222 Million Dreams

Director's Corner
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Conflicts rage around us, climate change triggers armed conflicts and forced displacement, and a global pandemic continues to take lives and keep children out of school. More concerning still – as we learned in the latest Education Under Attack 2022 report – children, teachers and schools are victims of an unprecedented surge in deadly attacks.

While the human family is progressing in many areas, such as the technological and the medical fields, we are regressing into a terrible descent in the most fundamental areas defining humanity: morality, ethics and international law. Children and adolescents are bearing the brunt of this regression.

In a rigorous study carried out by the Education Cannot Wait Global Fund – validated by the Reference Group on Education in Emergencies Data, composed of INEE, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNHCR, IDMC, ECW and the Global Education Cluster – we find that about 222 million school-aged children are affected by crises globally and need education support.

Education Cannot Wait has quickly grown from a start-up fund to a full-blown, break-through global fund in the United Nations – reaching 30 million girls and boys with our COVID-19 response and investing in an inclusive, quality education for 5 million children and youth impacted by emergencies and protracted crises. While we have mobilized over US$1 billion for our Trust Fund and aligned an additional US$1 billion through coordinated joint programming, this financing is not sufficient to reach 222 million children and youth affected by brutal wars, forced displacement and climate-induced disasters.

Indeed, our vision and mission are to deliver an inclusive and continued quality education to the millions of children and youth whose education cannot wait for years and decades. We have made a global commitment not to leave anyone behind.

Here, we speak of 222 million dreams to end wars and bring peace. 222 million minds that have the potential to end climate-change. 222 million young people whose suffering has compelled them to develop an extraordinary resilience to change the course of their life, of their communities, and even the world.

These 222 million children are on a spectrum of educational needs: about 78.2 million (54% females, 17% with functional difficulties, 16% forcibly displaced) are out of school, while 119.6 million are not achieving minimum proficiency in reading or mathematics by the early grades, despite attending school. Moreover, the previous estimates regarding learning levels were from before the COVID-19 pandemic. Initial analyses suggest that learning losses due to the pandemic are even more pronounced amongst the poorest and amongst those who were already lagging in terms of learning prior to the pandemic, two categories that typically include children in crises.

The world failed in investing in peace. It failed in investing in the earth. It failed in investing in the enforcement of international law. Can we fail in investing in humanity altogether?

As UNICEF’s Executive Director, Catherine Russell, states in this month’s high-level Interview: “If we fail to act, these children will pay the highest price. But our societies and economies will also feel the impact for decades to come.”

This is the moment of change: the time for concrete action through collective action. Our priorities will determine the tipping note for our future.

Against this grave backdrop, ECW will launch an uplifting global #222MillionDreams✨📚 campaign to support replenishment of the ECW Trust Fund.  The campaign will lead up to Education Cannot Wait’s High-Level Financing Conference in Geneva on 16-17 February 2023 – co-hosted by Switzerland and ECW, and co-convened by strategic partners, including Germany, Niger, Norway and South Sudan.

Independent evaluations and joint programming have proven that ECW and its partners produce speedy and significant results, referring to ECW’s design and speed as a “proven model.” Our ODA strategic donor partners and our private sector partners who know these evaluations and results very well are scaling up resources for ECW:  as ECW’s biggest strategic donor partner and one of the most prominent multilateral leaders, the Government of Germany proclaimed: “We believe in ECW!”

This year, Germany took a bold leap forward adding another €200 million in a single contribution to its earlier support and becoming ECW’s largest strategic donor partner, all while the United States made an additional contribution to become ECW’s third largest strategic donor after the United Kingdom.

All ODA governments, private sector partners and foundations can follow these inspiring examples and make substantial new pledges that will support ECW’s investments in over 42 crisis-affected countries and the coordinated joined up work carried out collectively by host-governments, UN agencies, civil society and local communities to deliver quality education.

From Ukraine to Cameroon, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the State of Palestine, from Afghanistan to Colombia and across the Sahel, targeted financial investments enable UN agencies, civil society, host-governments and local communities to implement coordinated joint programming to reach for Sustainable Development Goal 4 (inclusive, equitable and continued quality education), in emergencies and protracted crises. As we all know, SDG4 is the foundational goal for reaching all other Sustainable Development goals. None of them can be achieved without education. Making SDG4 a priority means greater chances of realizing all other SDGs.

However, financing is the key that will unlock this change. Echoing all stakeholders of ECW, UNICEF ED Russell urges: “UNICEF is urging governments to invest 20% of their domestic budgets to education – and we are asking them to direct funds to the communities with the greatest need, including children and youth affected by conflict and crisis. We are also calling on public and private sector donors to rally behind children affected by conflict. One of the best ways they can do that is by supporting Education Cannot Wait. In a few short years, ECW’s investments are already helping remove the barriers that stand between millions of crisis-affected children and a quality education. But they need sustained, flexible funding to reach every child.”

The #222MillionDreams✨📚 campaign is not about an unattainable dream. It is about 222 million children and youth left furthest behind. It is about their urgent needs and their inherent rights. Investing in them is not an option. It is not one of many priorities. It is an uncompromising imperative if we are to change ourselves back to progress for humanity.

This is about their dreams. Because they are enduring our failure to prevent brutal wars and punishing climate change. Because they are growing up in refugee and displaced persons camps. Because they are feeling the soul-shattering pain of the world’s failure.

Because, through education, they are the ones who can and will change it.

Yasmine Sherif
Education Cannot Wait (ECW)

About our Director

ECW Executive Director Yasmine Sherif
Yasmine Sherif

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