DARST/Save the Children
Children at one of Save the Children’s temporary learning spaces in Qayyara Airstrip IDP Camp, Iraq © Dario Bosio/DARST/Save the Children


By Yasmine Sherif, Director, Education Cannot Wait, and Leslie Snider, Director MHPSS Collaborative for Children and Families

‘Suicide bombs, landmines, unexploded ordinance, air strikes and other forms of explosives account for three quarters of child deaths and injuries across the world’s deadliest war zones.’

Humanitarian emergencies and protracted crises currently affect millions of children around the world with serious consequences for their ability to learn, grow and develop. 420 million children – nearly one-fifth of children worldwide – are living in a conflict zone. Children are especially vulnerable in conflict situations, because a child’s experiences during the earliest years of life have a lasting impact on their physical and mental development.

Save the Children’s new research shows just how much bombs and explosives in the world’s worst war zones are hurting children both mentally, as well as physically. Suicide bombs, landmines, unexploded ordinance, air strikes and other forms of explosives account for three quarters of child deaths and injuries across the world’s deadliest war zones. Our research shows how children are uniquely injured and impacted by explosive weapons compared to adults, and that children exposed to explosive weapons are at increased risk of long-term physical and psychosocial disabilities and mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and agoraphobia.

For children in conflict, the combination of exposure to bombs and explosive weapons, grave violations of their human rights and chronic adversity, insecurity and deprivation can lead to ‘toxic stress.’ Furthermore, many children impacted by conflict do not have access to the protective environment of schools and to quality education. As a result, conflict imposes yet another significant cost on future generations and severely undermines the potential for peaceful, prosperous societies.


Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) for children in conflict is essential to overcome the impact of toxic stress and gives children the chance to develop to their full potential. Integrating MHPSS programming into the existing structures that support and protect children, such as educational systems, is essential to ensure children can access opportunities for healing, recovery and learning at larger scale. Education, delivered in safe, nurturing environments, is critically protective for children in conflict, and has the potential to support their healing and recovery.


However, the huge need borne from protracted crises and mass displacement are not being matched with funding and support to ensure the inclusion of MHPSS services

An 8-year-old refugee from Afrin in Syria now living in Iraq. Despite huge needs, mental health services for children affected by conflict are very limited, with just one psychologist per one million people in Iraq. © Panos/Save the Children, 2018
An 8-year-old refugee from Afrin in Syria now living in Iraq. Despite huge needs, mental health services for children affected by conflict are very limited, with just one psychologist per one million people in Iraq. © Panos/Save the Children, 2018

in emergency responses. Mental health care treatment gaps are greater than 90 per cent in the least resourced countries, and for child and family MHPSS, there is a lack of targeted, evidence-based programmes, workforce capacity and sustained funding.


The MHPSS Collaborative for Children and Families, hosted by Save the Children, serves as a global platform for research, practice, learning and advocacy, that aims to build meaningful partnerships to address the critical MHPSS needs of children and families in fragile contexts at scale. Education Cannot Wait has partnered with the Collaborative in order to support the Global Education Cluster and other interagency partners to mainstream evidence-based, contextualized MHPSS into education in emergency programmes – closing the critical gap in treatment and providing safe and healing learning environments for the millions of children affected by conflict.


There are practical actions all countries can take to provide the help that children affected by conflict need to make a full recovery. This must include ensuring there is the mental health support on the ground to help children recover both in the immediate aftermath, and through the crucial months afterwards.

Education Cannot Wait, together with the MHPSS Collaborative and its partners, are calling on governments, donors, private sector companies, philanthropic foundations and global leaders to support efforts to increase the provision and quality of MHPSS via education in emergencies with US$50 million in dedicated financing to be channeled through Education Cannot Wait over three years through 2021. Immediate additional funding for MHPSS services will ensure the development and demonstration of the UNICEF and WHO MHPSS ‘Minimum Service Package ‘ within education, and also support the implementation of the package in five Education Cannot Wait Multi-Year Resilience Programme countries between now and 2021.

