The UN Secretary-General’s Report, One Humanity: Shared Responsibility, was released yesterday for the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul this May. It contains calls for reform in humanitarian aid architecture that could change lives for millions if taken at their word.
The writing also dedicates two sections to education, giving it some of the prominence we might hope for, raising expectations in advance of the Summit. In particular, it underlines the following ‘Core Responsibilities’:
- Commit to ensure safe, quality and inclusive access to primary and secondary education and vocational opportunities in and after crises, including for children and youth with disabilities.
- Provide primary, secondary and vocational education and certification for those living in displacement, in line with national qualifications and standards.
- Provide sufficient domestic and international funding to enable all children and adolescents to receive education and vocational training opportunities, including in crisis settings.
Education’s presence is also heard in the call for the military to stop using and targeting schools and other critical civilian infrastructure. And a further responsibility includes eradicating sexual and gender-based violence, which, as we showed in a policy paper last year, is frequently school-based, and amplified in communities in which poverty and conflict are pervasive. Military use and targeting of schools and school-based sexual violence have clear detrimental effects on children’s and adolescent’s attendance and learning.
The Report has a strong focus on displaced populations and calls for “an appropriate international framework, national legislation and regional cooperation frameworks by 2025 to ensure countries … are prepared to receive and protect those displaced across borders without refugee status”. The discussion emphasises the need to support host countries and communities, providing long-term and predictable international, political and financial support, including for education.
The emphasis no doubt falls particularly sharply on leaders at present grappling with how and whether to incorporate the new wave of refugees arriving at their borders today. “Leaders must look beyond national interests and focus more on the interests of our common humanity” says the UN SG, delivering clear instructions on his opinion.
“Invest in humanity”, we are told, and ‘transcend the humanitarian- development divide’. Mirroring one of our own calls made last year, there is welcome push for far better needs assessment data on the ground. There is also a repeated suggestion of a new financing platform to “address protracted crises and ensure predictable and adequate resourcing of collective outcomes in protracted and fragile situations” with a starting base of $5-7 billion.
‘Invest in stability’ and ‘according to risk’, it continues: “Set a target to substantially increase the percentage of aid budgets allocated to fragile situations, including for strengthening national and local peaceful and inclusive institutions sustainably until 2030”. Education, as many of us know, plays a key role in creating equitable and sustainable societies, impacting on peace, and ultimately our planet’s future. This is a critical issue addressed in the 2016 GEM Report due out this September. We will be laying out the best evidence-based arguments for the potential of education to be one of the strongest “peaceful and inclusive institutions’ there is. We will revert back to the target set at May’s Summit with this evidence, and hope to turn heads.
Overall, the SG’s report contains many promising murmurs, and should pave the way for better coordination if the multi-layered suggestions are taken into account. However, it remains to be seen whether better coordination, and even additional funds might bring better financing for education. While the topic is given space in the SG’s Report, we know that in practice education is frequently shelved in favour of other sectors seen as being more of a front-line response.
In 2012, the education community began to advocate strongly for the percentage of total humanitarian aid earmarked for education to increase to at least 4% from the 1-2% it currently receives. The world has remained far from this target. Even if met, it may not have necessarily taken us closer to guaranteeing education for those in crisis settings. Our analysis last year showed that, had the 4% target been met in 2013, it would still have left 15.5 million children and youth without any education humanitarian assistance. Perhaps the time has come for an indicator that focuses on a result. It is a shame, for example, that the target written into the synthesis report for the global consultation run in advance of the WHS, ‘No one should miss a month of schooling due to conflict or disaster’ did not make it into the final text.
What we must celebrate, however, is that the Report is coloured by the broader sustainable development principle to ‘leave no-one behind’. In many ways, as the Report’s summary says itself, the World Humanitarian Summit is the first test of the real universality of the new Agenda.
But it is a test that moves beyond what countries signed up to less than six months ago. It adds a level of ambition to the Sustainable Development Agenda. Without this added layer, to talk of universality would mean nothing; for years now the GEM Report has been showing that students in conflict-affected settings face harsh conditions and many overlapping disadvantages. It remains to see what happens in May, but the Secretary-General gets us off to a hopeful start.