ECW INTERVIEWS YOUTH REFUGEE ADVOCATE NUJEEN MUSTAFA

Nujeen Mustafa is a Syrian refugee, youth advocate and champion for children with disabilities for the UN Refugee Agency.

At just sixteen years old, Nujeen Mustafa made the 3,500-mile journey from Syria to Germany in a steel wheelchair. Nujeen was born with cerebral palsy and spent the majority of her life confined to her apartment in Aleppo, Syria, where she taught herself English watching shows on TV.

As war broke out, she and her family were forced to flee – first to her native Kobane, then to Turkey. Her family didn’t have enough money for them all to make it to safety in Germany, where her brother lived, so her parents stayed in Turkey while she set out with her sister across the Mediterranean, braving inconceivable odds for the chance to have a normal life and an education.

Nujeen’s optimism and defiance when confronting all of her challenges have propelled this young refugee from Syria into the spotlight as the human face of an increasingly dehumanized crisis. Since moving to Germany, Nujeen has continued to tell her remarkable story and to capture the hearts of all who hear her speak.

ECW: Your story of triumph over struggle has inspired people around the world. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up as a girl not able to go to school in Aleppo, Syria, and how you worked to ensure you got an education?  

Nujeen Mustafa: Growing up and not being able to go to school, I realized pretty early on that my life was unusual – but I kind of wanted to do the best with what I had. I mostly noticed it when the kids in the building would go and I wouldn’t, but I was surrounded by a very supportive environment that just made it so easy to live with the fact that there was something missing in the routine of my life.

When I turned about 6 or 7, my older sister taught me how to read and write in Arabic and then it was left up to me to practice. This was when I kind of used television as a way of educating myself and learning how to read and write. Then these mechanisms evolved and the things I wanted to learn also evolved, so I moved on to other things with English – a bit of general knowledge, and a bit of background in every subject and topic that I could find. Of course, my sisters also brought me the schoolbooks for each year when I was growing up. I would finish them in one day because I turned out to be such a bookworm! From then on, when I was old enough to start being self-taught, I just did it.

Of course, I still recognize it was not fair that I was not able to go to school but, as I said, I tried to do the best with what I had. I think this was my way of defying the circumstances that I was in, and it kind of gave birth to this desire to prove myself and prove that I can overcome all these obstacles, even if they are hard. To this day, I think one of my most fundamental traits is the desire to prove that I can do things and that I can accomplish a lot of things that are not expected of me.

ECW: Today, 75 million children and youth caught in emergencies and protracted crises are not able to go to school. Education Cannot Wait and its partners are working to get them back to learning. Why do you think this is so important, particularly for perhaps the most vulnerable: refugee girls with disabilities?

Nujeen Mustafa: I found this question quite strange because it shouldn’t even be a question as to “why” we should educate our children. It just has to be a fact of life, because everyone should know “why.” Children are always emphasized as the future of their countries and communities. But when you do not invest in a portion of the population, which is the population that has a disability, this is just not right. This is a violation of your rights as a human being, your right to education. It is discriminating against you on the basis of your disability, if you don’t get an education. It’s very unfair treatment of young people – of people who should be planning and thinking out the future.

There have been a lot of pledges and resolutions about the importance of education, especially for young people and people with disabilities. To live in this kind of cognitive dissonance, where there is this acknowledgment that this is important and yet there is nothing being done to carry it out, is very concerning. We can all agree that it has very dire consequences on our society and even the living standards of any country.

Education of the public and of youth are factors in all of these things. A prosperous and educated youth means a prosperous and thriving country. There is no logical reason as to why any country would want to ignore its children, its youth, and people with disabilities. It’s really disturbing that I even have to say that. They are not a burden on anybody. They can contribute and they are this kind of untapped treasure, untapped resource, that is not being used sufficiently.

From a human rights point of view, no one has the right to discriminate against you on the basis of something that you have no control over. You don’t make a choice to be born with a disability just as you don’t make a choice to be of a certain ethnicity. So even from that point of view, there is no logical reason as to why this should be happening.

ECW: What key message(s) do you have for world leaders about the urgent, important need to address and fund education for refugees and for children with disabilities in emergency and protracted crises settings?

Nujeen Mustafa: I think the most important thing for decision makers to know is that education needs to always be a priority, even in emergency situations and crisis response. It is not enough to ensure basic living conditions for survivors of conflict or people who are now living through a pandemic. There needs to be an awareness that the future of the entire generation is on the line and their need for an education needs to be prioritized. I know that it can be overwhelming at times, but I think that education needs to be viewed and seen as something as essential and crucial to the well-being of everyone – especially people with disabilities – as providing shelter, food, or water. It needs to be prioritized in emergency situations, whatever they may be. There needs to be an acknowledgement of the vitality of education to their futures and to their lives.

Of course, the situation with COVID-19 is unprecedented in this century, but we should have been better equipped to deal with such an unexpected change in our daily routines and such disruptions in our lives. That just goes back to the point of making sure that education is accessible to all and that everyone, wherever they may be and whatever their circumstances may be, has access to it and is able to smoothly transition from one mode of education to the other. It should have been essential everywhere around the world. We see that countries with a colder climate (where some children are unable to attend school during the winter months) are much better equipped, already having this kind of digital form of attending lessons and school. So, I think that countries all around the world should strive to be on that same level, ready and prepared for any kind of unprecedented situation.

When it comes to people who have fled conflict regions, refugees, and refugees with disabilities, it is not enough to make sure that they survive, but that they live and thrive as individuals. Receiving an education is a building block of that. You can’t say that you are doing them right if you don’t provide them with access to education as soon as possible. Prioritize education as a part of the essential means of survival – prioritize it in every plan of action.

ECW: You wrote an inspiring, best-selling book about your amazing journey: Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-Torn Syria in a Wheelchair. Could you tell us the three books that have influenced you the most personally and/or in your current studies, and why you’d recommend them for other people to read?

Nujeen Mustafa: One of them is The Time Keeper by one of my favorite authors, Mitch Albom. It tells a story of the first person to measure time. It comments on humanity’s obsession with time, being late, and having clocks all over your environment. People have forgotten to enjoy their lives and actually live them because they’ve become obsessed with time; everyone wants to get everything on time and not be late, to the point where we have forgotten how to enjoy living in the moment. There is a quote that is very inspiring and memorable for me, which is, “when you are measuring time, you are not living it.” It’s a very inspiring and soulful book about enjoying the moment, truly experiencing it, and not being worried about whether you are late or too early. As we see in nature, only humans measure time. Nature and animals are not plagued by worries about being late to the meeting, or being too early, or what the social standard is.

The second one would have to be 1984 by George Orwell… We see it in the way that our phones watch us and how essential they have become to our lives. Even I am guilty of it. I spend my day on an iPad. But there is this voice nagging in the back of my head for my life not to turn into 1984 – using technology in that sense and giving everyone access to my thoughts. Every time we Google Search, there is some kind of record of the question that we thought about at that moment, so I think it’s very unsettling but it is necessary in this day and age.

The third one, a fairly recent read, is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. That book is just a must-read for everyone about perseverance and resilience… even in the most dire and horrifying circumstances. That you could still maintain your humanity, even in a concentration camp. It tells of a lot of horrible, horrifying things and the lengths that we humans can go to. But it was also a message of hope that we could thrive and rise above all that and become better people because of it. So, I think it appeals to me because it essentially says that we are stronger than we thought – even in the most unimaginable, horrifying, terrible circumstances, we can be better and we don’t have to succumb to the desperation and the helplessness. It also talks a good deal about grief and how you can emerge as a stronger person from it; how suffering is also a part of life and that it initiates a part of you and builds you as a person. Your response to it is so crucial. Its essential message, I think, is that there is still hope for humanity. You’re a human being, even in situations of genocide. There are still heroes out there who have lived through it and survived. Not only physically – but emotionally and morally and every other sense of the word. And I just thought that that was inspiring. I think everyone should read it because it gives a message of silver lining, of hope, and just that you can be that person that overcomes these challenges.

ECW: What were the common misconceptions about children with disabilities that you faced as you were growing up?

Nujeen Mustafa: The fifth question is just my favorite. I love to talk about this aspect of having a disability because, where I grew up, disability meant that you were expected to just live on the sidelines and not grow at all as a person – be it academically or personally. I absolutely despised meeting people for the first time because there would be a recount of how I was born and how it was discovered that I had a disability. And then I would see the looks of just people feeling sorry because they thought that I would have no future and no life. That I would just be there, not being an active member of society or contributing anything to my family or to anyone. Just be someone that wouldn’t be of use to anybody. So, I think the misconception that people may have is that we are expected to play into these expectations and act as though we were doomed – but that, of course, is not the case.

I recognize and realize that it depends on the mentality that your first caregivers and family has, and my family was absolutely adamant about me receiving and having what they had. And being as equal to them as possible. I would be hammered on to do homework and learn how to read and write and advance my education and learn English… Of course, I did it on my own, later on, in my teenage years. But there was always pressure to learn a lot about math and to enrich myself intellectually. Even if I couldn’t do it physically. Of course, many of these children didn’t have this kind of supportive and encouraging environment. How society perceived them might have damaged their sense of self and made them very insecure and have a low self-esteem. I consider myself lucky that I grew up in a family that pushed me to be better – that didn’t view me as a kind of a nuisance or as a girl who didn’t have any potential.

So, I think the biggest misconception that society has of these people is that it expects us not to have any ambitions or dreams. That the mere fact of us having a disability should eradicate any glimmer of hope inside of us that these dreams might come true. I encountered that even on my journey here. I would meet people who would be surprised that I spoke English or that I was socially active – and, you know, not at all awkward or hiding from anyone. Even when I was younger, I limited my exposure to that kind of negativity. I just surrounded myself with mostly adults and people who loved me and appreciated me for who I am. And I think that helped. I kind of eliminated any possible person that I thought, okay, this person doesn’t really like me, he is just pitying me or looking at me in a very condescending way. The secret to that was that we, as a collective family and everyone around, were able to kind of stay away from that type of negativity and that kind of mentality that “okay, this person has a disability, so he is useless—he or she is useless.”

