Why is education important for Afghanistan?

While Afghanistan is making progress in improving access to education, approximately 3.7 million children remain out of school. 2017 saw nearly half a million newly displaced people in Afghanistan, as well as an influx of over 600,000 Afghans returning from Iran and Pakistan. Droughts connected with climate change and other conflicts are pushing more people to migrate and undermining efforts to get more children in school.

More than half of returnee girls and boys are currently out of school due to the lack of capacity of schools to enroll additional children, lack of required documentation to facilitate enrollment, cost factors, and language, gender and cultural barriers.

Education is an essential building block in Afghanistan’s progress toward peace, security and sustainable economic development. Education brings empowerment and enlightenment. We can’t afford to lose another generation to war, conflict and displacement.

Tell us about the new programme

The three-year programme will target the most vulnerable children in Afghanistan, with a particular focus on girls, internally displaced children, and returnee refugee communities. Education Cannot Wait and the Government of Sweden have provided the seed funding to get this programme started, and get Afghanistan’s children back in school, with US$12 million in funding from Education Cannot Wait and a generous US$10 million grant from the government of Sweden.

It will be implemented and managed through a broad coalition of international organizations, national and international NGOs, and representatives from the national government and civil society. Key partners include the Afghan Ministry of Education, IOM, OCHA, OHCHR, UNAMA, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNOPS, UNHCR, WFP, WHO, the World Bank and Education Cannot Wait, alongside National and International NGOs such as Save The Children, Norwegian Refugee Council and International Rescue Committee.

The programme builds on the progress made through Education Cannot Wait’s US$3.4 million first emergency response, which focused on access to basic education for the most vulnerable children – returnees, internally displaced children, girls, children in isolated rural areas –  through community-based education, providing teaching and learning materials, and teacher training and recruitment.

Up to US$35 million will be required annually from international donors and national entities to cover the full cost of the multi-year programme. We are calling on the global community to step up and be counted. Funding education in Afghanistan isn’t just the right thing to do for our global humanity, it will also power our work to end poverty and hunger by 2030, and ensure universal access to education for every girl and boy in Afghanistan. Our work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, especially goal 4, which calls for equitable access to education for every girl and boy on the planet by 2030, cannot be compromised. Education cannot wait for an entire generation of Afghan children that risk being left behind.

What impacts are anticipated on the ground from this programme?

In a country where a lack of female teachers and cultural biases have severely limited educational opportunities for girls, the investment will recruit, train and provide financial support for 14,000 teachers, over 60 per cent of whom will be women. It will also set up 2,500 gender-sensitive water and sanitation  facilities, and build an awareness campaign to reach over 150,000 people.

Through this joint work, the programme looks to improve numeracy, literacy and educational resilience for children by 10 per cent, increase school attendance by 30 percent to get 460,000 girls and boys back in school, and nearly triple the number of existing primary and pre-primary learning spaces from 5760 (2017) to 16,500. The investment will also provide learning materials, such as textbooks and notebooks, to 500,000 children, including 325,000 girls.

Distance and danger hinder access to schools in Afghanistan, especially for girls. The investment will provide transport for 40,000 children to educational facilities, including 26,000 girls.

With so many returnee and displaced children, special emphasis will be paid to helping integrate children into the education system. To get children back on track, over a quarter million displaced girls and boys will be supported in obtaining documentation and school certification, and catch-up classes in Dari and Pashto languages will be extended to some 276,000 children.

How will this programme work to close the gender gap?

In Afghanistan, education is largely delivered along gender lines, with very few mixed-gender schools. And a lack of girls-only schools and female teachers provides a significant barrier to education for the 2.2 million girls that are still left behind. That’s more than the total population of Qatar and Luxembourg combined.

The Ministry of Education has just recently launched its Girls’ Education Policy specifically to remove barriers to education for all Afghan girls and women, to close the gender gap in the school enrollment of girls and boys, and to bring out-of-school girls into the education system.

In alignment with this policy, the programme will focus on a wide spectrum of actions, such as:  creating safe school environments, including supporting community transport for girls to travel safely to school; supporting displaced girls and boys to obtain documentation and schooling certification; implementing community-based education to reach children, especially girls, in rural and isolated areas; developing and rolling-out distance learning packages for hard-to-reach locations and communities, such as radio education programmes, self-learning materials; and providing training to 20,000 teachers, especially female teachers.

What has Education Cannot Wait achieved so far in Afghanistan?

