A call to action to ensure transformative, inclusive, equitable and quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all in emergency contexts

The “Protect education in emergencies now!” campaign led by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) aims to provide a way to urgently address the need for transformative, inclusive and equitable quality education, and lifelong learning opportunities for all in emergency contexts, especially children and young people. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically exacerbated multiple crises primarily related to conflict and violence, sudden and slow-onset emergencies, the forced movement of people within and across national borders, human-made and natural disasters, and the ongoing public health emergencies. The COVID-19 pandemic has also shown the weaknesses of public systems, including education systems, where the Governments have not invested properly in them. 

These crisis contexts are often complex, intertwined and multi-faceted, with more than one type of crisis present at a time. Many of these situations end up being protracted and cyclical crises, impacting a growing number of people all over the world, especially the most marginalized who are the hardest hit (girls and young women, low-income families, children and youth living without parents, in rural areas or without access to health care, refugees, people with disabilities, etc.).

Children and young people in many crisis-affected countries are impacted in many different ways: by poverty, by insecurity, by the crisis itself, and now by the global pandemic. Emergency contexts also pose challenges to the fulfilment of the right to education: even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 127 million primary and secondary school-age children and young people living in crisis-affected countries were out of school in 2019 (almost 50 % of the global out of school population). According to UNICEF, more than 24 million children are projected to drop out of school due to COVID-19.

Education is a basic human right recognized in numerous international instruments and treaties that comprise the Right to Education Framework, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26, 1948). The realization of the right to education is linked to better lives for all people, not only in terms of knowledge and skills, but also as a safe space that is protective of individuals, communities, and the society as a whole. Moreover, the longer people live without education and are consistently exposed to socio-economic and political exclusion, the less likely they are to return to school. Therefore, education in emergencies must be a priority in the response to all types of crises.

This Call to Action provides a set of policy recommendations for Governments to guide our coordinated and collaborative advocacy and lobbying efforts over the coming year, to achieve transformative, inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all in emergency contexts.

The Protect education in emergencies now! campaign calls on States to:

1. Protect and guarantee the fulfillment of the right to quality education for all in emergency contexts, by providing empowering, safe, respectful, inclusive and accessible learning environments for all learners, regardless of legal status, age, gender, disability, socio-economic status, ethnicity, race or any other form of discrimination and exclusion. 

Crisis and emergencies affect children and young people most severely. For instance, around half of the nearly 26.4 million refugees worldwide are children and young people. Moreover, children who experience multiple forms of discrimination (because of their disability, gender, socio-economic or migratory status…) in crisis situation are even more at risk of educational exclusion. In practice, educational policies and programs take little account of the issue of intersectionality. In contexts of crises, education provides immediate physical and psychosocial protection, as well as life-saving knowledge and skills. For all the children, especially the most vulnerable (refugees and displaced children, girls, children with disability, etc.) education during an emergency can provide a stable, safe and supervised routine that is attentive to their academic and psychosocial needs and that develops their life skills. Thus, school and non-formal learning environments can create conditions for long term solutions and, at the same time, protect children and young people from both immediate and long-term risks. On the other hand, the longer learners are out of school, the less likely they are to return, so keeping learners in school in emergency contexts is paramount to sustain development efforts.

However, education in crisis situations does not receive the attention needed. Education has increasingly become a target of violence. Between 2015 and 2019, there were more than 11,000 reported attacks on educational facilities and/or students and education personnel, harming more than 22,000 students and educators in at least 93 countries. Attacks to education, through force, threats of force and sexual violence, are being used for political and military purposes. Additionally, the denial of education is a key element of State violence in some contexts.

In this context, States must:

  • Foster public, safe, accessible and enabling environments that support teaching and learning for all, regardless of legal status, age, gender, disability, socio-economic status, ethnicity, race, or any other forms of discrimination and exclusion in crisis-affected countries. This includes ensuring that education is context and age-appropriate; that it adopts an intersectional approach; and that both students and educators are prepared to identify and report, harassment, sexual and gender-based violence.
  • Ensure stable, well-funded, free, human and child rights compliant public and inclusive  education systems.
  • Ensure that the psychosocial, mental and emotional learning needs of teachers and students, particularly children, youth and adults, are met.
  • Ensure the quality of the education provided in emergency contexts, enabling all learners to continue with their education to gain relevant skills, knowledge and competencies, as well as with the improvement of their personal resilience. This requires not only learning materials in appropriate languages, context-appropriate curricula and access to psychosocial support when needed, but also transition programs that ensure the availability of teachers speaking the language of the incoming group, in cases of displacement. Systems must be in place to support this transition, including the employment of refugee or displaced teachers.
  • Use the INEE Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response, Recovery (2010) as guidance for education and lifelong learning planning in crisis and emergency situations.
  • States must continuously evaluate and analyze educational actions and policies implemented in crisis contexts in order to prevent future crises and avoid learning disruptions, and in so doing, involve children and youth in this process.
  • States must support strong public services and ongoing links between health, hygiene, prevention, sexual and reproductive health rights and education, and social protection.