ECW: From your own experience, what does inclusive education mean to you and what makes a school accessible for all boys and girls with disabilities?

Nujeen Mustafa: Inclusive education, for me, has a lot of meanings. I only experienced it when I arrived here in Germany and realized how smooth and easy it can be to make education inclusive. Of course, inclusive education means not just enrolling someone with a disability in a school, it’s about accommodating their needs without making them feel isolated or separated or something different than the other students who may not have a disability. It’s not just about making the restroom or making the building accessible, it’s about capacity building.

For example – I always laugh and find it very encouraging and impressive about what I experience here – there is nothing that I do, or that I go through, that people my age do differently. I’m also applying for apprenticeships, filling out applications, filling out paperwork, and working in accountancy. I study business, that’s what we do. And I don’t think that the experience of a person who doesn’t have a disability differs so much from mine. There’s no discrepancy—there’s no, “this level is for you and this level is for that person.” It’s more about accommodating your needs and making sure that you have full access to whatever you may encounter in your professional life and you are well-versed in whatever it is that you are trying to specialize in. I would say that I have the same amount of experience in business as anyone in the same grade, or level, as I am now. So, having a disability, they wouldn’t level it down for someone who is disabled. They would accommodate your needs in such a way that you get the full content and that you grasp everything that is needed of you and that you learn about.

That, for me, is what inclusiveness means. It’s about finding methods that would make your working environment better—and equal to your non-disabled peers. It’s about making sure that you receive the same kind of treatment and that you understand the same curriculum. That your needs are accommodated. For example, if somebody’s disability is in speech, there would be all kinds of assistance to him or her, using iPads or specific programs on their PCs, and it’s very encouraging because we know – I personally know – that nobody is dumbing stuff down for me to grasp and nobody’s going a level down just to teach me about it. I know that I would be as equally qualified to a co-worker that is not disabled. So, this, for me, is what inclusive education means. It’s about accommodating the needs of a person with a disability so that it’s integrated into a non-disabled structure or a curriculum that might not originally be for people with disabilities.

For me, the key point is not isolation—I don’t want to be taught separately—it’s about the merging of education, ideas, and concepts, so that everyone can benefit and absorb information equally and effectively. And that would be the main goal – the optimal option – for everyone, just to merge these ideas and methods so that every school in the world can and would receive a person with disability.

I also think that integrating people with disabilities into schools with people who have no disability is essential in changing any misconceptions that non-disabled people might have about people with disabilities. Because exposure lets you know how that person lives. You’ll know that he’s not pathetic, he doesn’t want you pity. You learn that he’s just like you—he or she is ambitious, is working on his plans, has career plans, has dreams he wants to achieve, and that he can be independent. He or she can have fun and dance and do stuff. And they will go far in life.

 

EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT INTERVIEWS UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES

Please find below Education Cannot Wait’s interview with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, focused on the crucial role of education in the lives of crisis-affected children and youth.

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ECW: Why is education a priority in emergencies and protracted crises?  

António Guterres:  The COVID-19 pandemic has upended societies and created the largest-ever disruption of education systems, affecting more than 1.5 billion students.  While remote solutions were rolled out, 1 in 3 children missed out on such opportunities, exposing and exacerbating inequalities and vulnerabilities, especially for those in crisis situations.  In such circumstances, education protects girls and boys from sexual violence and exploitation, trafficking, early pregnancy and child marriage, forced recruitment into armed groups and child labour. It also ensures that they continue learning, offering them hope for the future. As we enter 2021, education must be at the core of pandemic response and recovery efforts. Without resolute political commitment by global leaders, as well as additional resources for Education Cannot Wait, and its UN and civil society partners, millions of girls and boys may never return to school. Investing in the education of these vulnerable children and youth is an investment in peace, prosperity and resilience for generations to come – and a priority for the United Nations.

ECW: Why is it important to facilitate more collaboration between humanitarian and development actors in crisis contexts? 

António Guterres: With the intensification of conflicts, climate change-related disasters, forced displacement reaching record levels and crises lasting longer than ever, humanitarian needs keep outpacing the response despite the generosity of aid donors. Partnerships are crucial to transform the aid system, end silos and ensure that aid is more efficient and cost-effective. Whole-of-child education programmes offer a proven pathway for stakeholders to collaborate in enabling vulnerable children and youth to access quality education in safe learning environments so they can achieve their full potential.

ECW: What message would you like to share with crisis-affected girls and boys whose right to education is not yet being realized? 

António Guterres:  Above all, I pay tribute to their resilience and I commit to working with governments, civil society and all partners to overcome both the pandemic and the crises that have been such profound setbacks in their lives. We must also step up our efforts to reimagine education – training teachers, bridging the digital divide and rethinking curricula to equip learners with the skills and knowledge to flourish in our rapidly changing world.

ECW: As a secondary student in Portugal, you won the ‘Prémio Nacional dos Liceus’ as the best student in the country. After completing your university studies in engineering, you started a career as a teacher. Can you tell us what education personally means to you? 

António Guterres:  Long before I served at the United Nations or held public office, I was a teacher. In the slums of Lisbon, I saw that education is an engine for poverty eradication and a force for peace.  Today, education is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals.  We need education to reduce inequalities, achieve gender equality, protect our planet, fight hate speech and nurture global citizenship.  Upholding our pledge to leave no one behind starts with education.

ECW:  Following the turbulence of 2020, what is your message to the world as we enter 2021? 

António Guterres:  2020 brought us tragedy and peril.  2021 must be the year to change gear and put the world on track.  The pandemic has brought us to a pivotal moment.  We can move from an annus horribilis to make 2021 an “annus possibilitatis” – a year of possibility and hope.  We must make it happen — together.

Background on UN Secretary-General António Guterres

António Guterres, the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations, took office on 1st January 2017.

Having witnessed the suffering of the most vulnerable people on earth, in refugee camps and in war zones, the Secretary-General is determined to make human dignity the core of his work, and to serve as a peace broker, a bridge-builder and a promoter of reform and innovation.

Prior to his appointment as Secretary-General, Mr. Guterres served as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015, heading one of the world’s foremost humanitarian organizations during some of the most serious displacement crises in decades. The conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and the crises in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Yemen, led to a huge rise in UNHCR’s activities as the number of people displaced by conflict and persecution rose from 38 million in 2005 to over 60 million in 2015.

Before joining UNHCR, Mr. Guterres spent more than 20 years in government and public service. He served as prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, during which time he was heavily involved in the international effort to resolve the crisis in East Timor.

As president of the European Council in early 2000, he led the adoption of the Lisbon Agenda for growth and jobs, and co-chaired the first European Union-Africa summit. He was a member of the Portuguese Council of State from 1991 to 2002. Learn more about Mr. Guterres.


ENTREVISTA DE EDUCACIÓN NO PUEDE ESPERAR CON ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, SECRETARIO GENERAL DE LAS NACIONES UNIDAS

Educación No Puede Esperar: ¿Por qué constituye la educación una prioridad en situaciones de emergencia y crisis prolongadas? 

António Guterres: La pandemia de COVID-19 ha transformado por completo nuestras sociedades y causado una interrupción de los sistemas educativos sin precedentes, que ha afectado a más de 1.500 millones de estudiantes. Se han adoptado modalidades remotas, pero 1 de cada 3 niños no ha tenido acceso a estas oportunidades, lo que ha puesto de relieve y ha agravado las desigualdades y vulnerabilidades, sobre todo para las personas que se encuentran en situaciones de crisis. En estas circunstancias, la educación sirve para proteger a las niñas y los niños de la violencia y la explotación sexuales, la trata, los embarazos precoces y los matrimonios infantiles, el reclutamiento forzado por parte de grupos armados y el trabajo infantil. También contribuye a que los niños sigan aprendiendo, lo que les brinda esperanza de cara al futuro. En estos primeros compases del 2021, debemos cerciorarnos de que la educación representa un elemento central de la respuesta ante la pandemia y la recuperación posterior. Si los líderes internacionales, así como los recursos adicionales de Educación No Puede Esperar y sus asociados del sistema de las Naciones Unidas y la sociedad civil, no muestran un férreo compromiso político, es posible que millones de niñas y niños no vuelvan nunca a la escuela. Invertir en la educación de estos jóvenes y niños vulnerables nos permite contribuir a la paz, prosperidad y resiliencia de las generaciones venideras —además de constituir una de las prioridades de las Naciones Unidas—.

Educación No Puede Esperar: ¿Por qué es importante facilitar una mayor colaboración entre los agentes humanitarios y para el desarrollo en situaciones de crisis? 

António Guterres: A pesar de la generosidad mostrada por los donantes de asistencia, la intensificación de los conflictos, los desastres relacionados con el cambio climático, los niveles históricos de desplazamientos forzados y la cada vez mayor duración de las crisis impiden que la respuesta adoptada pueda seguir el ritmo del aumento de las necesidades humanitarias. Las alianzas desempeñan un papel crucial a la hora de transformar el sistema de ayuda, reducir la compartimentación e incrementar la eficiencia y eficacia en función de los costos de la ayuda. Se ha demostrado que los asociados pueden colaborar mediante programas de educación infantil de carácter integral a fin de garantizar que los niños y jóvenes vulnerables tengan acceso a una educación de calidad en entornos de aprendizaje seguros, lo que les permitirá desarrollar su pleno potencial.

Educación No Puede Esperar: ¿Qué mensaje le gustaría transmitir a las niñas y los niños en situaciones de crisis que aún no pueden ejercer su derecho a la educación?