This new multi-year investment will scale-up and accelerate Education Cannot Wait’s initial US$3.4 million 12-month investment in Afghanistan announced in June 2017. This rapid response programme aimed to provide immediate relief to children in need of educational support. It focused on access to basic education for the most vulnerable children – Afghan returnees, internally displaced children, host community children, girls, children in rural and isolated areas – through community-based education, providing teaching and learning materials, and teacher training and recruitment.

The programme successfully reached 35,000 children, including 59 per cent girls, providing them with access to formal and non-formal education, including community-based education.  Through this programme, Education Cannot Wait partnered with a local NGO, Wadan, to reach children in the most head to reach areas. For example, through this local partner, we were able to recruit and train a female biology teacher in a community of displaced people in Radat. With a new biology teacher, some 40 girls have returned to class. We were also able to provide hope and a sense of normalcy to children who fled violence in the Nangarhar’s Achin District. We provided these uprooted children with sense of normalcy and restored hope thanks to the community school we set up in displaced people settlements.

Education Cannot Wait is determined to mainstream and accelerate these successes to reach more of Afghanistan’s vulnerable girls and boys and support the government in providing long-term solution to integrate them into the education system.

Afghanistan Multi-Year Programme Launch

Dutch Minister Sigrid Kaag highlights the vital importance of education in crisis

The Netherlands is a core contributor to Education Cannot Wait, with US$24 million in signed contributions to date. At the heart of this partnership between the new global fund for education in crisis and the Netherlands is the work of the charismatic Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Sigrid Kaag.

37238388254_f6d2e9b1d9_kPARTNER VOICES Q&A

‘In times of crisis, education offers stability, security, prospects for the future, and opportunities to acquire vital knowledge and skills’

As part of its efforts to tackle the root causes of poverty and instability – and improve young people’s prospects the world over – the Netherlands plans to expand its activities to support education in protracted crisis and emergencies.

In partnership with Education Cannot Wait, the Dutch Government is focusing its educational support on global hotspots, including targeted efforts in West African Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East and North Africa, along with continued support to the Africa’s Great Lakes region, and Afghanistan and Bangladesh in Asia.

The Netherlands is a core contributor to Education Cannot Wait, with US$24 million in signed contributions to date. At the heart of this partnership between the new global fund for education in crisis and the Netherlands is the work of the charismatic Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Sigrid Kaag.

A leading and high-profile global advocate for education in crisis with a broad and deep experience in development and multilateralism, Mrs. Kaag was appointed as the Dutch Minister in October 2017 after working for 25 years as a senior leader in the United Nations.

Minister Kaag went to university in Utrecht, Cairo, Exeter and Oxford. After finishing her studies – which resulted in a M.Phil. in International Relations and a M.A. in Middle East Studies – she worked for Shell International in London and at the UN section of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs before joining the United Nations in 1994.

A well-informed leader, Minister Kaag has served in numerous senior positions with the United Nations, starting with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Among others, she served as the Chief of Staff with UNICEF, and as Assistant Secretary-General for UNDP in New York. Minister Kaag subsequently was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General to serve in two successive political leadership positions.

From October 2013 to September 2014, as UN Under-Secretary-General, she led the mission to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria. In 2015, she was appointed the UN Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator in Lebanon.

Learn more about Minister Kaag’s development cooperation agenda in her policy document on Investing in Global Prospects.

Girls learning in an Education Cannot Wait supported classroom in Afghanistan (Photo ECW).
Girls learning in an Education Cannot Wait supported learning space in Afghanistan (Photo ECW).

Why must education in crisis be made a priority in order to achieve gender equality, the Sustainable Development Goals, peace and stability?

In times of crisis, education offers stability, security, prospects for the future, and opportunities to acquire vital knowledge and skills. If we forget the 75 million children and youth who are living in countries affected by emergencies and crises, we will not only fail to attain SDG 4 (to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning and opportunities for all) but also fall short of other SDGs. Education gives people greater economic opportunities. Access to quality education is also key to gender equality: it helps us combat child labour, child marriage and sexual and gender-based violence, and enhances the ability of women and girls to make decisions about their own lives and bodies.

In places like Afghanistan, where 2.2 million girls have been left behind and lack reliable and safe access to education, Education Cannot Wait is a timely global fund as it bridges the humanitarian-development divide and places gender as a priority of this pioneering work. The empowerment of girls and adolescent girls during an emergency and crisis through quality education is essential to achieving all the other Sustainable Development Goals. It is also essential in advancing peace processes and sustaining that peace.

