April 8, 2020 – Civil society organizations committed to providing access to a quality education for children and youth impacted by conflict and crisis around the world strongly urge increased support for education as a core part of global COVID-19 response efforts, including $50 million in new funding for Education Cannot Wait (ECW).

More than 1.5 billion children and youth around the world are affected by school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, impacting over 91 per cent of the world’s student population. Learners already vulnerable and affected by crises, including armed conflicts, forced displacement, natural disasters and protracted crises, are now facing the added hardship brought on by this pandemic.

ECW, the global fund dedicated to education in emergencies, operates in more than 30 countries to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings.

ECW is taking steps to ensure that 60 per cent of all students benefiting from ECW investments are girls, while gender-sensitivity is integrated across all ECW-funded programmes. ECW is also committed to the inclusion of children with disabilities and providing an accessible and inclusive response to leave no one behind.

ECW has taken quick action in response to COVID-19 by conducting rapid assessments in countries with ECW-supported programmes. These assessments paint a worrying picture of the significant impact that COVID-19 is having on already severely strained education systems, including an acute shortage of accessible and inclusive distance learning tools, materials and competencies. This means that millions of pupils will not be able to access learning information and complete the current school year as planned. In addition, many areas lack hygienic knowledge, as well as supplies and facilities.

As a result, ECW has activated its First Emergency Response funding window to re-programme current grants and deliver new funding. ECW expects that an initial $50 million in additional funding will be required to respond to the COVID-19 related education needs for the coming three months. These funds will continue to ensure learning continuity, support accelerated learning, facilitate distance learning, raise further awareness of risks associated with COVID-19, provide WASH services, and prioritize MHPSS and protection efforts.

We welcome this immediate response, as well as all future steps to increase the flexibility of ongoing programmes. As civil society representatives, we urgently call upon current and prospective ECW donors to commit additional resources to meet this funding goal.

By making specific, measurable commitments and swiftly delivering increased funding for ECW we can take significant steps to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on all crisis-affected and displaced children and youth seeking a quality education.

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Care International

Children in Crisis

Christian Blind Mission


Finn Church Aid

Finnish Refugee Council

Global Campaign for Education-US

Global Citizen

Humanity & Inclusion

International Rescue Committee

Jesuit Refugee Service

Malala Fund

Mercy Corps

Norwegian Refugee Council



Plan International

Right to Play

Save the Children




War Child

World Vision International


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.


Key education stakeholders from national governments, civil society, the private and philanthropic sector, UN Agencies and donors came together on the margins of the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings on 11 April in Washington, D.C. to take stock of Education Cannot Wait’s progress after two years of operations. Photo ECW.


The High-Level Steering Group of Education Cannot Wait met on the margins of the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings on 11 April in Washington, D.C. Ministerial and senior education stakeholders from government and donors, civil society, the private and philanthropic sector, and heads of UN Agencies convened to take stock of Education Cannot Wait’s progress after two years of operations.

With more than 1.3 million children and youth reached in 19 crisis-affected countries, the Fund’s High-Level Steering Group, chaired by the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Rt Hon Gordon Brown, commended the Fund’s investment model and promising results, stressing that if “ Education Cannot Wait did not exist we would need to invent it.”


The Fund’s Director, Yasmine Sherif, presented Education Cannot Wait’s results to meeting participants, launching the Fund’s new Results Dashboard. As of 11 April, support for quality education is reaching close to 1 million children in primary, 300,000 in secondary and 70,000 in pre-primary. Overall, 51 per cent of the total children reached to date are girls.

Following a presentation by the Under-Secretary-General of the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs/Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, participants at the biannual meeting discussed the instrumental role played by the Fund in advancing the humanitarian–development nexus in the education aid sector in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education for all. The meeting welcomed the Fund’s collaboration and partnerships, and its focus on results at the country-level. Participants stressed the collective need to catalyse additional and predictable financing, ensure an effective and coordinated response, build resilience of affected people and communities, and strengthen systems.


The Ministers of Education from Afghanistan and South Sudan briefed the members of the High-Level Steering Group on the education sector in their respective countries and called for stronger support from multilateral and bilateral donors, including through Education Cannot Wait.

In his moving intervention, Afghanistan’s Minister of Education, Dr. Mohammad Mirwais Balkhi, highlighted the needs of Afghanistan’s 3.7 million out-of-school children (60 per cent of whom are girls), who have lost the opportunity and hope of an education due to the ongoing conflict and insecurity, forced displacement, social and economic constraints, and other factors. He also highlighted the progress driven by Education Cannot Wait’s First Emergency Response and the recently launched Multi-Year Resilience Programme in supporting the national community-based education strategy. Through these programme, the government and implementing partners are increasing access to education in hard-to–reach areas, recruiting women teachers and reducing the gender gap, building capacity, and providing safe and quality learning opportunities.

South Sudan’s Minister of General Education and Instruction, Deng Deng Hoc Yai, shared his personal journey as a refugee, and his new hope after the Civil War for peace, security and educational opportunities for the young people of South Sudan. According the Deng Deng Hoc Yai, more than 2.2 million children are out of school in South Sudan, the majority of whom are girls. He underscored that it is a pressing issue of gender equality and human rights to ensure children are not left behind, schools are built, text books are delivered, teachers are trained and the new national curriculum is rolled out to support better educational outcomes. Education Cannot Wait and its partners are currently supporting the development of a multi-year resilience programme in South Sudan.

The meeting also included important pledges and commitments for children and youth affected by Cyclone Idai. The United Kingdom’s Department of International Development (DFID) and Dubai Cares announced new commitments of US$5.2 million (4 million pounds) and US$2 million respectively to support a total US$14 million Education Cannot Wait allocation for emergency educational responses in the wake of the devastation from the cyclone in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Global Citizen and the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation also presented a six-figure check to Education Cannot Wait from the funds raised through Will Smith’s jump over the Grand Canyon.

With these pledges, the Fund has mobilized US$344 million since its inception and has surpassed annual resource mobilization goals since it was launched at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016.


The High-Level Steering Group approved Education Cannot Wait’s new Case for Investment, which calls on partners to “rise and support our efforts to mobilize US$1.8 billion in funding for education in crisis settings by 2021. Built through integrated partnerships, these catalytic investments will support quality education for close to 9 million children annually in some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.”

The High-Level Steering Group members signalled their commitment to support Education Cannot Wait in advocating for resource mobilization with plans for a high-level pledging event at this year’s United Nations General Assembly in New York in September.


ECW High-Level Steering Group meeting April 2019