António Guterres: Sobre todo, me gustaría reconocer su resiliencia, además de comprometerme a cooperar con los gobiernos, la sociedad civil y todos los asociados disponibles con vistas a superar la pandemia y las crisis que han supuesto grandes reveses en sus vidas. También debemos ampliar nuestros esfuerzos dirigidos a reimaginar la educación mediante la capacitación de los docentes, la reducción de la brecha digital y la reestructuración de los planes de estudios para que los discentes dispongan de los conocimientos y aptitudes que necesitan para prosperar en un mundo en constante y rápida evolución.

Educación No Puede Esperar: Cuando cursaba la secundaria en Portugal, lo reconocieron como el mejor estudiante del país al otorgarle el “Prémio Nacional dos Liceus”. Tras estudiar ingeniería en la universidad, comenzó a ejercer de docente. ¿Podría explicarnos qué significa para usted la educación a nivel personal?

António Guterres: Mucho antes de trabajar para las Naciones Unidas o la administración pública, ejercí de docente. Observé que, en los barrios marginales de Lisboa, la educación contribuye a la erradicación de la pobreza y al fomento de la paz. En la actualidad, la educación constituye un elemento esencial de los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible. Mediante ella, conseguiremos reducir las desigualdades, alcanzar la igualdad de género, proteger nuestro planeta, luchar contra el discurso de odio y promover la ciudadanía mundial. Para cumplir nuestro compromiso de que nadie se quede atrás, es preciso partir de la educación.

Educación No Puede Esperar: Tras la inestabilidad experimentada en 2020, ¿qué mensaje le gustaría trasmitir al mundo en estos primeros meses de 2021?

António Guterres: Después de un 2020 que nos trajo tragedias y peligros, el 2021 debe ser el año en que cambiemos de velocidad y pongamos el mundo en la senda correcta. La pandemia ha supuesto un punto de inflexión para todos. Podemos dejar atrás un annus horribilis para hacer del presente un annus possibilitatis: un año de posibilidades y esperanza. Debemos conseguirlo. Desde la unidad.


ENTRETIEN DU FONDS ÉDUCATION SANS DÉLAI AVEC ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, SECRÉTAIRE GÉNÉRAL DES NATIONS UNIES

ECW : Pourquoi l’éducation est-elle une priorité en situation d’urgence ou de crise prolongée ? 

António Guterres : La pandémie de COVID-19 a bouleversé nos sociétés et provoqué la plus grande perturbation des systèmes éducatifs jamais enregistrée, avec plus de 1,5 milliard d’élèves affectés. Bien que des solutions d’éducation à distance aient été mises en place, un enfant sur trois n’a pas pu en profiter. Cette situation a mis en évidence et exacerbé les inégalités et les vulnérabilités dont ils souffrent, en particulier dans les situations de crise. Dans de tels contextes, l’éducation est un rempart contre les violences sexuelles et l’exploitation, la traite des êtres humains, les grossesses précoces et le mariage d’enfants, l’enrôlement forcé dans des groupes armés et le travail des enfants. Elle permet également aux enfants de poursuivre leur apprentissage et de croire en l’avenir. Alors que nous entamons l’année 2021, l’éducation doit être au cœur de notre riposte à la pandémie et de nos efforts de relèvement. Sans un engagement politique ferme de la part des leaders mondiaux, et sans ressources supplémentaires pour Éducation sans délai et ses partenaires des Nations Unies et de la société civile, des millions d’enfants risquent de ne jamais retourner sur les bancs de l’école. Investir dans l’éducation de ces enfants et jeunes vulnérables revient à investir dans la paix, la prospérité et la résilience pour les générations à venir. C’est une des priorités des Nations Unies.

ECW : Pourquoi est-il important de favoriser une plus grande collaboration entre les acteurs de l’humanitaire et du développement dans les contextes de crise ? 

António Guterres : Du fait de l’intensification des conflits, des catastrophes liées aux changements climatiques, des déplacements forcés qui atteignent des niveaux records et des crises qui perdurent, les besoins humanitaires ne cessent de croître et de devancer les interventions visant à y remédier, et ce malgré la générosité des donateurs. Les partenariats sont essentiels pour faire évoluer le système d’aide, mettre fin aux interventions cloisonnées et garantir une action plus efficace et efficiente. Ainsi, l’intérêt des programmes éducatifs axés sur le bien-être de l’enfant n’est plus à démontrer : ils permettent aux parties prenantes de collaborer en vue d’offrir aux enfants et aux jeunes vulnérables un accès à une éducation de qualité, dans des environnements d’apprentissage sûrs, de sorte qu’ils puissent réaliser pleinement leur potentiel.

ECW : Quel message souhaitez-vous faire passer aux enfants touchés par les crises, et pour lesquels le droit à l’éducation n’est pas encore concrétisé ?

António Guterres : Je rends avant tout hommage à leur résilience, et je m’engage à collaborer avec les gouvernements, la société civile et tous les partenaires afin de surmonter la pandémie et les crises qui ont tant marqué leurs vies. Nous devons également redoubler nos efforts pour réinventer l’éducation : former les enseignants, remédier à la fracture numérique et repenser les programmes scolaires afin de fournir aux apprenants les compétences et connaissances nécessaires pour s’épanouir dans notre monde en constante mutation.

ECW : Lorsque vous étiez lycéen au Portugal, vous avez obtenu les meilleurs résultats du pays et reçu le « Prémio Nacional dos Liceus ». Après des études d’ingénieur à l’université, vous avez commencé une carrière dans l’enseignement. Pouvez-vous nous dire ce que représente l’éducation pour vous ?

António Guterres : Bien avant de servir aux Nations Unies ou d’exercer une fonction officielle, j’étais enseignant. C’est dans les quartiers pauvres de Lisbonne que j’ai constaté que l’éducation est un moteur d’éradication de la pauvreté et une force pour la paix. Aujourd’hui, l’éducation est au cœur des objectifs de développement durable. Nous avons besoin de l’éducation pour réduire les inégalités, atteindre l’égalité des genres, protéger notre planète, combattre les discours de haine et cultiver la citoyenneté mondiale. L’éducation constitue les fondations sur lesquelles doivent reposer les actions qui nous permettront de tenir notre engagement à ne laisser personne de côté.

ECW : Après les bouleversements de 2020, quel est votre message pour le monde à l’aube de l’année 2021 ?

António Guterres : 2020 ne nous a apporté que souffrance et détresse. 2021 doit être l’année du renouveau, et permettre au monde de se placer sur la bonne voie. La pandémie nous a amenés à un moment charnière. Nous pouvons passer d’une annus horribilis à une « annus possibilitatis » : 2021, l’année des possibles et de l’espoir. Nous devons y parvenir, ensemble.

EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT INTERVIEWS H.E. MR. STANISLAS OUARO, MINISTER OF NATIONAL EDUCATION AND LITERACY, BURKINA FASO

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.


EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT INTERVIEWS H.E. MR. STANISLAS OUARO by Education Cannot Wait on Exposure

ENTRETIEN DU FONDS ÉDUCATION SANS DÉLAI AVEC S.E. STANISLAS OUARO, MINISTRE DE L’ÉDUCATION NATIONALE ET DE L’ALPHABÉTISATION DU BURKINA FASO


ENTRETIEN DU FONDS ÉDUCATION SANS DÉLAI AVEC S.E. STANISLAS OUARO by Education Cannot Wait on Exposure

EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT INTERVIEWS THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES, FILIPPO GRANDI

Filippo Grandi is the 11th United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
He was elected by the UN General Assembly on 1 January 2016 to serve a five-year term, until 31 December 2020. Grandi has been engaged in refugee and humanitarian work for more than 30 years.

Filippo Grandi is the 11th United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He was elected by the UN General Assembly on 1 January 2016 to serve a five-year term, until 31 December 2020. Grandi has been engaged in refugee and humanitarian work for more than 30 years.

Education Cannot Wait: As the UN agency mandated by the UN General Assembly to provide international protection and seek solutions for refugees, could you please elaborate on the overall importance of education for refugee children as a component of protection and solutions?

Filippo Grandi: School is often one of the very first things that refugee families ask about after being displaced. Keen to recover a sense of normalcy and dignity after the trauma of being uprooted, they are also heavily invested in their children’s futures. Many children and young people are displaced several times before crossing a border and becoming a refugee. For these children school is the first place they start to regain a sense of routine, safety, friendship and even peace. Education plays a key role, both in ensuring the protection of children and young people and helps families and children focus on rebuilding their lives and returning to many of the activities that they would normally have engaged in prior to displacement.

As UNHCR’s recent Education Report 2020 has shown, whilst there have been some successes in access to primary education, these have slowed down. Gross Enrollment Ratios show that 77 per cent of refugee children are enrolled in primary education, but this drops dramatically to 31 per cent at the secondary level. Girls are disproportionately impacted. Since global evidence shows the significant protective nature of secondary education for girls, this is a key aspect of work for UNHCR and partners like Education Cannot Wait.

Together, we are petitioning for refugee enrollment in education at all levels to be brought up to global levels to enable the millions of children and young people around the world who have been forced to flee their homes to build a better future for themselves, their families and their communities. Allowed to learn, develop and thrive, children will grow up to contribute to the societies that host them but also to their homelands when peace allows for their return. Education is one of the most important ways to solve the world’s crises.

Filippo Grandi meets children at the Jibreen shelter in Aleppo, Syria. Jibreen is now home to over 5,000 people displaced during fighting in the city. © UNHCR/Firas Al-Khateeb

Education Cannot Wait: You are a long-standing member of Education Cannot Wait’s High-Level Steering Group. As you know, Education Cannot Wait is designed to ensure that children can continue their education in times of emergencies and protracted crises. Please elaborate on the special needs of refugee children during emergencies and protracted crises, and how do you see Education Cannot Wait contributing to meeting those rights and needs?

