Education in Emergencies

A Neglected Priority

When a conflict or natural disaster erupts, education is generally the first service interrupted and the last resumed. Governments are often overwhelmed by the needs and relief aid traditionally focuses on populations’ basic requirements – food, water, shelter and protection – with only 2 percent of humanitarian funding allocated to education. [1]

Meanwhile, children that are taken out of school are more exposed to violence, trafficking, child labour, child marriage and recruitment by armed groups. They are deprived from their basic right to education and the chance to fulfil their true potential. And they will find it difficult to come back to a traditional curriculum when schools reopen. Their situation triggers despair and sometimes anger. It pushes some families to risk their lives crossing borders and seas and fuels tensions in host communities.

The truth of the matter is that education is an imperative for crisis-hit families as they are struggling to keep their children safe and rebuild their lives, and is paramount to peace and development.

[1] This is if only funding earmarked for education is included. If multi-sectoral funding is considered (some of it goes to education), funding to education can be estimated at around 3.5% in 2016.

girl putting a book into her school bag

The Facts

  • More than 75 million children and young people aged 3-18 are currently in urgent need of educational support in 35 crisis-affected countries. [2]
  • Children in conflict-affected countries are 30 percent less likely to complete primary school and half as likely to complete lower-secondary school. [3]
  • The figures are worse for refugees. Only 50 percent of refugee children have access to primary education, compared with a global level of more than 90 percent. For refuge adolescents, only 22 percent of them are in lower-secondary school. Just 1 percent of refugees attend university compared to the global rate of 34 percent. [4]
  • Conflict and disaster increase the likelihood of being out of school, a risk factor for child trafficking, including child prostitution. [5]
  • Girls are almost two and a half times more likely to be out of primary school if they live in conflict-affected countries, and nearly 90 percent more likely to be out of secondary school than their counterparts in countries not affected by conflict. [6] In 2015, an estimated 39 million girls were out of school because of war and disasters. [7]
  • Even though natural disasters do not ‘pick their victims’ based on ethnicity or gender, research consistently shows that women and girls suffer disproportionately. [8]

  • Higher education lead to higher empowerment and civic engagement, including the understanding of and support for democracy and conflict resolution, participation in civic life and tolerance for people of different races or religions. [9]
  • Higher education levels lead to higher concern for the environment and better adaptation to climate change. [10] 
  • Greater education equality between male and female students decreases the likelihood of violent conflict by as much as 37 per cent. [11]



The Case for Education

The impact of education on resilience, peace and development has been clearly established. Only education has the power to break the cycles of poverty, violence and injustice, and provide crisis-affected children with the strength, tools and hope they need to build a brighter future for themselves and their community. They will become tomorrow’s leaders, doctors, teachers, architects, artists and engineers. They will enjoy better health for themselves and their families and make stronger contributions to their society.

This is what makes it so crucial – for these children, for their communities and for our entire world – to invest significantly more efforts and resources in education in emergencies and protracted crises.

Through the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals, governments have pledged that all of the world’s girls and boys will complete free, equitable and quality primary education by 2030. One of the core principles of the SDGs is to “leave no one behind and to begin with those farthest behind”. This principle is also reflected in the Core Responsibilities of the United Nations Secretary General’s report ‘One Humanity: Shared Responsibility’. Finding a collaborative, global solution to deliver education to children and youth even in the toughest of circumstances will help us meet these goals.

Learn more: Why Education Cannot Wait ; 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report, UNESCO ; Reports analysis compiled by the International Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) ; SDG 4

The Challenges

So what currently prevents us from ensuring continuous access to quality learning to children and youth in times of emergency?

  1. Lack of prioritisation: Despite being prioritized by children, youth and their families, education in emergencies is neglected in relief operations.
  2. Poor coordination: In many cases, there is a lack of coordination, planning and financing models between humanitarian and development agencies who are both providing education.
  3. Insufficient funding:Since 2010, less than 2% of humanitarian funding has been spent on education. $8.5 billion is needed annually to close this gap.
  4. Inadequate capacity:Efforts to build capacity have not kept pace with the needs, which undermines the predictability and timeliness of crisis response.
  5. Lack of real-time data:Limited analysis and ineffective use of data makes it difficult to communicate priorities and needs.
kids at school


Education Cannot Wait (ECW) has precisely been created to address these challenges and transform the way education needs are understood and addressed in emergencies.

Learn more:  Education Cannot Wait: Proposing a Fund for Education in Emergencies, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), 2016


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