Education in emergencies

As global crises increase and prolong, children need education to hold on to their futures.

Wars, conflicts and natural disasters spare no children. In fact, children suffer the most. In countries affected by emergencies, children often lose their homes, family members, friends, safety and routine.

Without access to education, they are at risk of losing their futures.

Over the past half century, the world has seen a rising number of crises stemming from conflict, natural disasters and epidemics. Worse, many crises are prolonged, spanning entire childhoods and persisting for generations. When they disrupt schooling, it not only undermines children’s present well-being, but also puts their futures – and those of their societies – in jeopardy.

A group of boys in white shirts study at their desks.
In Tabuga, Manabi, Ecuador, about 285 children study. After the 2016 earthquake, these students are able to continue their studies in these tents installed by UNICEF.


The numbers on education in emergencies:


1 in 4 of world’s out-of-school children live in crises-affected countries
In 35 crisis-affected countries, humanitarian emergencies and protracted crises disrupted the education of 75 million children between the ages of 3 and 18.
Over 17 million school-aged children in those countries are refugees, displaced within or outside their countries, and of these, only half attend primary school, while less than a quarter are in secondary school.
For children who attend school during emergencies, the quality of education can be low, with an average of 70 pupils per teacher, who are often unqualified.
Girls in conflict-affected settings are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys


Education is a lifeline for children in crisis

For children in emergencies, education is lifesaving. Schools give children stability and structure to help cope with the trauma they have experienced.  Schools can protect children from the physical dangers around them, including abuse, exploitation and recruitment into armed groups. In many cases, schools also provide children with other lifesaving interventions, such as food, water, sanitation and health.

Parents and children affected by crisis consistently name education as one of their top priorities. Because when children get an education, despite circumstances, whole societies benefit: education can boost economic growth, reduce poverty and inequality. Education also contributes to restoring peace and stability.

Despite the enormous benefits to children, education is often the first service suspended and the last service restored in crisis-affected communities.

Education accounts for less than 2 per cent of total humanitarian aid.

Funding is not the only thing that falls short: There are not enough trained staff to meet children’s educational needs in emergencies, not enough data to get an accurate picture of the situation, and not enough coordination among all the actors involved in humanitarian response.

A young girl stands in front of a bombed-out building
Anna, 12 years old, stands in front of a school canteen which was totally destroyed by shelling in 2014. The shelling also damaged school gym and kitchen, which now require full renovation.


UNICEF’s work in emergencies

UNICEF works to deliver uninterrupted learning for every child affected by humanitarian crises.

We work to provide learning spaces that are safe, available, suitable for children and equipped with water and sanitation facilities. We work to make sure that while in school, children can learn, despite their circumstances. We provide teachers with training and learning materials. We help children develop skills to deal with disaster as well as reduce risk exposure.  We work with teachers, parents and the community to assure that children get the care and love they need in these circumstances. We work with governments to include disaster risk reduction programmes in their planning.

UNICEF strongly advocates for the right to education and protecting education.

We call for protective learning environments and support governments as they endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration and Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

We carry out much of our work through global and national partnerships . Read about UNICEF’s partnership with the Education Cannot Wait.

A group of boys happily crowded around a table in class.
Students from St Luke’s Primary, Pointe Michel, Dominica, enjoy their lessons in a temporary learning space. After Hurricane Maria damaged 90% of school buildings in 2017, the education sector has largely returned to normality.

Learning for Peace

‘Learning for Peace’ is a global education and advocacy initiative to develop social cohesion, resilience, and security by strengthening educational practices and policies in conflict-affected contexts. This initiative is a partnership between UNICEF, the Government of the Netherlands, governments of 14 other countries and key supporters. 

Learning for Peace works to:

  • Increase education in peacebuilding and conflict-reduction policies, analyses and implementation.
  • Increase institutional capacities to provide conflict-sensitive education.  
  • Train children, parents, teachers and other duty bearers to prevent, reduce and cope with conflict and to promote peace.  
  • Increase access to quality and relevant conflict-sensitive education that contributes to peace.  
  • Contribute to the generation and use of evidence and knowledge in policies and programming related to education, conflict and peacebuilding.

Globally, 14 countries have participated.


Related sources

Learning for Peace Advocacy Brief - English | French

For more UNICEF Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy resources, please visit: USAID ECCN webpage.