Filippo Grandi: The Global Compact for Refugees calls for measures to enable children and youth return to learning within three months of displacement. This goal highlights the important role that education – both formal and non-formal –  plays in supporting children to resume normal activities. Children can feel a sense of belonging with their peers in classrooms, have the opportunity to play and engage in recreational activities, and receive potentially lifesaving information on issues related to health, hygiene and safety. Schools also provide access to support services, such as counselling and school-feeding programmes.

Preparing refugee children to enter into the national education systems of host communities is critical and requires working closely with Ministries of Education to remove administrative and policy barriers to school enrollment.  It also entails ensuring children have the skills and abilities needed in order to thrive once they are enrolled in schools. Language learning classes – especially where the language of instruction is different – catch up programmes, and accelerated education all support children’s enrollment into school and ability to learn effectively. It is also important to provide information and material assistance to assist families overcome some of the practical barriers to school enrollment. Psycho-social support is also instrumental for children who have undergone the trauma of displacement and need help in adapting to new situations and environments.

The support provided by Education Cannot Wait enables agencies and organizations to ensure that services are provided after the onset of an emergency to address the immediate needs that have been highlighted above, focusing both on protection and education needs and working to ensure that children are prepared for inclusion in formal education programmes. Education Cannot Wait has also played a pivotal role in calling for donors to invest in education during and after emergencies to ensure children’s educational needs can be met during humanitarian crises, as evidenced by the increase in investment in education in emergencies over the last four years.

Education Cannot Wait: A significant number of pledges made by countries and other stakeholders at the 2019 Global Refugee Forum centered around education, including individual and joint pledges made by Education Cannot Wait highlighting multi-year investments to increase opportunities in secondary education for refugee children, and in working with other global funds to support quality education for refugees. What gaps in funding are there for refugee education globally and where best can donors help, including countries, civil society and private enterprises?

Filippo Grandi: While funding to education in emergencies grew five-fold between 2015 and 2019, education usually only receives between 2 and 5 percent of the total budget of humanitarian appeals. As we move from emergency situations to protracted crises, there is a risk that education spending is further deprioritized, making it harder to support host governments to continue the delivery of education services over a sustained period.

Funding gaps in education mean that it is often difficult to ensure that children and youth complete a full cycle of education, moving from primary, through secondary and to tertiary education.  Global figures show that there is a dramatic drop in enrollment between primary and secondary education and that only 3 percent of refugee youth are enrolled in tertiary education programmes.

Funding gaps also mean that those who are most in need, including children in women- or child-headed households and those with disabilities do not receive the specialized support that is required in order to fully enjoy their right to education. The joint pledge at the Global Refugee Forum by Education Cannot Wait, the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education has the potential to be a game changer in terms of ensuring that systems are strengthened and supported so that refugees and other vulnerable populations enjoy continued access to education.

Education Cannot Wait: Education Cannot Wait has dedicated its second round of COVID-19 First Emergency Response investments for refugee situations throughout the world. Could you please elaborate on some of the key emergencies in terms of refugee education for UNHCR and the difference that Education Cannot Wait’s emergency response for COVID-19 will make?

Filippo Grandi: The closure of schools around the world effectively meant that 90 percent of refugee children who were enrolled in schools and education programmes were unable to continue receiving an education.

As they are located in some of the most remote areas in countries or have limited resources at home, they were unable to benefit fully from distance and home-based learning programmes and are at serious risk of falling further behind academically. This risk is even more serious for adolescent girls where an estimated 50 percent of girls who were in school are at risk of not returning once classes resume. The closure of schools also means that many of the wrap-around support services mentioned earlier (food distribution, psycho-social support and recreational activities and learning support programmes) were disrupted.

Families who have lost their livelihoods as a result of the pandemic experience greater economic pressure and may deprioritize spending what little resources they have on schooling in order to ensure that their most basic needs are met. All these factors contribute to heighten protection risks during periods of school closure, leaving the educational futures of many refugee children hanging in the balance. 

Keeping education going during a pandemic requires resourcefulness, innovation, invention and collaboration. Education Cannot Wait’s funding for the COVID-19 response will play a key role in mitigating these risks, by finding ways of ensuring that students are able to continue learning during school closures, disseminating information to refugee families about re-opening procedures and the safety protocols that will be put in place, training teachers on adjusting to the pandemic, providing additional materials to students, implementing back to school campaigns and making much-needed improvements to water and sanitation facilities in schools. Many of these activities have already been initiated with the generous support of Education Cannot Wait. 

Education Cannot Wait: UNHCR and ECW have also jointly coordinated closely with host-governments, humanitarian and development actors in developing multi-year resilience investments, such as the Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities in Uganda. How do you see this strengthening education for refugees and host-communities in the humanitarian-development nexus?

Filippo Grandi: The theme of UNHCR’s 2020 report is ‘Coming Together for Refugee Education’. This focus really echoes the Global Compact on Refugees which advocates for a “whole of society” approach to ensuring that the needs of refugees and hosting communities are addressed.  This means that a range of stakeholders have a role to play in realizing the goals of the Compact.  The presence of a clear plan and set of objectives for supporting access to education helps define roles and areas of contribution for a broad range of stakeholders. It is crucial that there are linkages between refugee and humanitarian response plans, multi-year resilience plans and longer-term sector development plans.

Education Cannot Wait’s support for education programming immediately after the onset of an emergency and the longer-term assistance provided through Multi-Year Resilience Programmes plays a crucial role in bridging the gap between humanitarian and development financing.  The inclusion of refugees in host-country education systems means that donors and other actors need to work closely with governments to increase the capacity of these systems to accommodate additional students, develop teachers’ abilities to respond to students’ needs and to ensure that children can progress through different educational levels.

Education Cannot Wait: Would there be any final comments you would wish to make to ECW’s audience globally regarding the importance of refugee children’s education in emergencies?

Filippo Grandi: Investment in education for refugees is essential to ensure that creativity and potential of young people in conflict and crisis-affected regions is not lost.  During the COVID-19 pandemic refugee students have played pivotal roles in their communities working on the frontlines as healthcare workers, making masks and soap to be distributed to those who need it, offering advice and disseminating health and hygiene information and establishing programmes for tutoring younger students. Their drive, initiative and passion would have been lost without early investment in their education. 

Education for refugees is an investment that pays off for the whole community – and the world. It is also a fundamental right for all children that is affirmed in the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This right must also be upheld in emergencies where we call on global actors to focus not only on access but on the quality of education and children’s ability to learn, leading them to a brighter and more dignified future.

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This interview is also published by IPSNews and is available in French and in Spanish.

EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT INTERVIEWS KARINA GOULD, CANADA’S MINISTER OF INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

The Honourable Karina Gould was first elected as the Member of Parliament for Burlington in 2015.

A graduate of McGill University and the University of Oxford, Minister Gould is passionate about public service and international development. Before her election as the Member of Parliament for Burlington, she worked as a trade and investment specialist for the Mexican Trade Commission in Toronto, a consultant for the Migration and Development Program at the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C., and spent a year volunteering at an orphanage in Mexico.

Minister Gould has deep roots in her hometown of Burlington, Ontario, and is an active member of the community and an advocate for women’s issues and affordable housing. She has volunteered with and actively supports the Iroquoia Bruce Trail Club, the Burlington chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women, the Mississauga Furniture Bank, Halton Women’s Place, and other local organizations.

Minister Gould lives in Burlington with her husband Alberto and son Oliver.

With the birth of Oliver, Minister Gould became the first federal cabinet minister to have a baby while holding office. She is passionate about breaking down barriers for women, youth, and underrepresented groups.

Minister Gould addresses students participating in War Child Canada’s ‘Making Waves: Gender-inclusive radio-based education in the DRC’ project during a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo in January 2020.

ECW. As Canada’s Minister of International Development and as a key member of ECW’s High-Level Steering Group, could you please elaborate on the importance of linking emergency humanitarian response with development to achieve quality education for vulnerable children and youth in countries affected by armed conflict, forced displacement and natural disasters.

Karina Gould. We have heard from children and youth affected by armed conflict, forced displacement and natural disasters, as well as their families, that education is a priority for them. And we know that education in emergencies is an issue that ideally works across humanitarian and development responses.

Working through the humanitarian-development-peace nexus is crucial to ensuring that both immediate and long-term education needs are fulfilled. By working through a nexus approach, we recognize that the immediate response of humanitarian actors is vital to keeping children engaged and protected, while the long-term vision of the development community is critical to maintaining gains towards SDG4 and to strengthen education systems and make them more resilient to crises in the future.

Education is often the first thing that is disrupted and the last thing to be rebuilt during an emergency. Despite the importance of maintaining a system of quality education, especially in protracted humanitarian situations, education is still not sufficiently prioritized for immediate humanitarian funding and development actors need to do more to support resilient national education systems that ensure education is not disrupted. This is why Canada supports organizations like Education Cannot Wait, which is emerging as a leader in demonstrating how education programming can be quickly and efficiently rolled out within the humanitarian-development-peace nexus space.

ECW. Canada is a staunch defender of multilateralism in addressing the world’s challenges and opportunities. With almost 80 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including 26 million refugees, Education Cannot Wait will dedicate its First Emergency Response to refugee education in its upcoming COVID-19 response actions this month. How do you see ECW’s progress so far in responding to COVID-19 and how can we strengthen collective efforts to deliver quality education to forcibly displaced populations, who often are left furthest behind?

Karina Gould. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how connected we all are to one another across the globe. At the height of the pandemic, 164 countries had closed their schools, which affected 1.4 billion students worldwide – over 90% of the world’s learners. This is on top of the already marginalized populations such as refugees and internally displaced peoples who did not previously have consistent access to quality education.

