Leading organisations invested in children’s education met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last week to share programmatic and financial learnings developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the need to strengthen digital learning.


8 October 2020 – Leading organisations invested in children’s education met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last week to share programmatic and financial learnings developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the need to strengthen digital learning.

Entitled ‘Meeting our Promises on Refugee Education during COVID-19’ the virtual roundtable brought together senior government, institutional, private sector and philanthropic partners to discuss learnings and solutions that have emerged throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Co-hosted by Education Cannot Wait (ECW), Save the Children, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, and the World Bank, this high-level event provided a unique opportunity for partners from across the aid sector to discuss these important education topics.

“The global pandemic crisis has exacerbated the several challenges that the refugee education was already facing. Philanthropists have a unique role in being responsive and strategic in addressing challenges during the pandemic. We came together today to confirm our commitment to continue our support to ensure that refugee education is prioritised and successfully supported with solutions that have been shown to make a difference,” said H.E Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, Chairman of Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education.

“All financing options must be pursued – additional donor resources, debt relief, as well as more efficient and equitable public spending – in order to ensure that every refugee child receives a quality education. This has always been true and is even more urgent given the exacerbation of inequalities in education service delivery resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Keiko Miwa, Regional Director, Human Development, Middle East and North Africa, World Bank.

Learnings and insights from the discussions will result in a joint paper, published to inform the sector on how to better respond to refugee children’s learning and wellbeing needs during this on-going pandemic and in the face of future such crises.

Among the attendees were senior representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Community Jameel, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the LEGO Foundation, Dubai Cares and the Olayan Foundation.

The themes of the event were:

  • Adapting financing mechanisms for refugee education: Philanthropists, the private sector and multilateral funding institutions shared how financing mechanisms for refugee education have been adapted throughout the pandemic, and how philanthropy can be directed strategically to complement institutional and private sector funding during crises.
  • Adapting education approaches to distance learning and ensuring that other school services are continued: governments, non-governmental organisations, donors and foundations that have implemented distance education shared their best practices. This included no-tech, low-tech and high-tech approaches such as distributing paper materials and the use of radio, computers, tablets, mobiles and TVs.

Organisations shared how they have continued school services that refugees rely on. These services included: school meals, health services, child protection services and mental health and psychosocial support. The roundtable co-hosts were: His Excellency Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, Dr Sonia Ben Jaafar, Chief Executive Officer, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, Keiko Miwa, Director for the Educational Global Practice, World Bank, Yasmine Sherif, Director, Education Cannot Wait, Kevin Watkins, Chief Executive, Save the Children UK, The roundtable moderator was Andrew Jack, Global Education Editor, Financial Times.

The event was held on Tuesday, September 29.

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About Save the Children

Save the Children exists to help every child reach their full potential. In the UK and around the world, we make sure children keep safe, healthy and learning, and change the future for good.

About Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education

AGFE aims to empower Emirati and Arab youth to thrive and contribute to the sustainable development of the region, through innovative education solutions and authentic partnerships. As one of the largest privately-funded philanthropic foundations in the Arab region, AGFE supports the provision of high-quality technology-based education opportunities, as well as the development of relevant skills for a successful transition into higher education and the labor market. Founded in 2015, the Foundation is dedicated to the realization of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 4 and 8, calling for inclusive and equitable quality education that leads to improved standards of living for all.

About Education Cannot Wait (ECW)

ECW is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings. ECW’s investment modalities are designed to usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve education outcomes. Education Cannot Wait is hosted by UNICEF. The Fund is administered under UNICEF’s financial, human resources and administrative rules and regulations, while operations are run by the Fund’s own independent governance structure.

About the World Bank

The World Bank Group (WBG) is the largest financier of education in the developing world (active portfolio of US$20.6 billion). The World Bank’s active education portfolio in fragile and conflict-affected states as well as projects receiving financing from either the IDA-18 Refugee Sub-Window or co-financed by the Global Concessional Financing Facility amounts to US$5.4 billion. The World Bank also provides just-in-time policy advisory support and leverages partnerships to develop policy knowledge and global public goods to support country-driven reforms. Under the IDA-19 replenishment, the Window for Host Communities and Refugees will finance up to US$2.2 billion in operations, including a dedicated sub-window of US$1billion to respond to the COVID-19 impact on refugees.


September 21 is the International Day of Peace. Dugale sees education – and the hope and opportunity it brings – as a pathway to a more peaceful world. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

In Uganda, a refugee teacher from South Sudan has returned to the classroom through an accelerated education programme implemented by the Norwegian Refugee Council with funding from Education Cannot Wait

Stories from the Field

Special Contribution by Rebecca Crombleholme, Norwegian Refugee Council Uganda (Original Story)

He fled South Sudan with nothing, but as soon as he arrived in Uganda, he began teaching. Dugale believes in the next generation, and he will stop at nothing until every child can return to their community ready to face the future.

“I have lost a lot of things,” he says, “but when I enter the classroom, I leave all that behind me. I teach like I would normally, and I am free.”

Dugale Severy is 38 years old. He began his teaching career in his hometown in South Sudan straight after leaving university. Throughout his own schooling he benefitted from teachers who made things clear, and this gave him the courage to learn more. Teaching, he says, is his way of serving others.

“I love teaching,” Dugale says with a smile. “When you are a teacher, you can help everybody without borders. I want to inspire my students to become teachers themselves so that they can help other refugee children.”

Dugale now teaches on the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Accelerated Education Programme in Nyumanzi Settlement, Uganda. Many of his students have lost loved ones and missed out on many years of school. All have been forced to flee their homes.