2. Develop and implement crisis-sensitive national education plans and budgets, integrating emergency preparedness measures into education sector planning to ensure the fulfilment of the right to quality education for all, in all situations.

Particularly, all States must:

  • Have in place rapid response mechanisms and education in emergencies strategies and plans aimed at reaching people, especially children, in contexts of emergencies and crisis, and establishing a maximum of three months to return them to learning.
  • Ensure an increased focus and capacity at sub-national and school level to plan for and integrate disaster risk reduction in their planning cycles.
  • States should plan and budget for contingencies, ensuring that there are mechanisms in place to quickly release funds that allow to respond to the educational needs arising from crisis situations.

3. Listen to the voices of the people affected and the local actors (including local civil society, teacher organisations, children and youth groups, parents and communities), acknowledge their crucial role in the response and ensure their meaningful participation from the early stages of the design, planning and implementation of the education in emergencies responses, to sustainably strengthen the crisis-resilience of national education systems.

Humanitarian approaches alone are not enough to support crisis-affected countries in ensuring the fulfilment of the right to quality education, particularly in contexts of protracted crises and refugees and displaced people. All the actors involved in the responses to education in emergency situations must draw from local knowledge and expertise and build on the capacity and resilience of the affected people, particularly taking into account that these people, together with local civil society organizations and other local actors are usually the first responders in emergencies. A meaningful engagement of people affected and local actors in the process of developing education in emergency responses not only ensures the effectiveness of the response, but also asserts people’s dignity.

The GCE encourages the States involved in education in emergencies responses to create synergies between domestic, humanitarian and development approaches and to closely coordinate with local actors in order to sustain­ably strengthen the crisis-resilience of national education systems and enable crisis-affected States and to provide a swift educational response to emergencies and protracted crisis. We therefore call upon governments to:

  • Establish mechanisms to coordinate with communities and national and local education actors and authorities, supporting the capacities to provide an adequate educational response in the context of emergencies and protracted crises.
  • Acknowledge the role of civil society actors and engage with them not only from the early stages of the response, but also at decision-making, policy and planning levels on a regular basis prior to, during and after  the emergency.
  • Strengthen local capacities in education in emergency response planning, including by expanding educational facilities and providing teacher training and professional development to qualified cadres, for example,  refugees and members of host communities.
  • Strengthen their partnerships with local actors, as the first responders in emergency situations, including parents, teachers and community leaders.
  • Take into account and meaningfully include the voices of affected people in the planning, budgeting and implementation of the education in emergencies response plans, with specific actions to include the traditionally most marginalized groups (persons with disabilities, women and girls, ethnic and religious minorities, migrants and refugees…)
  • Harmonize humanitarian responses with long-term national education planning and budgeting
  • Provide support to gather more research and evidence around education in emergencies, as well as disaggregated data on affected learners, in order to provide the most adequate responses for each context.

4. Ensure sufficient, sustainable and predictable funding for education in emergencies, by allocating at least 10% of humanitarian funding to education, including by meaningfully supporting the Education Cannot Wait (ECW) replenishment process, in order to reach its funding target of at least $1 billion for the period 2023-2026.

Despite the fact that Education in Emergencies has been a recognized part of global education policy agenda since 2000 and the growing number of contexts affected by what is defined as “crisis”, there is a concerning lack of political will to support education in emergencies and protracted crises. This reflects in the funding of education in these types of contexts.

Not only are education budgets amongst the first to be cut in emergency situations, but education is also one of the most underfunded areas of humanitarian aid: just 2,4 % of global humanitarian funding is allocated to education. Moreover, the education sector has one of the lowest levels of resources in Humanitarian Response Plans, and only receives a small share of what is requested. Also, humanitarian financing for education is asymmetrical, as those humanitarian requests for the education sector receiving the most funding are often those with the greatest media visibility and perceived as having more geopolitical relevance, resulting in many “forgotten crises”.

In this context, States must:

  • Ensure that education receives its fair share of humanitarian funding, aiming at matching the European Union’s commitment to direct 10 percent of its humanitarian aid to education. 
  • Provide sustainable and predictable funding for education in emergencies, to ensure that education needs in crisis-affected countries, including recruiting and paying teachers regularly, are met.
  • Address the asymmetries of education in emergencies financing and ensure that these funds are not diverted from protracted and forgotten crises, including by providing additional funds for sudden-onset crises.
  • Contribute to addressing the education in emergencies financing gap by supporting the Education Cannot Wait (ECW) replenishment process, aimed to secure at least $1 billion to bridge its funding gap for the period 2023-2026. 
  • Protect education budgets from cuts during emergencies.
  • Ensure the continuity of funding, by strengthening the humanitarian - development nexus and guaranteeing donor engagement.