In the past months, the world has come together to try to stop the spread of the virus. We shared innovative ideas for how to make education and learning more accessible for those who had their education disrupted, to ensure a continuity of learning for all. These solutions are made more effective and are amplified when we work in partnership, including through our major multilateral institutions like Education Cannot Wait.

I have been impressed with Education Cannot Wait’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the speed with which they responded to the crisis in the first round of COVID-19 funding, and the commitment to focus the second round of funding on education for refugees, particularly adolescent girls. This is a group of children and youth who are often left behind and who are disproportionately affected by education disruptions due to displacement, and now even more so due to COVID-19. It is important that we take this time to strengthen our efforts to ensure these marginalized populations remain a priority in our global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These groups must not be forgotten.

We can strengthen our collective efforts to deliver quality education to forcibly displaced populations, who often are left furthest behind, by continuing to work through multilateral organizations like Education Cannot Wait and ensuring strong coordination with other partners on the ground, including other multilateral partners, civil society and local refugee organizations.

In January, I travelled to Congo and the DRC and witnessed firsthand the important work that ECW’s partner organizations like War Child Canada are doing on the ground to support improved access to education for refugees and displaced peoples, especially girls. Their radio program allows adolescent girls and boys to continue with their learning during school closures by transmitting lessons and allowing learners to access teachers through dedicated hotlines. There are even question and answer periods to keep things dynamic and to keep the youth engaged in learning. I have seen how these initiatives are making a difference on the ground, and it is by building on these partnerships that we can maximize our ability to reach the most marginalized children and youth, particularly girls, refugee and displaced children, to ensure they have the opportunities they deserve.

ECW. Education Cannot Wait greatly appreciates Canada’s continued strong support in meeting the educational needs of children and youth caught in emergencies and protracted crises – including Canada’s new contribution of CAD $5.5 million a few days ago, and the Charlevoix Declaration to strengthen girls’ education in emergencies. ECW is committed to ensuring that 60% of our beneficiaries are girls. As a strong advocate for girls’ education, why is it so important for girls, including refugee and adolescent girls, to have access to education in crisis contexts?

Karina Gould. Girls and adolescent girls face a unique and additional set of challenges that limits their chances of accessing and completing an education. These challenges include poverty, unequal gendered roles in the household and at school, gender-based violence, and school environments and curricula that perpetuate inequalities. In crises contexts, these barriers to girls’ education can be even further entrenched, with girls being 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys.

Through the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), Canada recognizes that gender equality is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Access to education is a pathway to achieving this goal. It can significantly reduce poverty, provide for better economic opportunities, and can improve health outcomes such as maternal and child health, protecting women and girls from child, early and forced marriage and providing essential sexual and reproductive health services that can enable women to engage in improved family planning.

Yet access is only part of the solution. We also need to make sure that once the children are in school, that they are learning. Quality teaching and learning, and ensuring that schools are safe places for children, particularly girls, are equally important and require additional efforts and resources, especially during a crisis. Ensuring that teachers are well-trained and equipped to instruct children who have or are living through a crisis; that curricula and learning materials reflect relevant cultural realities and do not perpetuate negative gender norms; and that girls and boys have access to adequate hygiene and WASH facilities are all required in order to keep children engaged and for families to continue to see the value in sending their children, particularly their girls, to school. This is why Canada, as President of the G7 in 2018, championed the Charlevoix Declaration on Quality Education for girls, adolescent girls and women in developing countries to further address these challenges in order to ensure that girls – especially those affected by crisis and conflict – have access to quality education.

I personally believe that it is essential for girls, including refugee and displaced girls, as well as adolescent girls, to have access to education in crisis contexts.

ECW. Prior to becoming Minister of International Development, you were appointed Minister of Democratic Institutions in 2017 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, becoming the youngest female cabinet minister in Canadian history. Congratulations! You are an inspiration and a role model for girls and women around the world. What message and guidance would you like to share with girls who face education challenges – including the COVID-19 pandemic – in achieving their hopes and dreams?

Karina Gould. My message to girls around the world facing education challenges would be this: “You are worth it. I know it is hard and there are a lot of challenges you are facing. But your hopes and dreams are worth fighting for. You have so much to offer the world. You and your voice and your experience matter. The world needs you to keep studying, to keep dreaming, to keep pushing for what you want to see in the world.”

ECW. We’d love to learn a bit more about you on a personal level. Could you tell us what are the three books that have influenced you the most (or that you’d recommend to others to read), and why?  We’d also love to know what kind of music gets you energized and motivated to address the challenges you face as Minister. Finally, is there an inspirational or motivational quote (or two) that you often turn to in life?

One of my favourite quotes is by Margaret Mead. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

It was hard to pick just three books, so here are my top four!

To Life by Ruth Minsky Sender

I read this book in grade 7, I was 12 years old. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, this book opened my eyes to the experiences of my own family. It helped me talk to my grandmother and understand what it was like to be a survivor and to have to pick up and restart a life after living through unimaginable trauma and loss. It is an incredible story of loss, tragedy, strength, courage and renewal.

Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn

I have always been a feminist. I have always believed in seeking and fighting for equality. But this book woke me up to the distinct disadvantages that women face around the world. Until I read this book I didn’t understand how dangerous giving birth was for the majority of women in the world. I learned so much and it made me want to learn even more. This book put me on a path to fight for women’s rights and women’s health around the world.

What is the What by Dave Eggers

This a fictionalized biography of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. This book ignited my passion for protecting children from the ravages of war, building a more compassionate world, and fighting for the rights of refugees. It also led me to explore books about Africa written by Africans, which opened up a whole new literary world for me.

Anne of Green Gables Series by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Was one of my favourite series as a child, written by a great Canadian author!

ECW. Are there any final comments you would like to share with ECW’s global audience on the importance of refugee children’s education in emergencies, as well as the importance of not only prioritizing education in humanitarian contexts, but also delivering quality education with ‘the fierce urgency of now’, rather than waiting until the crisis is over.

Karina Gould. When schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was quick to mobilize to ensure – to the best of our abilities – that we focused on continuity of learning for out of school children. What I would like to reiterate is that we need to remember the vulnerable populations, including refugees and displaced children, who were not in school before the pandemic and who never had access to quality education. These children deserve the chance to learn, and must not be left behind.

EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT INTERVIEWS AMINA J. MOHAMMED, DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE UNITED NATIONS

Ms. Amina J. Mohammed is the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group.

Ms. Amina J. Mohammed is the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group. Prior to her appointment, Ms. Mohammed served as Minister of Environment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria where she steered the country’s efforts on climate action and efforts to protect the natural environment. Ms. Mohammed first joined the United Nations in 2012 as Special Adviser to former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with the responsibility for post-2015 development planning. She led the process that resulted in global agreement around the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ms. Mohammed began her career working on the design of schools and clinics in Nigeria. She served as an advocate focused on increasing access to education and other social services, before moving into the public sector, where she rose to the position of adviser to three successive Presidents on poverty, public sector reform, and sustainable development. Ms. Mohammed has been conferred several honorary doctorates and has served as an adjunct professor, lecturing on international development. The recipient of various global awards, Ms Mohammed has served on numerous international advisory boards and panels. She is the mother of six children and has one grandchild.

ECW. As an inspirational global women leader who has dedicated your life to service, how do you see the progress and challenges we face in advancing gender equality and empowering the next generation of women leaders through girls and adolescent girls’ right to a quality education?

Amina J. Mohammed. I am inspired by the upcoming generation of women leaders who in the face of disasters, conflicts, and health emergencies prioritize their education and use their platforms to advocate for the right of all girls and young women to a quality education. Advancing gender equality and amplifying the voices of these young women needs to be at the center of all our work.

The great progress we have made globally to advance gender equality cannot be underscored enough – more girls are going to and staying in school than ever before and the number of out-of-school girls has dropped by 79 million in the last two decades. Yet, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 132 million girls were still out of school.

Girls – particularly adolescent girls – face significant barriers to a quality education in many contexts. There are risks of sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse and violence – both on the way to and at school. Many girls have competing demands on their time due to care and household responsibilities. Many families face the difficult choice of which of their children will get an education due to financial constraints – and many times, boys are chosen over girls. Girls’ education is particularly under threat in emergencies and for children on the move and we need to continue to empower this next generation of women leaders through a quality education.

All these issues have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Lockdowns and the socio-economic crisis have brought dramatic increases in domestic violence, including for girls and adolescent girls. Furthermore, rates of child marriages have increased, and it is not clear what effects that would have if schools remain closed for a long period.

To tackle the challenges exacerbated by the current pandemic, we need strengthened efforts to not only ensure gender equality dimensions are prioritized in all our work, but also apply targeted measures to ensure girls, and the most vulnerable, do not bear the heaviest burden and are protected.

ECW. There is a global education crisis in the world, and it is increasingly clear that education, or Sustainable Development Goal 4, is foundational to realising the full spectrum of the Sustainable Development Goals. How do you see the interrelation and why is it so important to connect those dots in advancing all of the Sustainable Development Goals?

Amina J. Mohammed. Education is a human right and is central for building sustainable and resilient societies, as well as for achieving personal aspirations and all the other Sustainable Development Goals. There is no doubt that equipping children and youth with relevant knowledge and skills has a catalytic impact on eradicating poverty, reducing inequalities, improving health, driving economic growth and achieving gender equality.

Without investing in youth to create an enabling environment for them to learn and acquire skills for decent work, sustainability, climate change awareness and global citizenship, we will not deliver on our promise for the future we want.

Without ensuring quality and inclusive education for all, we will not be able to advance our efforts for more peaceful and inclusive societies and for promoting respect for human rights. Yet, we have seen warning signs that on current trends, the world is not on track to achieve the SDG4 goal and targets.