This is something Dugale understands, as he too was forced to flee.

A sanctuary amidst the chaos of conflict

In 2011, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, bringing an end to Africa’s longest civil war. Two years later, violent conflict broke out, shattering the newly acquired peace. The conflict has since forced over four million people to flee their homes.

Dugale found a sanctuary amongst the chaos through his work. “I instantly enjoyed teaching. It was a good escape from the war. There was no interference.”

Despite the peace within the classroom walls, it was often hard to ignore the threats that surrounded them.

“During the war, we weren’t able to teach at our best because of fear. Sometimes you are in class and you hear the sound of guns. And then you must stop teaching and figure out how to respond. Whether you need to run,” says Dugale.

As the violence got closer to home, Dugale decided he must flee with his family to keep them safe.

Education offers a route out of poverty

Dugale and his family crossed the border into Uganda in 2016 with only their ID documents, clothes and enough food to last two days. “This is all I came with. The rest of the things I left in South Sudan,” Dugale says with regret.

He finds it difficult when he thinks about everything he has left behind. “My property has been looted and some of my relatives have been killed, so it is difficult to think about.”

Despite Uganda’s open border policy for refugees, life without work can be tough. Many families benefit from food aid from organisations like NRC, but this doesn’t reach everyone. As a result, many refugee children drop out of school to take on adult responsibilities.

But Dugale believes that education provides a route out of poverty. NRC’s Accelerated Education Programme is taught at primary level and welcomes students up to the age of 18. Some of these young people are scared of re-entering education, Dugale says. “They see their age and they see their size they think they cannot fit.” But he believes that it is never too late to learn.

“For those who do join the programme, they can instantly see a way out of extreme poverty,” he continues. “They really know something. When they are in the classroom, they can see their future ahead and that their future is bright.”

Squeezing seven years into three

Dugale’s job is a challenging one. He must squeeze seven years of schooling into just three. The students in his class are from different ethnic groups, and they all have unique stories to tell about where they come from. “You know, a lot of my students have lost family members,” he explains.

A lot of students demonstrate challenging behaviour when they begin the programme. Dugale describes one student who stood out in his memory.

“Back then, he was drinking alcohol, he was smoking. His behaviour was really very bad. But throughout the programme something changed within him. He is now in secondary school, and he is so bright. I stay in touch with him, I will never forget him because of his progress and the way his attitude changed.”

Dugale continues with pride: “He is doing so well, and I know he will never, ever, go back to the life that he had before.”

A calm environment

Dugale knows that despite his students’ challenging pasts, each one has something unique to offer. His energy and enthusiasm are infectious, and his students benefit from this in the classroom.

“Sometimes they are happy,” he says. “But their lives have been difficult. There is a time for everything. If there is also some joy, we hold onto it and enjoy it. I am always talking with my students, whatever situation they are in. We provide a calm environment.”

“Singing is one of the methods we use in the classroom. You know, when you sing, it can make my students feel upbeat. You make a bit of fun, and the students will be laughing. When I do this, especially when teaching something that is challenging to understand, I know that the lesson can go successfully.”

‘I see that what I am doing here is good’

Education is one of the most underfunded of humanitarian responses. According to Education Cannot Wait, only two percent of humanitarian funding is allocated to education. This should not be the case. The benefits of education run far deeper than addressing the immediate needs of individuals or communities.

Dugale believes that education is the key to creating peace in times of conflict. “Teachers are the commanders who can fight this war. There must be teachers who can educate the next generation. When you have knowledge, you can give it to the rest of the world.”

Teachers like Dugale are essential to ensuring that young refugees can rebuild their futures. He knows that he alone cannot stop the devastating cycle of war, poverty and displacement. But with every new student that joins the Accelerated Education Programme, there is hope for the future. And that impact will continue for generations to come.

“The students in my class are active. There is hope. When I am teaching and they are getting something from me, I see that these are the people who are going to uplift the economy, even uplift the world!”

Covid-19 situation in Uganda

When the first case of Covid-19 in Uganda was confirmed on 21 March 2020, the government introduced stringent measures to minimise the spread of the virus. All education centres were closed, thus disrupting learning. This paved the way for distance learning programmes for children at home, delivered through radio, TV, and self-study. However, there are challenges for refugees who do not have access to radio and TV sets.

Since the schools have been closed, the situation for thousands of students have been very difficult. It is not easy to study at home and many have a lot to catch up on when the schools open.

Education Cannot Wait’s ‘Stories from the Field’ series features the voices of our implementing partners, children, youth and the communities we support. These stories have only been lightly edited to reflect the authentic voice of these frontlines partners on the ground. The views expressed in the Stories from the Field series do not necessarily reflect those of Education Cannot Wait, our Secretariat, donors or UN Member States.


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.


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


This story was built from the analysis and reporting in Education Cannot Wait’s upcoming 2019 Annual Report. Stay tuned for more stories, high-level virtual events and analysis from the report. All figures reflect reporting as of 31 December 2019 unless otherwise noted. Photo © Avsi Foundation

Education Cannot Wait investments are reaching refugee children and youth in crisis-affected countries around the world, providing them with the hope, opportunity and protection of an education. In places like Uganda, this means disabled girls, like Sunday Harriet, are regaining access to education, allowing them to learn, grow and thrive.

Everyone can make a difference and every action counts! This is the rallying cry of 2020’s World Refugee Day, led by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and supported by stakeholders and partner across the world, including Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises.

For refugee students living in the Palake Refugee Camp in Northern Uganda, like Sunday Harriet, even the smallest of actions can make a big difference.

