By Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly, Head of Education Policy & Advocacy at Save the Children UK. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Global Partnership for Education and Chair of the Board’s Strategy & Policy Committee. He is also a member of the Technical Strategy Group overseeing the design of the new common platform for education in emergencies.
Funding, policy change and enhanced protection will be tests for this week’s London conference.
In a few days, representatives from donor governments, regional nations hosting refugees and the UN will arrive in London to agree how to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of people affected by the war in Syria.
Five years since the start of the conflict and there are 13.5 million vulnerable and displaced people inside the country,4.2 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and thousands more are on the move seeking asylum elsewhere.
A key measure of the event’s success will be whether the meeting helps to close the humanitarian funding gap: current funding to the 2015 UN appeals has not even reached last year’s levels and stands at $3.3 billion against an appeal of $8.4 billion. There is no doubt that the international community must do more.
The conference is set to address three pillars: protection, livelihoods and education.
The education dimension of the conflict is massive with 2.1 million children in Syria who are out of school because of the conflict and 1.7 million child refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt whose education has been disrupted because of their displacement.
There is growing pressure on the international community to ensure that everything possible is done so that the children of Syria who have already lost their homes do not face the double jeopardy of losing their education.
The initial response to that pressure is promising: a number of donors and host country governments are exploring a commitment to ensure all children affected by the conflict are in school and learning by the end of the current academic year.
It’s a commitment which will fulfill the basic right of individual children to their education and one which will help prevent to avert the otherwise negative impacts for societies and economies across the region of continued neglect.
Delivering all children in education and learning during the current school year
Twelve international and local non-government organisations have consequently issued a call on conference participants to develop a comprehensive plan for education that delivers on that commitment by:
1. Closing the education funding gap
2. Enacting policies that guarantee access to quality education inside Syria and in host countries
3. Protecting students, teachers and educational facilities from attack
Closing the funding gap
The growing recognition among world leaders that education offers both immediate dignity and enhances the long term prospects of individuals and communities increases the prospect of raising sufficient funding to ensure every child caught up in the conflict has the opportunity to learn. In practice this will mean that donors must commit at least $1.4bn annually to education in Syria and the region.
In the refugee hosting countries this funding needs to be invested in national education systems so that they are better able to accommodate children from Syria. Where the formal system can’t accommodate refugee children the funding should support non-formal programmes, which will be essential if the promise of ensuring all children get to go to school this year.
Guaranteeing children’s access to education
Funding on its own will not deliver immediate access to quality education for refugee children. Money must form part of a compact that delivers changes at the national level designed to ensure that new resources can in fact be spent to scale up educational services.
Although host countries have undoubtedly done their best in the face of exceptional need and demand, they haven’t always been in a position to implement new policies and practices that deliver educational services to refugee populations in a timely manner. This includes, for instance, allowing non-government agencies to provide education when host government schools weren’t able.
Protection of education from attack
In a truly tragic twist schools have become some of the most dangerous places in Syria. Not only are they deliberately targeted, but the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, including in and around schools results in children not going to school.
Since the conflict began, more than 4,200 schools have been damaged, destroyed, militarised or are currently used as shelters by internally displaced people.
National governments and other stakeholders with influence over armed forces and armed groups inside Syria must call for the immediate cessation of attacks against educational facilities, personnel and students, as well as a stop to the military use of such infrastructure.
Participants in the London conference should urge all parties to the conflict to:
- immediately vacate the schools they are using
- ensure that schools are safe for students to return
- issue orders to commanders not to use school buildings or school property – in accordance with the ‘Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict’ – and more generally to abide by international law.
Develop and deliver a plan that embodies these recommendations
On Thursday when refugee hosting countries and donors meet the eyes of Syria refugee children will be peeled, waiting to see if the promise of education will in fact be delivered. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for all those parties to fix the humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the war in Syria and to specifically resolve its educational dimensions.
To do so participants should make a clear commitment to the principles that underpin the three areas that civil society has identified as key to progress. They should launch a plan in which the detailed recommendations set out in Funding, Policy and Protection: delivering a quality education to children affected by conflict in Syria and the region are agreed and ultimately delivered.