Education simply must be at the centre of humanitarian action
January 24, 2019 marked the world’s first International Day of Education. It is remarkable to think that we have waited until 2019 to have such an important day. At the same time, it shows how the world is finally realizing just how important education is.
As an organization focused on child rights, Educo welcomes this Unesco marker. We share the conviction that while education is an end in itself, it is also the ideal means for guaranteeing the exercise of rights, the enjoyment of well-being, and a life of dignity.
Around the world today, there are 75 million school-aged children and young people in need of educational support who are either in danger of or are already missing out on their education in countries facing war and violence.
This has a lot to do with education traditionally being the most underfunded area regarding humanitarian aid, coming in at less than 3% of total global funding.
Educo is a development and humanitarian NGO with over 25 years’ experience working to defend children and their rights. As part of the ChildFund Alliance, we are working in more than 60 countries around the world. The Alliance helps over 14 million children and their families to overcome poverty and create sustainable solutions that protect and advance their rights and well-being.
Since 1999 in Bangladesh, Educo, in partnership with schools, communities, and the local government, is carrying out programs in 108 schools in urban and rural communities, reaching about 15,000 school children and their families each year.
At present, Educo Bangladesh works in 14 sub-districts across five districts of Dhaka, Sylhet, and Mymensingh divisions, for addressing community-based early childhood development (ECD), strengthening child-friendly learning environment, child-friendly community, promoting quality education in government primary schools, and reduction of hazardous child labour in urban areas to fulfill the rights of the children.
From a global perspective, we are seeing a growing trend of violent attacks on education for political, military, and ideological reasons, among others. That every child has the right to quality education regardless of where or who they are is being fundamentally ignored. This has to stop.
A childhood lasts 18 years, while most crises only subside after 20. It is awful to think of the babies being born today -- on International Education Day -- into a protracted crisis where they may not get any schooling, or at best, the most basic or intermittent.
Education in emergencies is so important because children out of school are more vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence, violent extremism, forced marriage, early pregnancy, child labour, and recruitment by armed groups. With little access to education, a child’s recovery from a crisis is very difficult. For generations of children caught up in conflicts, this lack of opportunity all too often leads to a cycle of poverty.
Many decision-makers know this. But there has been little to no tangible progress regarding education over the last few years, despite governments signing up to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. Added to this is the fact that traditionally, education has been overlooked when dealing with a humanitarian situation.
Educo’s humanitarian mandate is to protect, help, and assist the most vulnerable people, especially children, in their right to life and security, with dignity and comprehensive coverage of rights and needs in the face of risk situations. Access to education is central to this. Education simply must be at the centre of humanitarian action otherwise governments today will continue to fail millions of vulnerable children.
Almost half of primary school age refugees are not in school. These children, as well as those on the move through forced displacement, should be guaranteed quality education on an equal footing to national children. Providing funding and specific measures for these children to access education, be they migrants or refugees, must be a global priority.
It is heartening to see some governments and institutions finally recognizing the need to focus on education in emergencies. But if the countries that agreed to the UN sustainable development goals really want to meet them, and stay on top of the Education 2030 Agenda, support from their governments is also required.
We must have children learning every day and not losing out.
Johny M Sarker is the Country Director for Educo Bangladesh.