Elisabeth, 52 years old, teaches 4th graders at a temporary learning space in the Kaga Bandoro’s IDP site where Education Cannot Wait is currently deploying educational support for displaced children. (UNICEF/Sokhin)
Elisabeth, 52 years old, teaches 4th graders at a temporary learning space in Kaga Bandoro’s IDP site in CAR, where Education Cannot Wait is currently deploying educational support for displaced children. (UNICEF/Sokhin)

As a former senior UN official, can you explain the contribution that education makes to realizing the UN’s values and to pursuing multilateral efforts? Specifically, how will Education Cannot Wait, a new global fund hosted by UNICEF that seeks to mobilize US$1.8 billion by 2021 to reach 8.9 million children and young people living in crisis, help us achieve these goals?  

Education makes a particular contribution to a UN core value by giving children and young people the opportunity to live decent lives and find decent jobs. Education is also a human right, so investing in education is the right thing to do. Furthermore, education brings prosperity: one extra year of education raises individual income by 10 per cent.

In times of crises, education provides safety and hope. As a rapidly growing fund with a focus on results, Education Cannot Wait contributes to multilateral efforts to be more responsive and to working together across the humanitarian and development spectrum to achieve lasting impact. As a broker and catalyst for change, this new Fund will be an essential actor in working toward more inclusive and equitable education for all. With the support of Education Cannot Wait’s donors, including the Netherlands, this is happening in places like the Lake Chad region, where 3.5 million children are at risk. That’s more people than the populations of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague combined. To address this issue, the Government of Chad is demonstrating a strong willingness to provide educational support for refugees.

But there simply aren’t enough resources to deal with the influx. To avoid negative cycles of poverty, violence and extremism, the international community needs to come together, in partnership with organizations like Education Cannot Wait, to address this issue. And we must address it not as a series of individual challenges, but as an interlinked problem that requires coordinated responses across the human-development spectrum. This is one of the unique advantages of a global fund such as Education Cannot Wait. They can bring these stakeholders together and foster more agile and integrated approaches to our educational responses to crisis.

How can the New Way of Working, through joint programming and linking humanitarian aid to development, be used to deliver education in crisis and emergencies? And what role can Education Cannot Wait play in linking relief to development in the education sector during protracted crises?

Displaced people are displaced for an average of 17 years, so this is not a short-term challenge. There is an urgent need for humanitarian and development actors to join forces. I value Education Cannot Wait’s role in meeting this need and prioritizing education. By fostering development in humanitarian settings, Education Cannot Wait invests in young people’s values, skills and capacities. Their generation has a crucial role to play in shaping post-crisis societies. That makes them crucial actors in development. Think about the Rohingya children that are living in dire conditions in the refugee camps of Bangladesh. Around 400,000 children here lack access to education and live in dangerous environments where an education can mean the difference between safety and peril, and where sometimes the only food they will get in a day will be at a learning center. With Dutch funding and the contributions of growing group of donors, Education Cannot Wait is working with a multiple partners including UNICEF, UNCHR, UNESCO, Save the Children, Friendship and BRAC to expand learning centers in Bangladesh. This means children will have safe places to learn, play and grow. But we need to go beyond just first response, and the new US$12 million allocation from the Fund that will support 88,500 refugees will be central in efforts to create a long-term resilience programme in Bangladesh.

You are a champion of education – especially education for the world’s most vulnerable children. Can you explain the importance of education to the Dutch development strategy?

Dutch policy takes SDG 4 as a starting point. Not only is education a human right; it should also lead to empowerment. By increasing people’s autonomy and capacity for self-determination, education should provide equal opportunities for all. My policy gives priority to the poorest people and the most marginalized and excluded, including women and girls, young refugees and refugee children. It focuses on appropriate education that includes three sets of interrelated skills: basic numeracy and literacy (foundation skills), life skills (transferable skills), and technical and vocational skills. All three skill sets are necessary for the personal development and empowerment that make it possible to find a decent job and have a decent life. It is important that transferable skills are included in education in humanitarian situations through Education Cannot Wait-financed programmes.

Girls are being supported in Chad with Education Cannot Wait funding. (Devaki Erande/JRS)
Girls are being supported in Chad with Education Cannot Wait funding and the contributions of the Dutch Government. (Devaki Erande/JRS)

As a government minister and former senior UN official, can you share some reflections on education and SDG 4 in achieving the 2030 Agenda for those left furthest behind: refugees, girls and children with disabilities?  How is SDG 4 connected to the other SDGs?