The MHPSS Minimum Service Package will build capacity across the education sector to deliver lifesaving MHPSS for an estimated 9 million children by 2021, and ensure educational systems are effectively linked to health, protection and social services, ensuring a critical safety net for children and their caregivers. For the millions of children around the world exposed to bombs, explosive weapons, conflict, insecurity, and toxic stress, this support is urgently needed to ensure their learning and wellbeing.

For more information, read the full briefing Healing And Recovery Through Education In Emergencies

www.stopwaronchildren.org | #STOPTHEWARONCHILDREN



Photo Aida Orgocka/ ECW
Refugee Children from South Sudan in Ethiopia. Photo Aida Orgocka/ ECW


By Aida Orgocka

“If I was not educated, I would be one of the people that would cause problems for South Sudan now,” says Victor Dut Chol, the Director of Research Policy Development and Sustainable Development Goals/Peace Education Focal Point in the Ministry of Education of South Sudan.

I met Victor in Juba during my last field mission to South Sudan where Education Cannot Wait is supporting the development of a multi-year programme aiming to provide education to the country’s most vulnerable children and youth.

Victor is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Like many of the boys who fled the violence of the civil war in the ’80s and trekked enormous distances to find safety in Ethiopia, the capital and other places, Victor doesn’t actually know how old he is. Birth registration is very low in South Sudan, and only about half of children are registered at birth.

But Victor never gave up. He pursued education with tenacity throughout his journey as a person uprooted by violence, from Ethiopia, to Kenya and then to the United States of America. Having graduated with a Master’s in Public Administration, he is now back in South Sudan because he believes it is his time to give back. He is part of the Task Team that will put together the Multi-Year Resilience Programme led by the Government of South Sudan.

South Sudan is one of the six countries where the Fund will invest in such programmes in 2019 – bringing ongoing Multi-Year Resilience Programmes supported by Education Cannot Wait to a total of 11 countries by the end of the year. Designed to strengthen linkages between emergency response and longer-term strengthening of education systems, these programmes bring together a wide range of international, national and local stakeholders to deliver quality education to the most marginalized girls and boys.

Photo Aida Orgocka/ ECW
7 out of 10 children are out of school in South Sudan. Protection of Civilian site outside Juba. Photo Aida Orgocka/ ECW


More than 2.2 million school-aged children in South Sudan have been dropped out of school due to the continuous conflict. This is one of the highest rates in the world. In some areas, girls make up to 75 per cent of the children outside the education system. The gender gap widens with age, according to the Global Initiative On Out Of School Children report (May 2018). While 10.6 per cent of boys were in secondary school at age 16, this was the case for only 1.3 per cent of 16-year-old girls.

Victor fears that if education is not provided for these children, they will grow up thinking like he did when he was out of school, that people of tribes other than the Dinka were out there to harm him. Without the opportunity an education provides, Victor believes these children would choose taking up arms instead of making windows, chairs and benches for classrooms, or pursuing other productive activities to build the social and economic fabric of the young nation.

We need to prepare the next generation of workers in South Sudan – and across the globe in countries affected by disaster, emergency and protracted crisis. As outlined in Education Cannot Wait’s Case for Investment, for each dollar invested in education, more than US$5 is returned in additional gross earnings in low-income countries and US$2.50 in lower middle-income countries.

Education is the key.

South Sudan cannot be self-sufficient if it does not have its own educated workforce. It all starts with having an opportunity to go to school and stay in school. For girls, meeting the education challenge means lifting socio-cultural barriers including eliminating child marriage and sexual violence, and building the confidence, knowledge and power needed to take their place in economic and social life. For boys, the alternative would be a future of joining armed groups or being victimized during cattle raids. For the nation, realizing the education imperative means the hope of peace, the hope of security, and the hope of reducing poverty and hunger South Sudan signed up for, along with 193 countries, when it committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Photo Aida Orgocka/ ECW
These boys are lucky to have basic services at the Protection of Civilian site outside Juba. In all 30 per cent of schools in South Sudan are damaged, destroyed or occupied. Photo Aida Orgocka/ ECW


How difficult can it be to keep children in school? Parents in South Sudan are selling cows to bring children to school because they are realizing the importance of an educated child.

Anyone who knows the country would say this is a huge investment. Cows symbolize income generation, status and the promise of a family life in a context where communities exhausted by conflict are saying: “This is enough.”