5. Promote equitable and sustainable inclusion in national education systems for refugees, asylum seekers, returnees, stateless and internally displaced persons by supporting host countries to strengthen their national education systems and make them more inclusive and transformative.

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2020, 82.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced, the highest level ever recorded. Among them, there are nearly 26.4 million refugees (around half of whom are children), and 55 million internally displaced people: 48 million as a result of conflict and violence, and 7 million as results of disasters. The emergencies are becoming increasingly protracted: for example, it is estimated that 15.7 million refugees (76 %) were living in contexts of protracted crisis at the end of 2020. It also must be noted that developing regions shoulder a disproportionately large responsibility for hosting refugees. In 2020, developing countries hosted 86 % of the world’s refugee population, with 6,7 million refugees hosted in Least Developed Countries (27 % of the global number).       

Given the growing number of crises and emergencies and its increasingly protracted nature, humanitarian response and approaches alone, including for education, are not sufficient to support governments in development contexts to fulfil their responsibilities to protect refugees and people in transit. Thus, refugees and displaced people should be included and integrated into the national education systems of the regions where they live. However, these national education systems need to be adequately prepared and capable of meeting the diverse needs of all learners. Particular attention must be paid to finding ways to ensure the right to education of people in transit, who sometimes stay in reception centers for a long time, in the framework of a displacement process that might take years.

However, it must be noted that inclusion on its own can often lead to students experiencing cognitive violence if structural racism within education and racial hostility towards immigrants and refugees as a result of white supremacy is not mitigated at the pedagogical level. Inclusion, more often than not reinforces white supremacy because it ignores the racial barriers to education that hinder the basic right to education for immigrants and refugees, placing the onus for inclusion on them instead of the state or school. The colonial construct of race is used to determine who can be a legal citizen or an illegal immigrant and thus the ideological underpinnings of education systems need to be addressed when thinking about ways to include and integrate refugees into national education systems.

In this context, States must: 

  • Take measures to ensure that host schools have the capacity to ensure that local, displaced and refugee students are fully supported to succeed. This includes education sector plans that make provision for refugee students in terms of curricula, teacher training and school infrastructure, as well as support programs focused on language acquisition and hiring of refugee/support teachers, among others. Finally, there is a need for a global and regional framework for recognition of teacher qualifications.
  • Develop national education policies with provisions for local, displaced and refugee people to have the same educational opportunities as the people from hosting communities.
  • Reinforce national education systems so that these are able to effectively implement the national education policies indicated above, and meet the specific needs of local, displaced and refugee communities. Also, clear ways must be established to include, recognize and accredit refugee schools wherever these exist.
  • Address the specific learning needs of refugee children, youth and adults, in order for them to join and remain in national education systems, specifically focusing on early childhood care, adult education programs and lifelong learning opportunities. This includes safe schools, innovative teaching and learning methods, including digital teaching and online education; also, language needs and accelerated education delivery methods need to receive particular attention in these specific contexts. When online education or distance learning methods are employed, it is crucial to ensure that all people have inclusive, free access, including technology, training, and ongoing support.
  • Support refugee hosting countries to develop and fund national education laws, policies and planning aimed at expanding and enhancing the quality and inclusiveness of their national education and lifelong learning systems, in order to protect the right to quality, transformative, inclusive and equitable education for local, displaced and refugee communities. 
  • Take specific measures to guarantee that education systems are also prepared to receive learners that have migrated and return to their countries of origin, ensuring that their particular needs are met, particularly in the case of adult learners.

6. Ensure that girls and women have equal opportunities to fulfill their right to education in emergency contexts and apply a gender perspective in the planning, budgeting and implementation of emergency response plans.

Both boys and girls face specific risks in contexts of crises. However, girls are particularly affected and likely to face numerous pressures, including being subject to violence and harassment. Adolescent girls in particular are at risk of early marriage due to violence, conflict, and financial hardship. Moreover, when gender intersects with other vulnerability factors, such as disability, access to and retention in education in crisis context can become even more difficult, especially when girls reach puberty. This also has an impact on their right to education: girls are more likely than boys to be out of school in emergency contexts. The pandemic has exacerbated existing gender inequalities in education in emergencies and, based on evidence from previous crises, estimates are that losing even six months of education due to COVID-19 will have a proportionally greater impact on girls than on boys. Missing out on school does long-term damage, and it affects girls disproportionately so that up to 20 million girls, particularly adolescent girls, are at risk of permanently dropping out of school in the next year. If current trends continue, 12.5 million girls will be prevented from completing their education each year due to climate change as a contributing factor by 2025.