As an infant, Sunday suffered a serious infection in both her ears. Now 11 years old and in primary school, Sunday’s learning ability is impaired because her hearing is now limited.  “I used to be picked by teachers and brought to the front of the classroom because I did not hear well,” she said.

Sunday’s challenges are complex. Because she has a disability, and because she was forced to flee her home, her chances of receiving quality education were limited.

The spread of COVID-19 now exacerbates the hardships faced by refugee children like Sunday.  Refugee girls are especially at risk, often pressured by economic hardship, culture and tradition to stay home and work, or vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. According to the Malala Fund, approximately 10 million more secondary-school-aged girls could be out of school as a result of the pandemic, putting them at even higher risk.

To support Sunday, and other students like her, Education Cannot Wait provides funding for the Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities in Uganda and through a fast-acting First Emergency Response to the COVID-19 pandemic, announced in early April.

In Uganda, ECW’s education in emergency COVID-19 response includes $1 million in funding to Save the Children and UNHCR, which focuses on ensuring continuous access to education, including: distance, online and radio learning; information campaigns, risk communications and community engagement in local languages, including psychosocial and mental health support; and, water and sanitation facility upgrades in schools and learning centers as a first line of defense.

Recent reports indicate that 60,000 refugee and Ugandan children are benefiting from extended learning and mental health support during the lockdown through ECW’s first emergency response.

These interconnected programmes were developed through a collaborative process, including the Government of Uganda, donors, NGOs, UN agencies, the education in emergencies working group and other key stakeholders.

To get Sunday back to learning, the AVSI Foundation screened her using a contact disability assessment tool, which helps detect children and youth with impairments. Having clearly qualified for assistance, she was referred for further clinical assessment from an ear, nose and throat specialist in Gulu, in northern Uganda, who recommended she be fitted with hearing aids.

The assistance has been life changing! Having eventually received her digital hearing aids from Kampala Audiology and Speech Centre, Sunday can now properly engage in classroom exercises and listen clearly to what her teachers are saying.

Photo © Manan Kotak/ECW


According to ECW’s upcoming Annual Report, Uganda is host to the third largest refugee community in the world as more than 1.3 million refugees have crossed its borders from Burundi, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 60 per cent of the refugees are under the age of 18; girls and women make up a total of 51 percent of the total displaced population.

The Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities in Uganda, was launched in September 2018 and aims to improve access and delivery of quality education for refugees and host communities affected areas in the border regions. The Education Response Plan is based on the ‘Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework’ (CRRF) and these work together to make the education system more inclusive for refugees and other vulnerable groups, such as children with disabilities, girls and child mothers.

In 2019, the Uganda Education Consortium, working under the national emergency response plan, delivered a comprehensive package of services that include the distribution of scholastic materials to 150,941 children (48 per cent girls), the construction of more than 150 new classrooms, the recruitment of 640 teachers, and the establishment of referral pathways alongside accelerated learning programmes.

This multi-pronged approach helped improve the gross enrolment ratio for refugee children from 53 per cent in 2017 to 75 per cent by the end of 2019.

Taken together with other actions, this provides a strong enabling environment for the government of Uganda to roll out effective education in emergencies relief to the COVID-19 pandemic and other fast-acting emergencies that derail development gains and push budgets and coping mechanisms to the breaking point.

Photo © Manan Kotak/ECW

Every Action Counts – The Global Picture

The global population of forcibly displaced people reached 70.8 million in 2019 – the highest level since World War II. This includes almost 26 million refugees and over 41 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs), who often face significant barriers to access education in host countries.

In 2019, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, only 63 per cent of refugee children attended primary school (compared to 91 per cent globally) and only 24 per cent of refugees accessed secondary education. COVID-19, climate change, armed conflicts and a trend toward longer periods of displacement and protracted crises are putting even more girls and boys at risk, and derailing global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG4,which focuses on universal and equitable quality education.

While host countries took in large numbers of refugees, they were not always able to accommodate the increased demand for services, and the 26 million refugees around the world face particularly dangerous, life-threatening obstacles in the fight against COVID-19. In a camp in Northwest Syria hosting 1 million people, people face cramped living conditions, little or no healthcare and a lack of access to clean water. In Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, as many as 16,000 people currently live in quarantine zones. Even worse, these multiplying crises that could result in 300,000 people starving every day, cost our economy trillions of dollars, and push millions back into poverty.

Education is part of the solution. Schools and learning centers provide refugee children with meals, they provide them with sanitation facilities, and they provide them with a safe haven to escape the fear and danger of life that they may face in exile. In short, education provides them hope.

Immediate relief is needed. ECW has expanded its education in emergencies COVID-19 response appeal to US$300 million. Much of this funding will directly reach refugee and other displaced children.

To create true transformational change, however, the education system needs to be built back better with integrated long-term approaches that bridge the humanitarian-development nexus, and put refugee children and education first.


Refugee children in Ethiopia. Photo ECW
View original on World Education Blog

16 December 2019 – The first Global Refugee Forum, which kicks off in Geneva today, comes at the end of a tumultuous decade in which the number of refugees has risen to more than 26 million people worldwide.

Having fled their homes in search of protection, the vast majority of refugees – some 85 per cent – live in the world’s poorest countries. As a result, many struggle to access essential services in their new homes.

Access to education is a case in point. More than half the world’s refugees are children, and some 3.7 million of them have not only lost their homes but their opportunity to go to school.