But even when the desire is there, there are no schools, and when there are schools, they lack trained teachers.

At a Protection of Civilians site outside of Juba, one teacher told us that while “back to school campaigns” try to increase enrollment numbers of girls and boys in school, what’s also really needed is a “back to teach campaign.”

Above all, women teachers should be recruited and trained. These women educators will serve as role models for girls like Vicky in Hossana Primary School who told me she wants to be a pilot.

Having worked in the field of education in emergencies for some time now, I sometimes get impatient with ideas that evolve around building more schools and training more teachers.

Haven’t we done enough? No, we haven’t.

In South Sudan when you see a poster that reads “You should never try to hit your friends with a metal or big stick,” you wonder why in the first place you would hit a friend.

As one of the countries that endorsed the Safe School Declaration, South Sudan places a lot of faith in schools and teachers to be the entryway to peace. As Victor puts it “we cannot afford to fight now and get educated later.”

Aida Orgocka is the Gender Specialist at Education Cannot Wait. She visited South Sudan March 24-31, 2019 with Michael Corlin, Education Cannot Wait Senior Advisor as part of the Fund’s support to the development of a Multi-Year Resilience Programme to be launched this year.

Photo Aida Orgocka/ ECW
The largest group of out-of-school children in South Sudan are girls. Poverty, child marriage and cultural and religious views all hinder girls’ education, according to UNICEF. Protection of Civilian site outside Juba. Photo Aida Orgocka/ ECW






In its efforts to protect girls and mainstream gender for educational responses in emergencies, Education Cannot Wait and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) signed an agreement that will improve cooperation and partnership between the two bodies.



A technology learning lab in Uganda. Photo ECW.


By Michael Corlin and Johannes Kiess

Uganda hosts 1.3 million refugees – the highest number of refugees in any country in Africa and the third largest in the world today. Half are children.

These girls and boys live in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Food can be hard to come by, and access to safe, reliable education, learning materials, qualified teachers is an ongoing challenge. Access to any sort of learning technology (even a simple computer) is extremely limited.

The good news is that the Government of Uganda is committed to continue helping these refugee children to access quality education.

Education Cannot Wait – a new global fund that seeks to mobilize US$1.8 billion to provide access to education for 8.9 million children living in crisis by 2021 – facilitated the development of the Uganda Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities and contributed US$11 million in seed funding to launch it.

Overall, the 3.5-year plan seeks to mobilize US$389 million to benefit half a million refugee and host community children and youth. This includes recruiting 9,000 teachers each year, and building 3,000 classrooms annually.

Central to Uganda’s Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities, and in line with the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, is the need for improved coordination of all aspects of education delivery. This includes the development, roll out and expansion of EdTech.

To more effectively pilot technology deployments in these settings, Education Cannot Wait has brokered a collaboration with HP, Learning Equality, the Global Business Coalition for Education, and UNHCR. HP pledged to donate technology and resources to leverage Learning Equality’s Kolibri offline learning platform to improve the learning outcomes of Uganda’s Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities. The collaboration builds on existing collective work in Uganda by UNICEF, UNHCR, Learning Equality and others.

“Technology is a tool that has the potential to elevate millions of young people out of marginalization and poverty. It empowers girls and boys with previously unavailable information, new networks and channels to learn and develop 21st century skills,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. “Technology partnerships like this mean a brighter future for the 1.3 million refugees in Uganda, and the 75 million children and youth living in crisis worldwide that are in need of immediate educational support.”


ECW Director Yasmine Sherif at  during the announcement of ECW partnership with tech giant , Learning Equality, GBCE, and UNHCR to pilot educational technology interventions for refugee children in Uganda.










Technology can be a game changer, if put to work properly. Contextualization is essential. Technology deployments for education in crisis, in particular, need to be specifically designed with the user, work within the existing technological and societal ecosystem, and be collaborative, scalable, data-driven and open-sourced.

Technological solutions that may prove highly effective in the United States or Denmark, may need to be shifted to meet local needs and capacities in other places. For hardware, technology that is energy efficient, user-friendly and durable will be essential for deployment in these hardship locations. Most importantly, perhaps, technology needs to do no harm.

