|Children stand outdoors with new exercise books and pencils after a distribution of school supplies at Comboni Primary School in Rumbek, Southern Sudan.|
For most children, ‘back to school’ means that summer vacation is over. But for children in countries ravaged by natural disaster and armed conflict, ‘back to school’ represents something else entirely: a return to normalcy, a safe environment, the possibility of a future.
At UNICEF, we believe that education is critical to getting countries back on track after a crisis. In addition to being a basic human right, education is a fundamental tool for recovery and rebuilding.
In times of disaster, we focus on quickly re-establishing spaces for learning and getting children into school. At the same time, we work to rebuild educational systems and recruit qualified teachers and paraprofessionals.
Back-to-school campaigns are one of our key strategies for accomplishing these goals. These campaigns are intensive advocacy and communication efforts aimed at mobilizing governments, communities, donors and partner organizations. When necessary, we create temporary learning spaces and distribute pre-packaged kits such as ‘school-in-a-box’ kits and other early childhood development and recreation resources.
In addition to jumpstarting education, back-to-school campaigns serve as opportunities to mobilize resources and introduce innovations that will improve the quality of the learning environment over the long term. By promoting stability and rights-based learning, they help strengthen countries’ social fabrics.
In recent years, these campaigns have been implemented with great success in countries including Somalia, Liberia and Uganda.
In Somalia, back-to-school campaigns launched in 2005 targeted households and communities as well as regional and national policymakers. Other components of the campaign included teacher training and the development of alternative primary education programmes for hard-to-reach children.
In 2003 and 2004, the back-to-school campaign in Liberia provided school materials to 2,984 schools and gave short refresher training for 13,000 teachers. This initiative enabled 800,000 children to return to school.
In recent years, multi-phase initiatives – 'Go to School, Back to School, Stay in School' advocacy campaigns – have been implemented in countries such as Uganda with the aim of catalyzing the reconstruction of sustainable education systems.
Crises can bring education to a screeching halt, depriving children of their fundamental right to learn and contributing to an atmosphere of chaos in already traumatized societies. By mobilizing communities and galvanizing resources, back-to-school campaigns help jumpstart education. In the process, they help heal societies, putting them back on the road to more peaceful and prosperous futures.