As a result of discrimination, exclusion and a lack of funding, refugee children are five times less likely to attend school than other children in the countries to which their families have fled. Only 61 percent attend primary school, 22 percent have access to secondary school and just 1 percent benefit from higher education. Refugee girls are out of school at higher rates than boys.

Education is a top priority for refugees

These circumstances stand in stark contrast to the priority that refugees themselves place on education. ‘Education against the odds’, the largest analysis of what children say they need during humanitarian emergencies, revealed that children affected by crises are more than twice as likely to rank going to school as their top concern over other needs.

They and members of their communities know that education transforms lives, paving the way to better work, health and livelihoods. Moreover, in times of crisis, education can play a life-saving and life-sustaining role. It is a building block of recovery, resilience and long-term development.

Responsibility must be shared

Countries that receive and host refugees and include them in their national education systems, often for extended periods, make an immense contribution from their own limited resources to both the collective good and to the rights and dignity of refugees. However, despite the tremendous generosity of host countries, the gap between the needs and the resources available to meet these needs, including for education, continues to grow.

Guided by the Global Compact on Refugees, the first Global Refugee Forum provides an opportunity to address this challenge and translate the central principle of international responsibility-sharing into concrete action.

As three multilateral organizations committed to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all, we recognize the urgent need for more and better financial resources to ensure that countries hosting refugees can deliver the promise of quality learning opportunities made in the Global Compact.

Promising developments

We are, separately and jointly, already responding to the immense challenge the global refugee crisis presents to host country education systems.

As the largest financier of education programmes in the world, the World Bank continues to finance refugee and host country support operations through both IBRD and IDA financing supporting the integration of refugee education into the education of the host community while strengthening the overall education system of the host country, ensuring displaced children and youth can access inclusive and safe schools, and learn the necessary skills and competencies to thrive in their communities and beyond.

Education Cannot Wait was established to turn around the historically low levels of humanitarian funding for education and is pioneering new approaches to close the funding gaps for education in emergency contexts including Multi-Year Resilience Programmes.

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) works in nearly 70 developing countries to ensure that all children have access to a quality education.  In refugee-hosting countries, GPE mobilizes financing and provides technical support to build resilient, effective education systems so that all children have the opportunity to learn. Currently, GPE is providing $1.1 billion in grants to support quality education in more than 20 countries where refugees have access to national schools.  

Through its accelerated funding mechanism, the partnership also provides rapid funding for education in crises. In mid-December 2019, the GPE Board made a major commitment to scale up this mechanism, unlocking up to $250 million over the next two years in funding for countries facing crises.

Delivering more and better by working together

We recognize that there are also opportunities for our organizations, working together, to provide more effective, efficient and aligned support. At the Global Refugee Forum today we will pledge to improve the coordination and financing of our efforts.

We will support governments and country-level partners to coordinate and align the planning, financing, and delivery of education assistance to refugees and their host communities.

We are committed to publishing a strategy outlining how this commitment will be operationalized next year and to reviewing our efforts annually and publishing an overview of progress detailing where, when and how we have worked together. We pledge to report on these efforts at the second Global Refugee Forum in 2023.

But international organizations working better together will not on their own deliver on the promise of the Global Compact on Refugees to ensure that host-country national education systems provide access to education for all refugees.

More funding still required

The international community needs to mobilize additional funding to respond to the refugee crisis, especially for education. Between now and 2021 an additional $1 billion in funding must be secured to meet Education Cannot Wait’s agreed goals to support 8.9 million children caught up in crises.

The World Bank continues to support refugee education. The active World Bank education portfolio in fragile settings and refugee hosting countries is $5.65 billion, out of which $4.54 billion is IDA (International Development Association – one of the largest sources of concessional  funding to eliminate extreme poverty in the world’s poorest countries.) An additional $2.6 billion in operations are under preparation and expected over the next year.

As the world’s largest fund for education in developing countries, the Global Partnership for Education’s forthcoming replenishment will be a further test of the donor community’s commitment to supporting education in the world’s most needy countries. Since its last replenishment in 2018, GPE has raised $2.6 billion in international finance and leveraged $30 billion in domestic financing to support education for the world’s most marginalized children. However there is still an enormous financing need. GPE’s next replenishment, in mid-2021, will be crucial to ensure continued support for inclusive, quality education, including for refugees and host communities.

Despite commitments by some donors, such as the European Union which now spends 10 percent of its humanitarian funding on education, the global figure still stands at just 2 percent. The poor cousin of an underfunded and overstretched humanitarian system, education urgently needs more support.

Progress is possible

We all share a collective obligation to the 3.7 million refugee children who are not in school. They are not responsible for the conflict that has driven them out of their respective countries. And they have a legal right to an education – a right that doesn’t end in times of emergency.

We are confident that it is possible to provide a quality education to every refugee child and we are committed to supporting countries hosting refugees in securing the necessary financing to do so.

On the occasion of the Global Refugee Forum we urge countries to support the world’s refugees and the countries which host them in committing to do everything we can to deliver the commitments to education in the Global Compact on Refugees.




Christina Manas, a 13-year-old South Sudanese refugee, studies in grade five at Baratuku settlement in northern Uganda. Photo UNHCR

At the Global Refugee Forum, Education Cannot Wait commits to investing in multi-year programmes for refugees and host-community children

As part of our commitment to support refugee education, at the Global Refugee Forum, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) pledges to: Facilitate and invest in multi-year programmes for refugee and host-community children to access quality education, particularly in secondary education.

Taking as a model the ECW-facilitated Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities in Uganda, ECW pledges to facilitate and invest in similar multi-year resilience programmes (MYRPs) that ensure that refugee and other forcibly-displaced children and youth, as well as children and youth from affected host communities, are fully included and have access to quality education, including in national programmes.