In my opinion, a great injustice is being done to those left furthest behind. I believe that education, decent work and gender equality, particularly for young people, are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda.

I would like to congratulate Education Cannot Wait on its strong gender strategy, especially with regard to SDG 5 (to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls). I look forward to seeing this strategy implemented over the upcoming months and years as the Fund brings its initial efforts to scale and expands its reach with both expanded first emergency responses that are responsive to the unique needs of girls, as well as multi-year programming that will empower girls for generations to come. This can only happen by increasing women’s participation in political decision making and leadership, by increasing economic empowerment and improving the economic environment for women and girls, by preventing and eliminating gender-based violence, and by strengthening the role of women in conflict prevention and peace processes.

On the way to school in Chad (Devaki Erande/JRS)
On the way to school in Chad (Devaki Erande/JRS)

Do you have any additional comments?

Because we know that the 2030 Agenda cannot be achieved without partnerships, I would like to stress the importance of SDG 17 (to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development). I look forward to seeing even more complementarity and partnership between Education Cannot Wait and other key actors such as the Global Partnership for Education. Only in partnership can we ensure that every child and young person has access to appropriate, quality education by 2030.


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A group of boys at a Syrian refugee camp in the Beqaa Valley of eastern Lebanon. UN Photo/Mark Garten
A group of boys at a Syrian refugee camp in the Beqaa Valley of eastern Lebanon. UN Photo/Mark Garten



I like to call it THE WAY of working. There is no other way to deliver results. We have to work together and need joint programming towards collective outcomes to make an impact for populations and countries in need. This way of working requires a shift in attitude to better identify needs and determine goals in emergencies and protracted crises, collectively.

With respect to coordination and joint work, Lebanon sets a good example where key UN organizations and NGOs talk to each other both from the humanitarian and development sides. Most of them have both humanitarian and a development functions within their structures, so they understand.

There should be no humanitarian and a development divide in education. We need to stop talking about separate humanitarian and development agendas in education. We just need to focus on the immediate, medium and long-term needs for children and youth through multi-year commitments and work towards collective outcomes or collective results.

The UN and the World Bank in Lebanon have established a Compact, defining collective outcomes in six pillars, of which one is quality education. We have established a Common Country Assessment and shared leadership. This is a positive example of the humanitarian-development nexus where education is also a priority.


In Lebanon we have a highly diverse presence of humanitarian and development actors contributing to mitigate crisis and urgent needs, while also contributing to long-term stability – which is an overarching goal.

Although we now have 200,000 Syrian students absorbed in Lebanese public schools, we have approximately 300,000 more who are out of school, largely girls and youth over 14 years old.

I met a young boy in his teenage years the other day: he has been out of school for the past eight years since he and his family fled Syria. We are losing an entire generation, which may have an impact on the overarching goal of long-term stability.

I believe that Education Cannot Wait (ECW) has a very important role to play both to Lebanon and in other countries across the region. ECW’s financial resources and investments focus on quality education and powerful political advocacy, making ECW an impressive vehicle to influence and bring change.

ECW’s approach to bridging humanitarian action and development in the education sector through multi-year plans bring predictability and trust. Stakeholders know that ECW’s investments will not be dismantled after a year, but will provide continuity and quality.


ECW came about right on time, as the UN system gears up to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Quality education or SDG 4 is indispensable to achieving all the SDGs and should not have been a separate SDG in that sense, rather it is all-encompassing. I can understand though that we need SDG 4 to measure progress. But again, quality education is the premise to realize each of the other SDGs.

So my message to all is to work with Education Cannot Wait if you want to be successful in achieving the 2030 Agenda, since as all sectors require the basis of quality education to see real development led by prepared and able human capital. Education cuts across all sectors.


Let me say that ECW is an inspiration for all those who are excluded from the education system. Many in the region who live in low-income countries are excluded from schooling. In 2017, the education sector was 70 per cent funded but we did not count the carry over (deficit from unfunded appeals from previous years). Compared to overall humanitarian appeals funding, education in Lebanon stood at 19 per cent for 2017, and it currently stands at 17 per cent of total funds received (2018).

We take education seriously in Lebanon.

Philippe Lazzarini is assigned by the UN Secretary-General as the Deputy UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL), UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon and the United Nations Development Program Resident Representative. He has extensive experience in humanitarian assistance and international coordination in conflict and post-conflict areas at senior levels, including through his latest assignment in the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia as Deputy Special Representative, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.