|© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1389/Warrick Page|
|A man carries his daughter across an expanse of flood water in Digri, Sindh Province, Pakistan.|
Wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding: these and other emergencies wreak havoc on society and affect children deeply.
The right to education is most at risk during emergencies and during the transition period following a crisis. In conflict-affected countries, 28 million children of primary school age were out of school in 2011 – 42 per cent of the world total. Only 79 per cent of young people are literate in conflict-affected poor countries, compared with 93 per cent in other poor countries. Moreover, children living in conflict are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday as children in other poor countries.
UNICEF believes that education can get countries back on track after a crisis. Education is not only a basic human right, it is a tool for recovery. It not only restores schooling and all its related benefits to affected people, it also helps countries transform and rebuild or ‘build back better’ the institutions and systems destroyed during the emergency.
The international community is increasingly aware of the importance of education in countries recovering from crisis and has supported related UNICEF efforts. In late 2006, UNICEF was joined by donors and partners to create Back on Track. This transition fund supports interventions to rebuild education systems, prevent crises from recurring and reduce the fragility of countries making the transition from crisis to normal development.
The benefits of education in post-crisis societies are far-reaching. Emergencies are especially traumatic for children, and schools are safe places for them during and afterward. Children in school can be cared for, accounted for and protected from abduction, recruitment into militias, and sexual and economic exploitation. Schools create a safe environment for psychological and emotional healing. By reestablishing a daily routine and helping to restore a sense of normalcy, schools become therapeutic spaces in the midst of destruction. Through psychosocial programmes, learning and play, schools serve an essential role in the healing process.
Child-friendly spaces also offer care and protection for children and young people, especially those who have lost or who have been separated from their families. With the help of community members who house them, these spaces provide vulnerable children with stability, routine, supportive relationships and emergency educational support, offering a protective environment until they are ready to return to the classroom.
Once education is restored, it provides the knowledge and skills necessary for surviving crises. Education empowers children by disseminating information about landmine safety, HIV prevention, basic hygiene, health care, conflict resolution and peace-building. By extension, education also helps their families and communities. For societies recovering from crisis, education establishes a foundation for development. By caring for children, schools help families get back on their feet and allow parents breathing space to organize their lives.
Building back better
Education also offers seeds of opportunity for the future, or the chance to ‘build back better’. In countries affected by long-term conflict, education can act as a catalyst for peace, encouraging parties that once opposed each other to work together for the sake of their children. In the fragile wake of conflict, societies can create a more inclusive educational system with a curriculum that promotes peace and reconciliation.
Achieving economic growth, political stability and true reconciliation can take a long time. But getting children back to school is a quick win. It yields tangible benefits, jump-starts development and offers prospects of a stable future.