Moreover, ECW pledges to ensure that such programmes have a strong secondary-education component, including by providing funds for secondary education in MYRP countries through any established UNHCR internal funding mechanism specifically designated for secondary education.

With this pledge, ECW seeks to mobilize support for refugee and host-community children and youth to be able to complete their education, so that they can successfully transition to becoming self-sufficient as adults.



21 June 2019, New York – Education Cannot Wait announces a two-year $14 million allocation to support the launch of ground-breaking multi-year education programmes in the Federal Government of Somalia and Member States, Somaliland, and Puntland. The programmes target an overall total of 583,000 vulnerable girls and boys in a country stricken by decades of conflict, widespread violence and disasters, such as droughts and floods.

Hooriyo IDP School, Daynile, District, Somalia, Constructed by FENPS with ECW Grant in 2017 Credits: Save the Children

Education Cannot Wait facilitated the development of the programmes under the leadership of the three Education Authorities with a wide range of national and international partners. With this seed funding allocation, the Fund aims to catalyze additional financing from donors towards the total budget of the programmes that amounts to $191 million over the 2019-2021 period.

“This investment unites partners around quality education for over  half a million vulnerable girls and boys in Somalia. Finally, they will have an opportunity to lift themselves out of a cycle of disenfranchisement, violence and crisis,” said Education Cannot Wait Director, Yasmine Sherif. “This investment reaches those left furthest behind. We hope that this marks an end to their long wait for the basic right to education,”  she said. 

An estimated 3 million children are out of school across Somalia and the country has one of the world’s lowest ratios of primary-age children attendance. Only 30 per cent of boys and 21 per cent of girls of primary-school age attend primary school. At the secondary level, access to education is even more limited, especially for girls: 92 per cent of adolescents within the official age range for secondary school are not enrolled in secondary education. Children uprooted by the crisis are also particularly affected, with nearly two-thirds of displaced children not attending school.

The three programmes focus on increasing equitable access to quality education, providing safe learning environments and ensuring retention and improved learning outcomes for the most vulnerable girls and boys.  Displaced, returnee and host community children as well as children living in remote areas are specifically targeted. Activities include the rehabilitation of schools, school-feeding programmes, psychosocial support, alternative basic education and the provision of teaching and learning materials. Training and awarenesss-raising activities to increase enrolment and retention rates, address barriers to girls’ education and promote child protection and safeguarding best practices are also planned. 

Education Cannot Wait’s initial $14 million allocation is distributed over 2019-2020, with $7 million being disbursed the first year to kickstart the three programmes and $7million to be disbursed the second year, subject to satisfactory performance.

The three multi-year programmes were developed over several months in close collaboration with in-country education partners and donors. The programmes are aligned to the Education Sector Strategic Plans, Somalia’s humanitarian response plan and the Joint Resilience Action Programme produced by UN agencies in-country.

The multi-year programmes build on the achievements of Education Cannot Wait’s 2017-2018 First Emergency Response programme of $4.9 million in Somalia which focused on retaining children in schools through school feeding programmes, access to safe drinking water and promotion of hygiene best practices, support to teachers with emergency incentives, support to Community Education Committees, and the provision of teaching and learning supplies.


Key Facts and Figures

  • An estimated 3 million school aged children are out of school in Somalia
  • 25% of adolescent girls aged 15 to 24 are illiterate in the country
  • 62% of internally displaced children age 5-17 years in Somalia are not attending school
  • 92% of adolescents within the official age range for secondary school are not enrolled in secondary education
  • The overall budget of the three multi-year programmes is $191 million over 3 years (i.e. approximately $63 million per year)
  • Education Cannot Wait’s seed funding allocation amounts to $7 million per year, divided among the programmes on a needs basis ($2.9 million for the programme in the Federal Government of Somalia and Member States, $2.2 million for the programme in Somaliland, and $1.8 million for the programme in Puntland)
  • If fully funded, the three programmes will benefit close to 583,000 children and youth – half of whom are girls – and 12,000 teachers (40% female).

Notes to Editors:

About Education Cannot Wait (ECW):

ECW is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings.  

Since it became operational in 2017 the Fund has invested in 25 crisis-affected countries is reaching more than 1.4 million children and youth. ECW’s investment modalities are designed to usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve education outcomes.

Education Cannot Wait is hosted by UNICEF. The Fund is administered under UNICEF’s financial, human resources and administrative rules and regulations, while operations are run by the Fund’s own independent governance structure. 

Additional information is available at

For press enquiries, contact: Anouk Desgroseilliers, , +1 917 640-6820

For any other enquiries, contact:  



13 June 2019, New York – Education Cannot Wait and its partners are launching the “Act 4 Education in Crisis” campaign calling on governments, private sector companies, philanthropic foundations and global leaders to rise and support the Fund’s efforts to mobilize $1.8 billion by 2021 for 9 million children and youth living in the midst of war, forced displacement and disaster.

In times of crisis, education can play a life-saving and life-sustaining role. Yet, a large gap persists in funding for education in crisis, with just 2 to 4 per cent of annual humanitarian funding going to the education sector. This underfunding has left behind 75 million children whose education is disrupted by conflict, disaster and crisis.

Education Cannot Wait – a global fund for education in emergencies hosted by UNICEF – is filling this gap. Working with a wide range of partners, our investments provide speedy educational responses when a crisis erupts or escalates, while also linking humanitarian and development aid efforts to optimize collective efforts and ensure quality learning outcomes for children and youth in protracted crisis contexts.