Before COVID-19, more than 260 million children, adolescents and youth were out of school. while more than 617 million were not learning, achieving only minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. Now COVID-19 has exacerbated the global education crisis with more than 1.5 billion children who face disrupted education while too many children are still at risk of not returning to school, especially those most marginalized – including girls, children with disabilities, and children on the move. Violence against children is increasing. COVID-19 is not just a health crisis – it is a human crisis and an education crisis.

Indeed, a quality education and lifelong learning is foundational to all other aspects of human development and sustainable development. The foundations for learning start in the womb – maternal health and nutrition is vital for brain development. We know that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are critical and set the stage for learning throughout the lifecycle. We know that children who experience stunting also experience difficulties with learning. When children do not have access to clean water and sanitation or life-saving vaccines for preventable diseases, their lives are at risk. Without access to quality and relevant education, young people cannot build the skills needed to succeed in life and work, and consequently they and their communities suffer.

We need to make sure that all children and youth have an equal chance – girls and boys, children and youth with disabilities, children and youth from marginalized communities. In order to achieve real progress on any of the SDGs, our approaches need to put education at the center.

ECW. The UN General Assembly President recently stressed the need to continue to invest in education during the current COVID-19 crisis and pointed out that many governments in the South do not have the infrastructure to provide adequate remote learning through technology, and this risks deepening the already existing global education divide. How do we translate global cooperation into a concrete bridge that reduces the divides, starting with financing, economic cooperation, and socio-economic development and equity?

Amina J. Mohammed. The COVID-19 crisis in combination with the existing global digital divide has posed considerable challenges for addressing the learning crisis. The pandemic has presented an additional risk of deepening the global education divide and losing the gains that have been made so far. With nearly three quarters of learners being affected by the school closures globally, many countries are facing unprecedented economic challenges including how they can ensure the equity and inclusion of their education systems. Reliance on new technologies for the provision of education during the crisis has highlighted the importance of investing more into making all education systems more resilient, open, inclusive and flexible.

The lack of access to technological readiness and connectivity in some developing countries, but also the overall level of their preparedness to adapt the curricula, prepare learners, educators and families, as well ensure efficient assessment and certification processes, would need to be addressed at scale if we are to learn from the COVID-19 crisis.

To address this complex situation, we all need to work together in partnership to ensure that all children and youth continue to learn, maintaining a focus on the those most in need.

The technology to reach everyone everywhere is available. It’s up to all of us to make sure that at all levels we can scale up these solutions empowering teachers to meet every child and young person’s learning needs in every context. Of course, this should be complemented with improving education systems’ preparedness to face global challenges while advancing on the achievement of the sustainable development for all.

ECW. The UN Secretary-General’s Reform places strong emphasis on ‘The New Way of Working,’ the ‘humanitarian-development coherence’ and the principles of ‘less bureaucracy and more accountability.’ These approaches and principles are also embedded in the strategy and work of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), which is hosted by the UN (UNICEF). Having followed ECW’s work closely since its inception, how do you see ECW contributing to UN reform and the SDGs, especially as we accelerate during the Decade of Action, through concrete measures and results.

Amina J. Mohammed. Despite progress on education provision in crisis-affected situations, the persisting barriers to education have worsened due to the pandemic. ECW’s response during COVID-19 has exemplified the ways in which it implements the new way of working with humanitarian speed and development depth. During the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic, ECW and partners mobilized to provide education support at record speed. The quick release and flexibility of funding allowed UN country teams to respond quickly and to implement education interventions in the ways most appropriate for each context.

At the onset of COVID-19, utilizing the in-country education coordination mechanisms, a total of US$23 million was rapidly disbursed to 55 grantees across 26 countries within a period of 9 days between the receipt of initial applications and the first disbursements of funds.  This collaborative approach ensures transparency, and promotes coordinated response and efficiency and effectiveness within the sector.

As an example, in Cameroon, the COVID-19 education response was developed in alignment with the national COVID-19 response strategy in education in multi-stakeholder collaboration with five Ministries of Education. UNESCO and UNICEF received the ECW first emergency response funds for an innovative distance learning platform and the safe protocol for both formal and non-formal education settings. The US$1.5 million allocation in Cameroon for the COVID-19 response will ensure access and continuity of children’s learning, reaching 3.9 million children, of whom 2.2 million are girls, as well as 8,600 teachers, 60 per cent of whom are women.

ECW. With COVID-19, we have all had to adjust and reassess how we operate in the current environment to continue to deliver on the SDGs and will also need to look ahead as this crisis will stay with us for some time. What do you see as the priorities, both in terms of development sectors and strategic approach in mitigating the impact of the global COVID-19 crisis and the people we serve, especially those left furthest behind, such as low-income countries affected by conflict and refugee-hosting countries?

Amina J. Mohammed. Our first and foremost priority really is to address the human face of this global crisis and do it with a global response, which really does need solidarity. Therefore, in the UN, we see the emergency response as threefold. The health response in suppressing transmission of the virus. The Humanitarian response which we have to keep fueling to ensure people are safe in this crisis situation; and an urgent socio-economic response to stem the impact of the pandemic, by helping Governments and people act in a way that builds a better and greener future.

A UN socio-economic response framework was developed to protect the needs and rights of people living under the duress of the pandemic, with particular focus on the most vulnerable countries, groups, and people who risk being left behind.

The five streams of work that constitute this framework include: 1. ensuring that essential health services are still available and protecting health systems; 2. helping people cope with adversity, through social protection and basic services; 3. protecting jobs, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, and informal sector workers through economic response and recovery programmes; 4. guiding the necessary surge in fiscal and financial stimulus to make macroeconomic policies work for the most vulnerable and strengthening multilateral and regional responses; and 5. promoting social cohesion and investing in community-led resilience and response systems. These five streams are connected by a strong environmental sustainability and gender equality imperative to build back better.

The UN´s response in the field of social protection and basic services includes supporting governments to adapt, extend and scale-up services to secure sustained learning for all children, and adolescents, preferably in schools. As such, the UN is working with national education authorities and private sector education service providers to support preschools and schools that can safely remain open, while assisting governments to scale up digital and other forms of remote learning.  All efforts need to be put in place to make sure all children and youth remain engaged in remote learning if available and return to school once these reopen.  The UN is also supporting teachers through professional training programmes on alternative learning methods.

The UN recognizes a multilateral response like none ever before is required. One that needs the courage to flip the current orthodoxies because we need new tools, new measures and we need to lift the policy barriers that we often find as an excuse as to why we can’t do things at the speed that it needs to be done.

We are presented with a once in a generation opportunity to reach all children and deliver on the SDGs. To do so, we need to work together and leverage partnerships. Our priority is to ensure that all children are learning – whether that’s returning to school, accessing education for the first time, utilizing digital technologies or sitting in a classroom. We need to reach those that are furthest behind, we need to innovate how we do business, and we need to provide real-time response. Children in emergencies and children on the move are in greatest need of support and must be included in any approach.

ECW. In the face of the global COVID-19 crisis unprecedented to our generation, it is also a time for reflection and a real resolve to building back better. Considering that an inclusive quality education for every child and adolescent is one essential part of the solution, how can all of the UN’s constituencies pro-actively and concretely provide unwavering support to realize the values and commitments made 75 years ago?

Amina J. Mohammed. COVID-19 presents us with an opportunity for countries to build back better with equity and inclusion at the center, anchored in the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change. We have an opportunity to reimagine the overall purpose, content and delivery of education in the long term and importantly how the UN system could best support countries in making their education systems more resilient with current and future crises. It is important that we utilize the comparative advantages of each UN entity and other partners for a strengthened, efficient, and comprehensive global response. With UNICEF’s global field presence and education programming in 145 countries, and UNESCO’s network of specialized institutes and mandate to lead the global coordination of the achievement of the education related targets, the UN can utilize inter-sectoral approaches and tap into collective experience and practices from our expertise around the world.

THE POWER OF EDUCATION IN EMERGENCIES: INTERVIEW WITH DENMARK’S MINISTER OF DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION RASMUS PREHN

5 May 2020 – Denmark is Education Cannot Wait’s (ECW) third largest donor, with US$79.1 million in contributions to date. In this insightful interview with Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation, Rasmus Prehn, we explore the importance of girls’ education and gender equality, the humanitarian-development nexus, expanded engagement with the private sector, education in emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic and more. A former high school teacher, with a master’s degree in social science, Minister Prehn has been a member of Danish Parliament since 2005, and was named Minister for Development Cooperation on June 27, 2019. Minister Prehn is the former chairman of the Danish Research, Education and Further Education Committee, a tireless advocate for education in emergencies, and a true champion for achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG4: inclusive and equitable, quality education for all.

Denmark is a strong political advocate of education and girls’ education in emergencies and crisis countries. How do you see investments in education in crisis countries bringing transformative change for the overall development agenda?

RP: Education holds a huge potential for transformation. Both in respect to giving children the tools they need for a sustainable future and in respect to transforming society as we know it into a place where girls and boys, women and men, have equal rights and opportunities. An educated girl can significantly increase her income as compared to girls with no education. Her future children will have a much higher chance of surviving the first five years of their lives.

Girls living in emergency contexts are of particular risk of being out of school. They are also at higher risk of sexual- and gender-based violence, including teenage pregnancies and child marriage. Their sexual and reproductive health and rights are often under pressure during times of crisis. Supporting education is also a way to address these risks, as education provides a foundation for increased gender equality and for the protection of the rights of women and girls.

Denmark’s investments in education in crises have a two-fold aim: 1) to ensure continuity of learning for children so that they have the tools for a better future 2) to re-define gender and social norms and raise girls and boys to be equal citizens with equal rights and opportunities.

