The year 2030 is supposed to be when we celebrate having achieved the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals - including the ambition that “all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”.
However, our new Theirworld report, Safe Schools: The Hidden Crisis shows just how far we will be from reaching that aim unless urgent action is taken to improve the safety of students and teachers in and around schools.
The scale of the challenge and consequences of inaction
The report’s new data uses the Education Commission model to predict that by 2030, 622 million school age children – nearly two in every five - will live in countries where their education is under threat from conflict, environmental threats such as earthquakes and disease outbreaks, or high levels of societal violence.
What is unique about this report is that it goes beyond traditional humanitarian emergencies to look at the endemic threats to safe schools and learning environments, which must be solved in long-term development planning, including in countries where high levels of violence undermine the right to education even in times of peace.
In 2016, all global education partners united behind the Education Cannot Wait (ECW) fund for education in emergencies, which is charged with forming an immediate bridge between humanitarian relief and development. It is part of the United Nations’ new way of working, which embraces humanitarian speed with development depth.
And the longer-term development issues underlying the support for safe schools and learning environments, particularly in countries with high levels of violence, is one that falls squarely in GPE’s mandate. Following their successful replenishment, there is an enormous opportunity to prioritize, finance and deliver safe schools as part of every single country’s sector plan - and this will be essential if we are to come close to reaching SDG 4.
The new statistics speak for themselves. Nearly a quarter (22%) of children living in these at-risk countries will not complete primary school, over half (54%) will not complete secondary school, and around three quarters (75%) will leave school without having acquired basic levels of learning.
Research shows that this stunted and disrupted education will hinder their mental and physical health, damage their future career opportunities, and increase their risk of exploitation and marginalization (particular for already-marginalized groups such as girls, LGBTI youth, and children living with a disability).
More widely, a lack of safe schools increases the risk of violence and conflict in a region, exacerbates inequalities, and hinders public health and economic growth. In short, it is no exaggeration to state that addressing the hidden crisis of unsafe schools is vital for the future health, peace and prosperity of the world.
The way forward
Although this report will rightly alarm many, it should also inspire. The report’s recommendations and Framework for Action outline how a range of actors can work at a local, national and global levels to help ensure safe schools are prioritized, invested in, and delivered.
The Framework details how donors, governments, development banks, and international organizations like GPE can help ensure the safety of children and teachers in and around school is prioritized, within bilateral and multilateral financing and national education policies.
It outlines how business can use the technologies, products, influence and expertise at their disposal to support free quality and inclusive education for all - a model of partnership pioneered by the Global Business Coalition for Education.
It describes how NGOs and academia can use piloting programs and improved information sharing to ensure the innovative new education models are tested and the most effective approaches taken to scale. And it details how national governments and local communities will be needed to inform the work of other stakeholders, and ensure the safety of learning environments is considered a priority at every level.
This report inevitably shows the hidden crisis of safe schools to be a formidable challenge. However, it also shows that with concerted effort to ensure all actors with a contribution to make are engaged and active, a brighter future is within our reach: SDG 4 is realized and all children are given the opportunity to contribute to their communities and live the