“Girls and boys caught up in conflicts and crises endure abnormal circumstances of unspeakable violence, dispossession and disruption to their young lives. Their will to survival compels them to develop extraordinary resilience in coping with these sudden or chronic circumstances,” said Education Cannot Wait Director Yasmine Sherif. “If we who are spared their suffering act generously now by investing in their intellectual, social and emotional development through continued quality education, we can protect them, and help them transform their experiences and scars into creativity, knowledge and productivity, and may even open the doors for a new generation that is empowered to bring positive change.”

Education Cannot Wait’s new Case for investment in Quality Education in Crisis lays out the urgency and the value of investing in the education of children in crisis-affected countries as one of the soundest investment in human and socio-economic development and in peace and stability to make today. It is endorsed by the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of the Fund’s High-Level Steering Group, Rt Hon Gordon Brown, development ministers, education ministers of crisis-affected countries, Heads of UN agencies, private sector partners and philanthropists, global education ambassadors and civil society partners.

“Hope dies when a child or young person is unable to plan and prepare for the future, and it is up to us to keep hope alive. So, let us bridge this gap between humanitarian and development aid. Let us fund humanitarian aid in education properly. Let us ensure Education Cannot Wait has the funds to support and facilitate coordinated education responses in all the conflict areas of the world,” said Gordon Brown.

Around the globe, hundreds of civil society organizations are rallying behind the “Act for Education in Crisis” campaign.

“Across the world children affected by crises tell us that education is the key to their futures, their safety, their health and their happiness, and that it cannot be delayed. We call upon donors to urgently support the education of girls and boys, including forcibly displaced children, caught up in humanitarian crises by fully funding Education Cannot Wait so that it can provide quality, inclusive and safe education to 9 million children and youth annually by 2021,” said a coalition of civil society organizations in a joint statement issued today.

Since it became operational in 2017, Education Cannot Wait has reached 1.4 million children. This includes close to half a million refugees and over 200,000 internally displaced children and youth. Half of all the children reached by the Fund are girls.

For Aisha, a 16-year-old refugee girl in Chad who fled Nigeria after a Boko Haram attack on her village, this is the difference between the hope of becoming one day a doctor and a life of marginalization. For 12-year-old Zakaria in Syria, this means an opportunity to continue his schooling and hang on to the dream of a better future despite the conflict raging in his country.

By raising $673 million by 2021, the Education Cannot Wait Global Trust Fund responds to new sudden onset crises, such as the recent devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in Southern Africa or the escalating Venezuela crisis. The Fund also supports multi-year educational responses with a target of 25 priority countries affected by protracted crises to provide hope and opportunities to 9 million children like Aisha and Zakaria. These groundbreaking programmes, launched with Education Cannot Wait’s seed-funding allocations, need to catalyze an additional $1.2 billion in co-financing at the country level.

To date, Education Cannot Wait has mobilized over $344 million from 15 generous public and private donors. With the launch of the “Act 4 Education in Crisis” campaign, the Fund builds on its first two years initial success, deepening the support of existing partners and calling on new donors to join the partnership.

“Our strategic donor partners are generously and steadfastly seeking to meet the challenge but much more remains to be done,” says Sherif. “By working together and investing about $113 per child per year, we can empower the next generation of leaders. When we invest in the human mind, when learning is achieved, it cannot be taken away or destroyed. Indeed, a good education is all that is left when all else crumbles.”


Learn more about the “Act for Education in Crisis” #Act4Ed campaign and its supporters:

Download the Education Cannot Wait’s Case for Investment in Quality Education In Crisis here.

The joint statement by civil society partners is available here.


  • 30%. Children and youth in fragile and conflict affected countries are 30 per cent less likely to complete primary education.
  • 50%. Children and youth in fragile and conflict affected countries are 50 per cent less likely to complete lower-secondary education.
  • 5X. Girls in crisis settings are 2.5 times more likely to be out of primary school than boys.
  • 90%. Girls in crisis settings are 90 per cent more likely to be out of secondary school than those living in countries where there is no crisis.
  • 39 Million. An estimated 39 million girls caught up in war, disasters and crisis need urgent educational support.
  • $15-30 Trillion. The World Bank estimates that if every girl worldwide were to receive 12 years of quality schooling, irrespective of whether there’s a crisis or not, their lifetime earnings could increase by $15 trillion to $30 trillion.


We’ve put together infographics and social media posts you can share on the Act 4 Education in Crisis Campaign Page. Please use the hashtags #Act4Ed and #EducationCannotWait.

Show your support for Education Cannot Wait and our #Act4Ed campaign by updating your social profile image with our custom overlay.

Notes to Editors
About Education Cannot Wait (ECW):

ECW is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings. ECW’s investment modalities are designed to usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve education outcomes. Education Cannot Wait is hosted by UNICEF. The Fund is administered under UNICEF’s financial, human resources and administrative rules and regulations, while operations are run by the Fund’s own independent governance structure.  Additional information is available at

For press enquiries, contact: Anouk Desgroseilliers, , +1 917 640-6820

For any other enquiries, contact:



@UNICEF/Sokhin- On November 6, 2017, 13-year-old Jospin stands in front of the blackboard in Kaga Bandoro displacement site’s Temporary learning space.
@UNICEF/Sokhin – On November 6, 2017, 13-year-old Jospin stands in front of the blackboard in Kaga Bandoro displacement site’s Temporary learning space.