Since Education Cannot Wait became operational in 2017, Denmark has also become one of Education Cannot Wait’s biggest strategic donor partners and has made major investments in Education Cannot Wait over the past years. What are the key incentives for investing in this relatively new global fund?

RP: Denmark is very committed to work more effectively across the humanitarian-development nexus to ensure more sustainable education outcomes in areas affected by conflict and protracted crisis. This was a key incentive for Danish support to ECW right from the start and for the large contributions that have placed Denmark among the largest donors to ECW.

For the same reason, a key priority for Denmark is that ECW focuses on its mandate to bridge the humanitarian-development nexus to secure long-term education impact. This is only more relevant in light of COVID-19, which has led to the close down of schools in more than 190 countries worldwide. When responding to the COVID-19 crisis, there was a need for immediate action to enable continued learning and address protection risks linked to children being out of school, while also supporting resilient education systems.

In response to COVID-19, and as the LEGO Foundation – the philanthropic arm of a Danish world class private sector company – increased its support to Education Cannot Wait – you also decided to frontload financing for Education Cannot Wait. This is a wonderful way for governments and private sector to provide matching support. How would you describe this model example of engaging private sector?

RP: Denmark firmly believes in partnerships and collaboration to solve the challenges faced in the world today. We need to work together at all levels to make sure we leave no one behind. Collaboration across the public and private sector is one important way of ensuring progress towards common goals. We recognize and much appreciate the role and support of the LEGO Foundation towards education in emergencies. The Danish Government and the LEGO Foundation are currently strengthening collaboration in the area of education. Through close strategic dialogue and coordinated actions such as the matching support, the aim of the collaboration is to ensure synergies towards common goals and the realization of SDG4. We hope that this can set an example for enhanced private and public sector collaboration also in other sectors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a global impact upon all areas of virtually everyone’s life. What does Denmark see as the top three priorities moving forward to achieve SDG4 (quality, inclusive education), particularly for crisis-affected children and youth already impacted by armed conflicts, forced displacement and natural disasters – and now doubly hit by COVID-19?

RP: For Denmark, quality and inclusive education is key for learning outcomes. At the same time, both quality and inclusiveness in education are impacted by the context in which children are learning. When the surrounding world is unsafe and uncertain, a pre-condition for children to learn is to ensure a protective environment. Therefore one key priority is a holistic cross-sectoral response that includes access to health care, psychosocial support and protection measures as part of education efforts.

COVID-19 has indeed added a double concern to education in emergencies. A concern that only further stresses the need to develop resilient education systems that are able to deliver quality education in crisis contexts. Be it pandemics, natural disasters or wars. A significant element is to ensure that we reach those furthest behind by using innovative and context-specific methods for distance learning. It is also important that we consider that education quality is not only about the number of children accessing education or learning outcomes, but also about teaching methods, curriculum and the social environment in schools between students and teachers, and students and their peers.

A particular concern for Denmark are the consequences that the school closures caused by COVID-19 have for both girls’ and women’s rights. We know that education is one key element to prevent social and gender norms that drive harmful practices. Where pre-COVID-19 projections showed that a decline in harmful practices could be reached, post-COVID-19 projections show that more girls will be exposed to female genital mutilation and child marriage. Therefore, quality education and establishing inclusive conditions for girls in schools through addressing harmful social and gender norms is a key priority for Denmark and also is the reason why we are part of the ECW gender reference group. The classroom reflects the surrounding society and the reverse is also true.  We must work at all levels to create inclusive conditions for girls’ access to school.

As a Member of Parliament, you have been the Chairman of the Committee on Research, Education and Further Education. What does education represent for you on a more personal level? How does this influence you in your work as a policymaker? 

RP: I could not be a bigger champion of education and skills development: this is the key to create the hope for a better future. I have immense respect for the potential offered by education at all levels to change norms in a positive way. This is why I have been preoccupied with education since my early youth. I have myself worked as a high school teacher for 8 years. I have also been a teacher in the Danish folk high schools (“højskoler”), which is an education institution invented in the 1830s with the aim to help people qualify as active members of society with the means to change the political situation and meet across social borders.

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EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT INTERVIEWS HENRIETTA H. FORE, UNICEF EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

In just a few months, COVID-19 has upended the lives of children around the world. It represents not only a threat to their health — but to their education, as schools close their doors worldwide, and to their safety, as the combined socio-economic impacts of job losses, isolation and containment measures put children at increased risk of abuse, exploitation and violence.

Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF. Photo © UNICEF/UN0154449/Nesbitt

Henrietta H. Fore became UNICEF’s seventh Executive Director on 1 January 2018. She has worked to champion economic development, education, health, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in a public service, private sector and non-profit leadership career that spans more than four decades.

From 2007 to 2009, Ms. Fore served as the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Director of United States Foreign Assistance. The first woman to serve in these roles, she was responsible for managing $39.5 billion of U.S. foreign assistance annually, including support to peoples and countries recovering from disaster and building their futures economically, politically and socially.

Earlier in her career at USAID, Ms. Fore was appointed Assistant Administrator for Asia and Assistant Administrator for Private Enterprise (1989-1993). She served on the Boards of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. In 2009, she received the Distinguished Service Award, the highest award the Secretary of State can bestow. Read full bio >>

Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, speaks with children at the Umm Battah Girls School in Kadugli, the capital city of South Kordofan State, Sudan.

ECW. Before we talk about education, can you tell us how UNICEF is responding to the current COVID-19 pandemic?

Henrietta H. Fore. In just a few months, COVID-19 has upended the lives of children around the world. It represents not only a threat to their health — but to their education, as schools close their doors worldwide, and to their safety, as the combined socio-economic impacts of job losses, isolation and containment measures put children at increased risk of abuse, exploitation and violence. In communities worldwide, you can find UNICEF staff members working around the clock to provide emergency education kits, distance learning opportunities, lifesaving information about handwashing and sanitation, and psychosocial counselling to affected children. We are also working with governments to strengthen health systems, and better manage the disease as the outbreak spreads. We are sparing no effort to give this global health emergency the attention and resources it deserves.

ECW. You have served all your life leading and championing humanitarian and development issues, not the least education. What drives you?

Henrietta H. Fore. I’m driven by the futures of children. Everywhere I travel, even in the most difficult circumstances — in conflicts and natural disasters, in communities plagued by extreme poverty or discrimination — I meet children and young people whose eyes and faces are lit with hope for the future. They tell me about their dreams and aspirations. They want to contribute to their families and economies. Even those living in the most difficult circumstances are not passive victims. They are determined to build their own futures. But they need the right tools and support. Providing quality education to every child in every context is not only a basic human right — it is essential to bringing their dreams to life and to sustaining progress and even peace for all of humanity in the future.

ECW. What is the scale of the current crisis, and how does it relate to our collective efforts to reach SDG 4?

Henrietta H. Fore. The Sustainable Development Goals’ call for “education for all” must mean exactly that — education for all. Even those children whose education is interrupted by, or non-existent because of, conflicts and natural disasters. As Education Cannot Wait reminds us, there are currently about 75 million children in urgent need of educational support across 35 crisis-affected countries. In fact, the countries furthest away from achieving SDG 4 are all crisis-affected. In other words — we will not reach this goal if we fail to reach precisely these children. In these humanitarian emergencies, children’s education suffers first, when schools are closed or destroyed, and education is interrupted. Also, they are especially vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and exploitation. We must never forget that a generation of young people is at stake — tomorrow’s leaders, tomorrow’s citizens, tomorrow’s caretakers of our world. We cannot afford to let them down — at any stage of their education, no matter what barriers we must overcome to reach them.

ECW. UNICEF oversees multiple sectors and is the lead agency on education in emergencies. Why is delivering education in emergencies so important – as important as water, nutrition, medicine and other services? Why is it important to recognize education as a lifesaving intervention at times of humanitarian crisis?

Henrietta H. Fore. A child’s right to an education does not change because of a crisis. In fact, it is just important as every other need, and can even improve outcomes in other sectors. For example, schools provide a place for children to learn more than reading and math. They also learn healthy behaviours, such as the importance of proper nutrition and hand-washing to prevent disease. Schools also create a safe and secure learning environment during times of insecurity and crisis, providing a needed sense of normalcy, continuity and safety for children that have seen and experienced often traumatic events. So education not only provides a pathway for children to build and fulfil their potential — it can have multiplier effects that can help young people stay safe and healthy.

ECW. We have recently witnessed important steps to present a consolidated UN response to the wellbeing and education of children caught in emergencies and crises. How do you see the role of UNICEF in strengthening co-ordination between relevant UN partners, civil society and private sector to ensure continuity, inclusion and real learning in complex emergencies?

Henrietta H. Fore. UNICEF is uniquely placed to bring partners together to serve children living through emergencies. We have over 790 education staff members spread across 144 countries — the single-largest global education presence of any international agency. This deep presence allows UNICEF to help countries expand access to quality education, even for the most marginalized children, such as those young refugees fleeing conflicts across borders. UNICEF is also the largest provider of education in emergencies in humanitarian response and, together with Save the Children, we are leading an IASC cluster co-ordination group on education. Together, we are working to ensure that all of our national and global partners are working as one to deliver quality education to children in emergencies.

On 3 March 2020 in the Syrian Arab Republic, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore speaks with students at Tal-Amara school in southern rural Idlib.

ECW. UNICEF hosts a number of global funds and initiatives, including the Education Cannot Wait Fund. As a member of Education Cannot Wait’s High-Level Steering Group, how do you see Education Cannot Wait’s contribution to advancing SDG4 in crisis situations?

Henrietta H. Fore. Initiatives like Education Cannot Wait are gathering partners around the urgent and complex needs of children facing some of the world’s worst realities. ECW’s financing efforts are particularly important, enabling partners on the ground to act quickly to fill the gap between humanitarian and development funding, while building stronger school systems for the future. This is critical, especially when we consider that only about two per cent of overall humanitarian funding is currently dedicated to education. We must work to ensure that we use ever dollar for education wisely and strategically, while at the same time turning up the volume on this education emergency to draw even more funding and resources.

