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.

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