Jospin is a 13-year-old boy living in the Kaga Bandoro Internal Displacement Camp in the Central African Republic (CAR). He came here almost four years ago by foot with his mother, father and seven brothers and sisters. Like many of the 680,000 people who have been displaced by wide-scale uptick in violence in CAR, Jospin had never been to school.

Now with support from Education Cannot Wait, and the backing of a broad international coalition that includes the Norwegian Refugee  Council, INTERSOS, UNICEF and Plan International, Jospin is in school and hopes one day to become a doctor.

“I think I am 13 but my birth certificate was lost when they burnt my house. I am from a village 17 kilometers away, on the road to Kabo. Three years ago, we fled the village on foot. We sought refuge on Kaga Bandoro’s church site, then on the internally displaced persons site near the [United Nations Peacekeeping Base] when the church was attacked. I had never been to school before becoming an Internally Displaced Person. I started going to school for the first time here and I love it. I am in 3rd grade now. I have decided to become a doctor because once I was sick and I went to the hospital and this big man, the doctor, treated me. He was very kind. So, I have decided to become a doctor, too, so I can help my people one day.”

The new Kaga Bandoro school, supported in part with funding from Education Cannot Wait, has 11 classes and 1,675 registered children. All the 11 teachers are themselves displaced and live on the site.

 “I teach 80 children in the 4th year of primary school. Now I see that many of these children have become advocates for their friends, they convince the parents to send the children to school,” said 52-year-old widow and mother of five, Elizabeth, who was displaced over four years ago and now works as a teacher in the Kaga Bandoro school.

Despite this progress, huge challenges remain. With the constant displacement of populations due to insecurity in the region and a steady flow of refugees and internally displaced people, resources are stretching thin in Kaga Bandoro’s school. On a recent Education Cannot Wait mission to the school, more than 80 children were in attendance in one of the temporary classrooms, which only had 40 children just the week before.

Recent estimates from UNICEF indicate that more than 357,400 children lost access to education, health and protection services due to the violence and protracted crisis in CAR.

@UNICEF/Sokhin- On November 6, 2017, Elisabeth, 52 years old, is teaching 4th graders at the Temporary learning space in the Kaga Bandoro’s displacement site that lies near the MINUSCA base.
@UNICEF/Sokhin – On November 6, 2017, Elisabeth, 52 years old, is teaching 4th graders at the Temporary learning space in the Kaga Bandoro’s displacement site that lies near the MINUSCA base.


To date, Education Cannot Wait’s initial US$6 million allocation has reached an estimated 65,000 children, 31,000 of whom are girls. The support in CAR extends across a broad range of activities, designed through local engagement, to build lasting solutions to one of the world’s most significant education crisis today.

The funding from Education Cannot Wait is working to provide a range of formal and non-formal education opportunities for out-of-school children in the central and northern areas of the country.

Coalition partners are also implementing specific interventions focused on early childhood education, as well as youth-focused activities that incorporate basic literacy and mathematics alongside vocational and life skills training.  In addition, both UNICEF and INTERSOS are focusing on the quality of education by providing materials to both children and teachers, and building local technical capacity to provide education in emergency contexts. The Norwegian Refugee Council also implemented a successful “Accelerated Learning Programme,” allowing primary school children to catch up on schooling missed due to their displacement.

Building on these initial results, Education Cannot Wait is now focusing on kick-starting a new multi-year programme that will provide sustained support for education in emergencies in CAR. Discussions are underway with high-level government officials to outline the immediate needs for support, also connecting with a variety of stakeholders, including UN representatives, NGOs, and boys and girls whose lives have been uprooted by crisis.

@UNICEF/Sokhin - On November 2, 2017, Adamou Rodina, 13, stands in front of her classroom in Bouar’s prefectorale school. She is in her last year of primary school. “I fled my village, Niem Yelewa, when the war started there. I lost a lot of time and when I started school again here. I was late, the others had already been in school for a while, so I have to work hard to catch up.”
@UNICEF/Sokhin – On November 2, 2017, Adamou Rodina, 13, stands in front of her classroom in Bouar’s prefectorale school. She is in her last year of primary school. “I fled my village, Niem Yelewa, when the war started there. I lost a lot of time and when I started school again here. I was late, the others had already been in school for a while, so I have to work hard to catch up.”


“The development of the Multi-Year Response Programme is already serving as a resource mobilization tool with potential funding being discussed with key donors, including the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO) and the Central African Republic Humanitarian Fund, building toward a goal of mobilizing some US$75 million for the three-year programme,” said Education Cannot Wait Senior Advisor Graham Lang, after a recent mission to CAR.

The education system in CAR faces structural challenges that can only be addressed through multi-year programming connecting practical on-the-ground work to build schools, provide supplies and fund teachers, with longer-reaching policy and support programmes to build capacity, improve teacher training and create the enabling environments required for long-term sustainability.

@UNICEF/Sokhin- On November 9, 2017, children studying in a temporary learning space in Bangui’s Damala neighborhood. Most of them are returnees from displacement sites in Bangui, and their families have settled in this remote neighborhood that is kilometers away from the closest regular school. The temporary learning space has 5 tents that can accommodate a total of 2,000 children aged 3 to 15 and 18 teachers.
@UNICEF/Sokhin- On November 9, 2017, children studying in a temporary learning space in Bangui’s Damala neighborhood. Most of them are returnees from displacement sites in Bangui, and their families have settled in this remote neighborhood that is kilometers away from the closest regular school. The temporary learning space has 5 tents that can accommodate a total of 2,000 children aged 3 to 15 and 18 teachers.

It will be an uphill battle in CAR.  Prior to the crisis only 67 per cent of children were attending school, and in 2009 it was estimated that only 35 per cent of the population was literate.