ECW. A major priority is that of girls’ education, especially for girls left furthest behind in conflicts, natural disasters and forced displacement. How can we reach these girls by 2030? How can we accelerate our joint efforts during the Decade of Action?  

Henrietta H. Fore. On this issue, we cannot be complacent. Despite progress, 130 million girls are still out of school around the world. Even those who gain a primary education are still vulnerable to dropping out and being unable to continue their education beyond that level. And many girls who finish primary school are contending with poor quality education, and will not meet minimum proficiency in reading by the time they finish. This is not only an injustice — it’s a huge missed opportunity for development. Educating girls not only combats poverty, it also ensures better maternal and child health. That’s why UNICEF is bringing together partners around solutions like flexible learning for girls trapped by crises, and investments in school facilities — like separate toilets and safe learning spaces — to keep them learning. The Decade of Action depends on accelerating our progress through efforts like these, and we will not stop until every girl gets the education she needs and deserves.

ECW. As an inspirational global leader, what is your message to children and youth, many of whom you have met, who dream of an education, as they suffer the brunt of conflicts and disasters?

Henrietta H. Fore. My message to them is simple: education can never be taken from you. It is yours. It is portable. It will give purpose to your hands, hearts and dreams, wherever you may travel. Even as you face these crises and disasters, remember that millions of people are standing with you in your hour of need — donors, governments, activists, organizations like UNICEF, partnerships like Education Cannot Wait, NGOs, businesses and community leaders. Together, we are working around the clock to design, fund and deliver programmes to ensure you have the tools you need to shape your minds and your futures. We will not leave you behind.

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CIVIL SOCIETY: A DYNAMIC FORCE IN THE GLOBAL EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT MOVEMENT

Education Cannot Wait interviews Birgitte Lange, CEO Save the Children Norway and Civil Society Organization Representative to the ECW High-Level Steering Group

Colombian and Venezuelan children involved in play-based learning with their teacher. Birgitte Lange recently visited the Colombia-Venezuela border to see first hand the impact of ECW’s investment being implemented by Save the Children. Photo: Kristoffer Moene Rød /Save the Children

Education Cannot Wait interviews Birgitte Lange, CEO Save the Children Norway and Civil Society Organization Representative to the ECW High-Level Steering Group

Birgitte Lange is a leading champion in the global movement to ensure children and youth living in protracted crises and emergencies have access to the safety, hope, opportunity and protection of a quality education. The CEO of Save the Children Norway, and Civil Society Organization Representative for Education Cannot Wait’s (ECW) High-Level Steering Group, recently took part in a mission to the Colombia-Venezuela border to see first-hand the impact of ECW’s investments and partnerships. In this Q&A, Lange explores new ways to partner with civil society to push the movement forward and achieve the commitments from the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.

ECW. Our Director Yasmine Sherif always says, “we are all ECW,” that we are working together towards the common goal of improving education for children affected by crisis. What do you think are the biggest challenges we face as a community and what is civil society’s unique role in taking on these challenges?

Birgitte Lange. Our major challenge is that 75 million children are deprived of their right to education as a result of crises and conflict. Even amongst these vulnerable children, some are more marginalized than others. Many factors, such as gender, social and economic status, disabilities and ethnic background affect a child’s opportunity to access quality education in a crisis.

Against the scale of this challenge, education remains significantly underfunded in emergencies.  Although we have seen improvements over the last years – including the establishment and funding of ECW – we are far behind what is needed. Adding to this, a lack of efficient coordination may delay operations and increase costs.

While states are responsible for upholding human rights, they are sometimes unable, or even unwilling, to provide safe, inclusive quality education to certain groups or in some geographical areas. In such cases, civil society often play a strong role in protecting rights and providing support for those in most need. Working with local communities, civil society is often able to bring left-behind children into school, or to work with local and national governments to promote inclusive and quality learning. Moreover, humanitarian organizations work based on the humanitarian principles and may often be the neutral force needed to facilitate access to education for diverse groups of children.

Civil society is also a strong advocacy and campaigning force for increased funding, and our operational experience working with communities, governments and agencies to deliver education in emergencies is valuable when making efforts to improve coordination and efficiency.

One example is the Education Consortium in Uganda, hosted by Save the Children, with 17 partners in the first year of implementation. This was the first ECW Multi-Year Resilience Programme (MYRP) to be designed and implemented and a radical shift from disjointed and short-term humanitarian responses towards more harmonized implementation. Through a joint civil society programme, the Consortium has effectively improved quality, technical harmonization and coordination, aligning with the Education in Emergencies Working Group. The ECW programme is one of the major contributing factors to an increase in the primary gross enrolment ratio for refugee children from 53 to 72 per cent.

On the visit, Lange met with children at a temporary learning centre in Maicao settlement, Colombia. The centre is supported through the ECW-financed multi-country response to the Venezuela regional crisis through Save the Children. Photo: Layla Maghribi / Save the Children

ECW. You were recently at the border between Venezuela and Colombia to see the response to the ongoing migration and refugee crisis. What were your main takeaways from the trip? What left you feeling hopeful about the work we are doing and the role of education?

Birgitte Lange. I was very impressed by the ECW-funded education response I saw at the border. There is an enormous need for access to quality education for migrant and refugee children from Venezuela, but also for children from the host communities. Adding to the complexity of the large and sudden increase in the number of children in the community, many of the refugees lack formal documentation, and children come from different ethnic groups with different cultures and languages.

I feel proud of the joint efforts of civil society and the Colombian government to secure children’s right to education at the border. I was excited to see CSO efforts to ensure bilingual education for children from ethnic minorities. I also got to visit a class where children were involved in meditation and mindfulness exercises. It made a deep impression on me to see these children learn techniques that can help them find a moment of peace in otherwise challenging living conditions. I also want to recognize how the Colombian authorities are welcoming Venezuelan children into their school system. I was left with the impression that the spirit and operational approach in this response is to draw on each other’s strengths and join forces to solve problems and improve the reach and quality of education. Whilst challenges remain, we have a lot to learn from the collective efforts of ECW, civil society and the Colombian government to provide safe, inclusive quality education at the border between Colombia and Venezuela.

ECW. As the representative of civil society organizations, what motivates you to be part of the ECW High-Level Steering Group? What do you hope to achieve?

Birgitte Lange. When we talk with children and parents in some of the toughest places on earth, their answers are clear, unambiguous – and surprising: Even when food is scarce, water is dirty and medical care non-existent, children tell us they want one thing above all else: the chance to go to school. This is an important driver for me.  We must listen to children and be accountable to delivering upon their needs and rights.

I am convinced that ECW is a crucial channel to provide funding for education in emergencies. At the High-Level Steering Group, I have the privilege to show-case the work that civil society undertakes across the world, every day, to ensure children affected by conflict and crises access education. On behalf of civil society, I have the opportunity to take part in shaping ECW’s strategy and priorities so that together we can deliver better education to more children.

What I would really like to see is that it becomes obvious for all humanitarian actors that education needs to be part of a rapid humanitarian response, and that education will receive the financial and human resources to fulfill every last child’s right to an education.

For ECW specifically, right now I find it important that we meet our shared commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 particularly in connection with enabling rapid responses that meet the needs of children through national organizations. We need to adopt ways to ensure more national organizations are clearly involved in decision making and can access ECW funding in the most streamlined and direct way possible. I would also like to see ECW create a stronger feedback and learning mechanism to ensure that good practices and learning are systematically captured, transparently shared or applied by ECW and partners.

ECW. What are civil society’s main priorities for education in emergencies throughout 2020?

Birgitte Lange. One priority globally, is to follow up on commitments ECW made at the Global Refugee Forum at the end of last year. Save the Children played a central role in facilitating the joint pledge from ECW, the Global Partnership for Education and the World Bank, and feel a responsibility to follow up on its delivery.

Civil society will also play our watch dog role when it comes to other commitments, such as donor commitments to the ECW, and we will support ECW in its ongoing resource mobilization. Moreover, we will push for ECW to meet its commitment to spend 10 per cent of its funding on early childhood education, as we know that early care and development lays the foundation for learning in later years.

We will continue to learn from both the successes and challenges of delivering education in emergencies and continue to strive to ensure that tax-payer money is spent wisely to meet our collective goals of delivering quality education to all children and youth in emergencies.

ECW. Why is it so important that we recognise education as a vital intervention at times of humanitarian crisis?

Birgitte Lange. Education is a human right that needs to be fulfilled, no matter where a child lives or under which circumstances. Also, when we ask children themselves, children of all ages tell us that they see education as the key to their safety, their health, their happiness and their future.

Education provides protection in crises. Being in school or a temporary learning center can provide physical protection from armed conflict and possible abuse happening outside the learning site. Going to school can prevent children – typically boys – from being recruited to armed forces, and it can prevent children – typically girls – from being married early or under-age. Quality education also provides psycho-social protection and social-emotional support through activities at the learning site, and by providing a sense of normality in a perhaps otherwise chaotic situation where the regular rhythm of everyday life is disturbed. It strengthens well- being and children’s resilience to cope with the challenging environment. Children also tell us that being able to continue learning gives them hope for the future.

About Birgitte Lange

Birgitte Lange is the CEO of Save the Children Norway. She plays a leading role in Save the Children’s global work for education and child rights.

Birgitte Lange has a background in political science with a Master’s degree in comparative politics. She has held several senior management positions including as Deputy Director General for the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration and Director General of the Ministry of Culture. She has worked in the field of child welfare for several years, both at ministerial level and in another NGO.

Birgitte Lange is the author of several books and is a columnist on management issues in the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv.