Education in emergencies
Cyclones, earthquakes, floods, conflicts and other emergencies wreak havoc on society and deeply affect children. Fulfilling the right to education is most at risk during such times and during the transition period following a crisis.
Education is not only a basic human right, but a tool for recovery. Past experiences have shown that it not only restores schooling and 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 benefits of education in crisis-stricken and post-crisis societies are far-reaching. During emergencies, children in school can be cared for, accounted for and protected from abduction, recruitment into militias, and sexual and economic exploitation. By reestablishing a daily routine and helping to restore a sense of normalcy, schools become therapeutic spaces in the midst of destruction. They help families get back on their feet by allowing parents breathing space to organize their lives.
If managed effectively, education can also 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. As such, UNICEF considers education an integral part of any humanitarian response to an emergency, equally important as food, shelter, water, sanitation, and healthcare.
UNICEF in Action
In the Eastern and Southern Africa Region (ESAR), a major focus for UNICEF is to strengthen the capacity of governments and other institutions in all 21 countries to prepare for and respond to humanitarian crises. UNICEF and NGO partners have been training hundreds of employees from education ministries on education in emergencies, including building of temporary learning spaces and development of emergency curricula. Based on this, countries have developed localized contingency plans and disaster risk reduction strategies, and incorporated emergency education in their national sector plans and budgets.
Displacement remains a major issue in ESAR with 18 out of the 21 countries currently hosting refugees. To meet the diverse needs of this large and vulnerable group, UNICEF has greatly strengthened and enhanced its partnership with UNHCR to improve education for refugee children, both in terms of access and quality.
Results for children
In Comoros in 2011 and 2012, awareness-raising campaigns for education in emergencies took place for head teachers in public and private schools throughout the country.
In the wake of the Horn of Africa crisis, Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya received a large influx of refugees from neighboring Somalia. UNICEF developed a joint education strategy together with other partners to address the educational needs of children within the camps and host communities. The intervention provided basic education to more than 119,000 children in Dadaab refugee camps and drought affected areas.
Enrolment increases as Somalia’s education system recovers from more than two decades of violence and conflict. In 2011–2012, more than 750,000 children were able to go to schools, a 60 per cent increase from 2006–2007. Current estimates from the most fragile part of Somalia – Central South Zone – suggest that nearly 400,000 children, 45 per cent of them girls, are enrolled in UNICEF-supported schools.
In South Sudan, continued conflict and natural disasters have disrupted the lives and education of many children. In 2012, UNICEF helped to provide temporary learning spaces as well as teaching and learning materials. Key tools for education in emergencies were developed and distributed, including the contextualized INEE Minimum Standards and the Teacher’s Code of Conduct. In addition, UNICEF provided training material to help teachers offer psychosocial support to children, designed an education cluster information management database, and advocated against the occupation of schools by armed forces and displaced populations.
With major funding provided by the Government of Netherlands, more attention is now given to the role of education in peace-building. The intention is to ensure coherent responses, something that embraces emergency preparedness and response, disaster risk reduction, and education for peace-building, in UNICEF’s support to education in ESAR.