Elizabeth has already taken on the battle: “We have the responsibility to teach these children and make sure they do not become bandits. If they do not go to school, what will become of them?” she says.

“Through sustained and more collaborative efforts among donors, humanitarian and development aid actors and with the Government, this is a fight we must win, as the future of an entire nation is at stake,” said Lang.



'Here in Dar es Salam [camp], we have food to eat, we go to school, we play with friends, we feel safe. When I get older, I would like to become a doctor to look after sick people.' - Aisha Mahamadou
‘Here in Dar es Salam [camp], we have food to eat, we go to school, we play with friends, we feel safe. When I get older, I would like to become a doctor to look after sick people.’ – Aisha Mahamadou.

The numbers of displaced children, refugee children, and children living without access to education in the Lake Chad Region are staggering. Violence in the region has closed 1,000 schools, and educational opportunities for 3.5 million children are at risk.

To put these astounding numbers into context, 3.5 million is about the number of people that live in Connecticut today, and it’s the total population of Uruguay.

One of those 3.5 million children is Ibrahim Mahamadou. Ibrahim could be your son, or your nephew, or your cousin. Bright-eyed and energetic, Ibrahim is seven now. When he arrived in the Dar es Salam Refugee Camp in Chad, it was the first time he’d ever attended school in his life.

Ibrahim Mahamadou, 7 years old, sitting in a classroom with his friends in a school at the Dar es Salam refugee camp.
Ibrahim Mahamadou, 7 years old, sitting in a classroom with his friends in a school at the Dar es Salam refugee camp.

“I like going to school because I make a lot of friends. We learn how to read, to write and to count. We play and we get lots of presents too,” said Ibrahim.

With support from a broad international coalition and the Government of Chad, Education Cannot Wait, a newly created global fund for education in crisis, has already reached over 150,000 children like Ibrahim in Chad. This includes 69,000 girls. In the neighboring Central African Republic, the Fund has reached some 65,000 children, including 31,802 girls, and a newly announced US$2.5 million grant will reach some 194,000 displaced children in Nigeria, 52 per cent of whom are girls.

“When you look at the scale of this tragedy, we are only scratching the surface. Much more needs to be done if we are going to reduce human suffering and address the root causes of the crisis. Education is an absolute priority and it is the most reliable and sustainable solution to empower a new generation who will be responsible for socio-economic development, peace and stability in the region,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. The Fund is currently helping to facilitate the development of a new multi-year education programme by aid organizations in coordination with the Government of Chad to deliver reliable education for the boys and girls enduring the consequences of the rampant violence in the region.

The Lake Chad crisis – affecting the countries of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria – is characterized by ongoing violence, population displacement and loss of livelihood. Forced conscription of child soldiers, abuse and sexual violence, among other atrocities are being reported at alarming rates. Hundreds of thousands of families have fled the violence, drought and the real-and-present risk of famine, across the border to Chad from the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Sudan, leaving millions of children in need of educational support.


But in the eye of the storm, there is hope. The Government of Chad has demonstrated a strong willingness to receive refugees and integrate them into the Chadian system, and in the refugee camps, boys and girls are finding safety and security.

Aisha Mahamadou came to the Dar es Salam Refugee camp in January 2015, fleeing a Boko Haram attack on her village near Baga, Nigeria. She was one of the lucky ones, as hundreds of civilians were reportedly killed. Boko Haram is also well known for their practice of capturing girls and forcing them into marriage – essentially a form of modern-day slavery that has people frightened and unwilling to send their girls to school for fear of kidnapping.

“Here in Dar es Salam [camp], we have food to eat, we go to school, we play with friends, we feel safe. When I get older, I would like to become a doctor to look after sick people,” said Aisha.

To support children like Aisha and Ibrahim, Education Cannot Wait worked with Chad’s Ministry of National Education and Civic Promotion and UNICEF, engaging through the UNICEF partnership with international NGOs including Fondazione Acra, the Jesuit Refugee Service and Refugee Education Trust International, to support the delivery of sustainable, equitable and inclusive quality education services for children and youth from within the refugee and host communities.

Through a US$10 million grant, community mobilization activities have taken place and classrooms have been built, boys and girls have received backpacks and school supplies, teachers have been hired and trained, and students have begun attending classes – sometimes for the first time in their life.

“Last year we studied in the tents. When there was too much sandy wind, the teachers used to send us back home. We could not even hear what he said. Now, we study in new classrooms, and we come to school happy,” said 12-year-old Kaka Mahamat, who lives now in the Dar es Salam Camp.

Kaka Mahamat, 12, in the Dar Es Salam Camp.


Over 2,500 teachers have been trained through the programme, and many teachers received subsidies during a prolonged teacher strike to ensure continued education for children like Kaka.

“They killed my son and burned my house in Nigeria. I really have nothing left there. Teaching helps me to take my mind off things. They say Western education is sinful but I believe every child has a right to education especially learning languages, this is what will help them support their communities,” said Malam Sani, who teaches First Grade in the Dar es Salam Camp.

“The Government of Chad, at both the central and decentralized levels, has played a key role in coping with constantly changing realities and protecting the boys and girls that are most at risk,” said Sherif. “As we build on our initial investment and look to more integrated multi-year programming, we will continue our engagement with the community and government to mainstream and accelerate these pilot interventions, addressing both the immediate and long-term needs in the education sector. Only then can we ensure that no child is left behind, but rather at the center and front of our collective efforts.”

Malam Sani,55, teaches the First Grade.
Malam Sani, 55, teaches the First Grade.