In this context, all actors involved must:

  • Embed a feminist perspective in education sector plans, including education in emergencies, as well as in the implementation, budgeting, monitoring and assessment of these plans.
  • Put in place measures that promote female participation in education in emergencies, including training and recruitment of female teachers; safely managed WASH facilities, including appropriate menstrual hygiene management facilities for girls and equitable representation in all decision-making and leadership.
  • Ensure that educational policies and programs take into account intersectionality, including in planning and budgeting, and ensure participation of publics concerned so that their needs and expectations are well taken into account.

States, in particular, must: 

  • Put in place measures to mitigate girls’ exposure to violence and harassment, for example by reducing the distance they travel to school and ensuring their safety on the way to and from school ; ensuring that clear referral systems are in place, on order to link those to child protection systems and ensure they are well known within the education sector; and training education stakeholders on gender issues. 
  • Put in place support mechanisms to allow pregnant girls and young mothers to complete their education. 
  • Protect and defend the right to education for all girls and women, education that does not perpetuate problematic patriarchal beliefs and norms, from a gender perspective that also acknowledges the issue of gender identity and sexual orientation.

7. Ensure that learners with disabilities have equal opportunities to fulfill their right to education in emergency contexts and apply an inclusive education perspective in the planning, budgeting, and implementation of emergency response plans; including collecting disaggregated data which will provide a better understanding of the needs of learners with disabilities and help to make future implementation decisions that are inclusive for all.

Learners with disabilities are among the most vulnerable, facing multiple forms of exclusion in education and are less likely to attend and complete school than their non-disabled peers. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the barriers and systemic inequalities that learners with disabilities face. We know the world is better off when children with disabilities are included, in school, and reaching their full potential. To realize this vision, particularly in emergency settings, States, donors, development, and humanitarian actors should enhance disability inclusion in legislative and institutional frameworks, programming and service delivery in order to achieve SDG4 in order to truly uphold the right to education for all.

In this context: 

  • All actors must make emergency response plans and recovery fully inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities, including plans related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Inclusion must be mainstreamed across all Disaster Risk Reduction and humanitarian sectors.
  • Commitments in the Charter for ‘Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action’ must be implemented, particularly engagement of OPD in all stages.
  • Humanitarian and development actors should work with Member States to (re)build Education Management Information Systems (EMIS) that assess disability inclusion in education and at school, as well as to improve the measurement of learning outcomes, particularly in emergency settings.
  • To disaggregate results at the child level, humanitarian and development actors should collect data on all disabilities by increasingly leveraging the Washington Group/UNICEF Child Functioning Module.

8. Ensure the availability of adequately trained teachers in emergency contexts, by improving their remuneration, incentives and support.

The delivery of quality education in crisis affected contexts requires the deployment of trained, qualified and well remunerated teachers and educators. Qualification is particularly important in emergency contexts, as teachers should be adequately prepared to address the psychosocial and social and emotional, as well as learning needs of children and young people living in these contexts, including children and youth with disabilities. Also, it must be ensured that teachers and educators receive the support they need in situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, when they were left on their own in adapting their teaching to the situation created by the pandemic, especially in the most fragile contexts.

In this context, States must:

  • Invest in having empowered, adequately recruited and remunerated, motivated and professionally qualified teachers and educators, which requires well resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems.
  • Invest in ensuring that both teachers and learners in emergency contexts have their psychosocial, social and emotional needs met, ensuring clear referral pathways to access that support, in the framework of long-term approaches.
  • Ensure the training and continuous professional development of teachers and educators, including migrants, refugee and internally displaced educators.
  • Ensure that there are clear systems for fair teachers’ and educators’ remuneration, ensuring that all educators are paid in line with the same and adequate standards. Migrant and refugee teachers should have the same remuneration and working conditions as local teachers.
  • Ensure that teachers and educators have safe, healthy and well-resourced working conditions, particularly in emergency contexts.
  • Ensure that teachers and educators working in emergency contexts are adequately supported to deliver their teaching and have access to psychosocial support.

9. Endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration and ensure that all learners and educators can learn and teach in safety.

  • States must endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration (2015), and follow its recommendations to protect education from violence and attack. Governments should specifically take responsibility in making access to education safe as well as ensuring perpetrators are arrested, prosecuted, and severely punished.
  • The United Nations and its agencies, governments, as well as other education stakeholders, should develop and implement robust mechanisms for monitoring and timeously responding to attacks on schools and other education institutions.

10. Promote transformative education, ensure that education promotes peace and social cohesion, and incorporate psychosocial support and social and emotional learning approaches into education responses.

  • States must develop and implement campaigns against racism, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance that affect the wellbeing and living conditions of migrants and displaced people.
  • States must draw on the power of education for promoting critical thinking and reflection on the structural causes of crises and the ways and proposals to overcome them, putting rights, dignity and solidarity at the center.

The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.