Changing the course of education in emergencies

Conflict, climate crises, disasters, poverty and, now, a global public health crisis, have a devastating impact on the right to education of millions of people.

January 24, 2022 by Cristina Álvarez, Global Campaign for Education, and Julia Sestier, Global Campaign for Education
3 minutes read
Student in a primary school in Cameroon. April 2014. Credit: GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer
Student in a primary school in Cameroon. April 2014.
Credit: GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer

“If the structure does not permit dialogue, the structure must be changed.”

Brazilian educator and philosopher, Paulo Freire

As we celebrate International Day of Education 2022, the world has reached a tipping point in many areas: economic inequality, environmental destruction fueled by climate change, political polarization, narrowing space for civil society, undermined public services and entrenched gender disparities – not to mention the devastating effects of a global pandemic, which has undermined the basic human right to education.

Despite the remarkable progress made in the past two decades, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, globally there were more than 250 million children and young people out of school. Nearly 800 million adults were illiterate.

Moreover, this data masks significant economic and educational disparities between countries; for example, one in four youth in lower-income countries is non-literate today1, compared to one in ten at the global level.

The impacts of the pandemic – and of profoundly unequal and non-inclusive systems – are not only putting the relative gains at risk, but also threatening to exclude the most vulnerable children from education systems.

The education emergency

For the most marginalized in the world – those with disabilities, girls, and those from low-income households, among others – the impact is even greater. In crisis-affected countries, the situation is even starker, and children living in emergency contexts are particularly at risk of exclusion from educational opportunities.

The data below illustrates the magnitude of the education crisis:

  • Even before COVID-19, 127 million primary and secondary school-age children and young people living in crisis-affected countries were out of school – this is almost half of the global out-of-school population.
  • 48% of all school-age refugee children have no access to education.
  • It is projected that, by 2050, 140 million people across South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America will be newly displaced due to climate change.
  • Girls are more likely than boys to be out of school in emergency contexts. Up to 20 million girls, particularly adolescent girls, are at risk of permanently dropping out of school by 2023.

On March 1, 2022, the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) will launch a campaign to put education in emergencies at the center of the global education agenda.

States must take urgent, concrete and effective measures to ensure that transformative, inclusive and equitable quality education is a reality for all, especially in emergency contexts.

The campaign will shed light on the harsh realities of children affected in this context, while also sharing stories of empowerment and hope. Education is the most powerful, empowering and transforming tool for transformative change.

Changing course in emergencies: What does it take?

A non-exhaustive list of concrete actions that can make a difference in emergency contexts includes:

  • Increased investment. Education budgets are among the first to be cut in emergency situations, and one of the most underfunded areas of humanitarian aid: just 2.4% of global humanitarian funding is allocated to education.
  • Engagement with local actors. People affected by emergencies, together with local civil society organizations and other local actors - communities, teachers, parents - are the first responders in emergencies. Any intervention must draw from local knowledge and expertise, and build on the capacity and resilience of the communities affected. A meaningful engagement of both people affected and local actors in the process of developing education-in-emergency responses not only ensures the effectiveness of the response, but also affirms people’s dignity.
  • Resilient public education systems. It is crucial to strengthen, build and/or rebuild public education systems able to provide quality and inclusive education to everyone in emergency contexts, and particularly in the case of protracted crises.
  • Transformative education. Education must be a safe space and a foundation for peace. It must promote a dialogue that allows us to transform our current structures, a space for equal participation and critical thinking. Education must challenge entrenched prejudices.

Education as the foundation of transformative change

GCE hopes that International Day of Education 2022 will mark the beginning of a radical transformation in education, and through education, especially in emergency contexts.

Education is the foundation from which to fight against all forms of discrimination and to build peaceful and more equitable and sustainable societies.

Follow @globaleducation and #ProtectEiENow

  1. UNESCO, 2021. The futures of education.

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This is awesome piece.
Thank you.

Great initiative. I look forward to the launch of this new campaign focused on education in emergencies. -- And don't forget to prioritize supporting teachers and other education personnel, in both emergency contexts and protracted crisis.

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