We need better education data for better financing in emergency contexts

by Sawsan Al Refai

This article was originally written for and published on the Global Partnership for Education’s blog, which you can access here.

A 7th grade class in Sudan
Photo: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Although the Arab region had shown improvements in the rates of enrollment in education in the last decade, progress has stopped in the last two years. The total number of out-of-school children, adolescents and youth has remained nearly the same in the past three years across the region. It is however expected that in a conflict-torn region, enrollment rates and other education statistics would only become worse.

State of education in the Arab region

The Arab country that has the largest numbers of out-of-school children is Sudan (with 2.7 million children of school age not enrolled). Yemen and Syria also have high numbers of out-of-school children, although due to acute conflict in these two countries, there are no reliable numbers for all areas and age groups.

In Yemen alone, it is estimated that at least 1.9 million children are considered out of school, and 4.2 million children need assistance to ensure continuation of their education. Sudan and Yemen are both countries with widespread economic poverty, and in these countries out-of-school rates are systematically higher than others in the region. Gender disparities in education in these two countries are also inflated compared to the regional average, with fewer girls receiving access to education than their boy peers.

Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children. The very large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons in countries moving from or back to countries like Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya, of which at least half are under the age of 18, do not have their educational needs accounted for.

Financing Education 2030 in emergency scenarios

The Arab region has adopted the agenda for Sustainable Development as well as Education 2030 and has endorsed its ambitious vision. However, only a few countries in the region have considered the full Education 2030 agenda, with the demands not only to finance education sufficiently, but also to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education. Another issue in the region is on making reliable education data available.

All available data show that none of the conflict-affected countries in the region have met the international standard for financing education (throughout conflict affected countries, the share of budgets that are allocated to education is well below 20%).

In countries that rely heavily on donor financing of the education public sector like Yemen, education gets the smallest share of cluster funding – for example, the Yemeni Humanitarian Response Plan meets only 0.8% of the sector needs.

As the Education commission calls for 97% of the funding required to achieve SDG 4 to come from domestic budgets, the reality in this region shows that this is hard to achieve in times of emergency for several reasons, and data is a major one. During the GPE replenishment conference in February, only two countries from the region submitted pledges – Sudan and Somalia.

Education financing data is hard to get

When governments are busy with securing basic needs to populations affected by conflict (or when governments are directly engaged in armed conflict), it is not unusual for the infrastructure and systems responsible for education data to become fragile or even collapse.

Data on education budgets across conflict-affected areas are opaque and unreliable. With the exception of Palestine, there is no Arab country in an emergency situation that disseminates data on education budgeting and expenditure. Financing data is also highly politicized in cases of conflict, and often do not reflect the actual numbers.

In addition, when there are multiple authorities over the education sector (such as the case of dual ministries of education in Yemen), or non-harmony between national and federal level budgeting process (such as in Sudan), it becomes very difficult to determine how much is spent on education.

Data on marginalized groups in education is even harder to get. This includes groups of children who have been systematically neglected from statistics such as disabled children, refugee children and married girls.

There is also little coordination among regional and international agencies. In the case of Syria for example, at least 50 different stakeholders across the region are trying to provide education services, and each organization provides its own statistics. Therefore, the problem is not only that the current level of educational service provision is not clear for these populations, but most importantly, the responsibility of data production and dissemination becomes vague and dissolved among several parties.

Both government and civil society data systems are further weakened by inadequate or no funding earmarked for statistical activities. Civil society often has poor technical capacity to collect reliable data on both education needs and education budgets according to international standards. This is aggravated by insufficient coordination both at the national level and among national and international stakeholders.

Replenishment of data in emergencies

Alice Albright, Chief Executive Officer of GPE, pointed out at the launch of the Education Data Solutions Roundtable that data is one of the most pressing priorities for SDG4 implementation. It should be just as much a priority in times of emergency. Replenishment of funds is not effective unless it is combined with concentrated efforts to improve data not only on financing education but education data in general.

The advocacy power of GPE and other international education donors and stakeholders should be directed towards collaborating with civil society in countries facing emergency scenarios towards access to more transparent and reliable data.

The role of UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics (UIS) in exploring more effective and innovative means to reflect data from the Arab region as a “non-homogenous region” and a conflict zone is also key to reflect the education needs beyond just learning assessments and education financing.

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