Education in emergencies

Education is a lifeline for children in crises.

Three girls in backpacks stand outside a tent school in a makeshift camp in the Syrian Arab Republic.

Wars, epidemics and natural disasters spare no children. More countries are gripped by conflict today than at any time in the past thirty years. Many of these crises span entire childhoods.

In countries affected by emergencies, children lose their loved ones and homes. They lose access to safe drinking water, health care and food. They lose safety and routine. And, without access to education, they risk losing their futures.

Between 2014 and 2018, attacks on education in 87 countries were reported.

An estimated 35 million children around the world have been forcibly displaced. Only half of refugee children attend primary school, and less than a quarter are in secondary school.

Girls are nearly 2.5 times more likely to be out of school in conflict-affected countries compared to girls in other places.

For children who do attend school during emergencies, the quality of education can be low, with an average of 70 pupils per teacher.

A lifeline

For children in emergencies, education is about more than the right to learn.

Schools protect children from the physical dangers around them – including abuse, exploitation and recruitment into armed groups. They provide children with lifesaving food, water, health care and hygiene supplies. And they offer psychosocial support, giving children stability and structure to help them cope with the trauma they experience every day.

Parents and children affected by crisis consistently cite education as a top priority. When children are educated, entire communities benefit.

Education boosts economic growth and reduces poverty and inequality. It increases individuals’ ability to lead a healthy life, participate in society and restore peace and stability.

Still, despite the enormous benefits to children, societies and entire countries, education is often the first service suspended and the last to be restored during crisis. On average, the education sector receives less than 3 per cent of humanitarian aid.

Funding is not the only shortfall. In emergency settings, teaching and staff shortages prevent education systems from meeting children’s many needs. Data gaps hinder decision makers from assessing the situation and responding effectively. And coordination challenges inhibit humanitarian teams from acting as efficiently as needed.

UNICEF’s work to deliver education in emergencies

UNICEF works to provide uninterrupted education for every child affected by humanitarian crisis – especially girls, children with disabilities, internally displaced children, refugees and migrants.

We help children develop skills to cope with the trauma of crisis, and supply them with learning spaces that are safe, child-friendly and equipped with water and sanitation facilities. Our work builds capacity by training teachers, supplying learning materials and supporting Governments to reduce the risk of disaster.

Through all we do, UNICEF strongly advocates for a child’s right to education and a protective learning environment, forging partnerships at the national and global levels to safeguard learning for every child. We also support Governments as they implement the Safe Schools Declaration and Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

With his teacher’s help, a young boy solves a problem at a chalkboard in front of his classmates.
Students work through a problem during class at Kamajiba Primary School in Kasai-Occidental Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Before October 2017, the school had 125 students. Since the return of nearly 246,000 displaced and refugee children, more than 700 students now come here to learn—many in temporary classrooms set up by UNICEF.


Education Uprooted

This advocacy brief discusses ways to provide education for uprooted children, which will require funding, creativity and commitment.

Risk-Informed Education Programming for Resilience: Guidance Note

This guidance note aims to help UNICEF education staff working in humanitarian, transition and development contexts analyze risk and adapt policies and programmes so that education systems are more resilient and all children are in school and learning.

Learning for Peace

This knowledge hub provides resources for peacebuilding, education and advocacy.

Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack produces “Education Under Attack” studies, detailing attacks on schools, universities and their students and staff.

Education Cannot Wait

Explore resources from the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises.

Accelerated Education Working Group

This network provides tools, guidance notes, reports, case studies and multimedia resources on what works best and how to design, adapt and implement Accelerated Education Programmes.

Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector

This site provides research, evidence and guidance on risk-reduction education and comprehensive school safety.