Education on the Frontline. By Irina Bokova.
Article by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO for Global Education Magazine
“Education on the Frontline”
Official photo, Director-General, Irina Bokova
There are today 28 million primary school-age children, and as many or more young people, living in conflict areas and denied the chance to learn. This is more than half of the total children out of school, living in countries that feature the deepest gender inequalities, the lowest literacy levels and some of the highest child death rates in the world.
UNESCO has defined this as a “hidden crisis” – this was the title of our 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report. This is a human rights crisis and a long- term development disaster. What is more, education is often the first budget line cut by governments facing conflict. Twenty-one developing countries currently spend more on arms than on primary schools. At the same time, education accounts for only 2 percent of humanitarian aid. No sector has a smaller share of humanitarian appeals actually funded. Far too often, education falls in the cracks between humanitarian aid and development assistance.
The stakes are high. Education is the best, long-term way to break cycles of violence and to set communities on the path to peace. It is a basic human right and a core ingredient of sustainable growth. Quality education for all lies at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals we are determined to reach by 2015. We need today to redouble our efforts to protect the human rights and dignity of the most vulnerable groups of children in the world – those living in conflict situations and fragile states.
Alongside our partners, UNESCO is working to protect the right to education in all situations. This starts by mapping the challenge – through, for instance, the “Education under Attack” studies, undertaken with the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, and our 2011 Global Monitoring Report. We have identified four systemic failures that must be addressed:
Failures of protection: governments must strengthen monitoring and reporting on human rights violations affecting education.
Failures of provision: there must be a change in the humanitarian mindset, because education is not a priority today when it comes to reacting to emergencies.
Failures of reconstruction: donors must break down the artificial divide between humanitarian and long-term aid.
Failures of peacebuilding: we need to integrate education into wider peacebuilding strategies, to unlock education’s potential to nurture peace.
UNESCO is working across the world to help countries rebuild their education systems and ensure they are inclusive and geared to promoting peace and reconciliation. We place a strong focus on girls and women. In Afghanistan, UNESCO leads the country’s largest education programme, reaching some 600,000 learners in 18 provinces. Our Enhancement for Literacy programme has touched some 55,000 Afghan women, with a powerful ripple effect across communities. In Iraq, our Literacy Initiative for Empowerment programme, with support from Qatar, aims to reach 5 million vulnerable illiterates by 2015.
In November 2012, UNESCO became a strategic partner of the new Educate a Child initiative of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, First Lady of Qatar and UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education. This focuses on reaching vulnerable out-of-school children in Iraq.
In Jordan, UNESCO is supporting the government in addressing the educational challenges affecting Syrian refugees. In Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, UNESCO runs the education programme of the United Nations Reliefand Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), operating nearly 700 schools and three teacher training institutions. In Chad and Burkina Faso, UNESCO has partnered with UNICEF to develop training programmes to help education ministries integrate conflict and disaster risk reduction into sector plans.
South Sudan illustrates the range of UNESCO’s action. We are working with the government to strengthen the educational system, to build the capacity of central and state ministries and to train new teachers. We are reviewing new curriculum frameworks for primary and secondary education, with a focus on peace, human rights, gender equity and life skills. With UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Forest Whitaker, and the Peace Earth Foundation, we have launched a ‘Youth Peacemaker Network’, to train young women and men in peace building and promote their civic engagement throughout the new country. UNESCO is helping also to provide non-formal peace education to ex-combatants as part of the wider demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration programme. All of this is essential for a smooth transition from conflict and to prevent a return to violence.
We must do much more to integrate education from the start into all peacebuilding efforts. It must not be bolted on as an afterthought, as is often the case. Education and peacebuilding must also be more tightly linked with longer-term development.
The adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1998 in July 2011, a few months after the publication of the UNESCO Education For All Global Monitoring Report, is a milestone that reinforces the international community’s right to name, shame and develop specific action plans. The Resolution widens the trigger of the UN Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on Children and Armed Conflict to include attacks on schools and hospitals. This will enable the UN to better address grave violations of the right to education in conflict situations. To implement the Resolution, we must develop technical guidelines for monitoring and reporting attacks on schools, and UNESCO is committed to lead this work.
The stakes are high. Conflict and fragility are barriers to achieving Education for All, whose objectives are vital for reaching the Millennium Development Goals. Education must rise to the top of the global development agenda – this is the goal of Education First, the new global initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, launched in September 2012. UNESCO is steering forward this initiative, which focuses on three priorities — putting every girl and boy in school, improving quality and fostering global citizenship. For UNESCO, peace and human rights education are starting points for global citizenship education. UNESCO is working with countries across the world, notably in Sub-Saharan Africa, to integrate peace and human rights education into education systems.
Education lies on the frontline of conflict today; it must be at the forefront of building peace. We are not there yet. Governments, aid donors and the international community must all take concrete steps now to protect children and schools, to provide education in emergencies, to reconstruct education swiftly after conflict, and to tap education’s power to foster peace. The promise of education must be real for all children, no matter their circumstances. This is essential for open societies, for sustainable development and for lasting peace.