In November, UNICEF organized a field visit for HP, Learning Equality and Education Cannot Wait to Kampala-area sites to assess hardware and software needs in local schools, consult with government and local stakeholders, and identify suitable solutions. This included a  visit in two secondary schools where students have access to resources to develop science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and practical skills through the Kolibri software.

The field visit confirmed the popularity of technology with students, the potential of supporting teachers in classrooms and the opportunity to complement teacher-led instructions with technology.

For this pilot, we determined that both hardware and software are needed. In this case, HP will be providing the hardware – an HP School Cloud – while Learning Equality will be providing the software – Kolibri, which has already been tested in the country and contains content that has been vetted and organized according to the Ugandan curriculum.

We believe that integrated technology can be a key component in delivering lessons, and connecting teachers with training materials to improve educational outcomes in refugee hosting districts in Uganda. Through this pilot program in Uganda, we aim to identify the right tools and technology to support larger deployments for multi-year education programmes that the Fund is helping to develop and launch in other countries affected by crisis.


To effectively deliver technology as a learning solution for the children and youth uprooted by conflict, or living in the midst of war zones, emergencies and disasters, we need to take a multi-pronged approach that leverages multiple partnerships, context-specific technology and human-based solutions, and to empower people with the training and tools they need to effectively integrate technology into mainstream education.

Partnership with HP

HP is an industry leader for education technology. The technology super giant aims to enable better learning outcomes for 100 million people by 2025. For the pilot project in Uganda, HP will engage Learning Equality as a key collaborator to deploy its HP School Cloud and the Kolibri learning platform in select schools delivering education to refugee and host communities children in the spring of 2019. The project will be extended to a number of additional schools over the course of the year to benefit thousands of children.

“Education Cannot Wait is the ideal partner to identify and deploy effective, scalable education solutions to marginalized populations. Together with Learning Equality and ECW, it is HP’s intention to amplify our work in Uganda to serve refugee students around the world,” said Gus Schmedlen, Vice President for Education, HP.

To engineer sustainability into this pilot in Uganda’s refugee-hosting districts from the start, UNHCR will integrate the HP school cloud in existing initiatives and plans that align to governmental priorities and ensure all children will benefit from transformative learning labs. These initiatives already deploy the Kolibri learning platform in schools and refugee centers in Uganda and other countries.

Ensuring linkages with national EdTech stakeholders

Education Cannot Wait and UNICEF organized an “EdTech event” to bring together a wide range of Ugandan and international stakeholders including Aga Khan Foundation, Maarifasasa, Response Innovation Lab, Maendeleo Foundation, Save the Children, War Child Holland, Windle, Woman in Tech, World Bank, Xavier Project, and Yarid with an interest in improving learning outcomes through information and communications technology (ICT). It was encouraging to see other pilot programmes/approaches which also have accessibility, learning, scalability and sustainability at their core. The EdTech event took place at the Hive Colab, the first technology and innovation hub for ICT entrepreneurs in Kampala.

This was also an opportunity for representatives from HP, Learning Equality, Education Cannot Wait and the Ugandan National Curriculum Development Centre to share lessons on sustainability, curricula, teacher empowerment and community involvement, providing precious guidance for effective project formulation and to ensure linkages to the wider EdTech environment in Uganda.


The key element to deploying technology in emergencies is about Connecting People with Technology.


Not all refugee settlements benefit from 4G internet connectivity. In Uganda, this challenge is being addressed by creating local networks within the pilot sites. These work basically as an intranet to run offline server platforms like Kolibri, connect people, and ensure access to educational materials. Power – or the lack of electricity grid – is another obstacle to address to ensure connectivity. Yes, you need to power these devices and we will rely on existing solar powered systems or the grid, where available, and if not, bring solar power to schools.

Empowering People

No matter how successful one is at setting up the necessary hardware, the most important element is the human factor. You can’t just give people a computer and expect them to assimilate the new technology. The success of the pilot will lie in the users’ agency and involvement. This is why engagement with communities, and sharing lessons learned with other EdTech providers, is key for all partners involved.


About the authors

Johannes Kiess is an Innovative Finance Adviser at Education Cannot Wait.

Michael Corlin is the Education Cannot Wait Country Lead for Uganda.