Basic education and gender equality

Emergencies and Post-Crisis Education

© UNICEF/KP03-005/Kent Page
LIBERIA: Children learn maths using the contents of a school-in-a-box. The kit is a ready-made educational solution, packed in an aluminium box that can be used as a blackboard.

In 2004, a series of powerful tsunamis tore across the Indian Ocean, slamming into the coasts of 11 countries and leaving devastation in their wake. Nearly a quarter of a million people were killed, more than one third of them children, and 1.7 million were displaced. The scale of destruction was nearly incomprehensible.

UNICEF immediately jumped into action, working with governmental and other partners to provide emergency supplies and medical care. We also brought provisions for the psychological and emotional rehabilitation of the region’s children. Recreation and school-in-a-box kits aimed to re-establish normalcy and calm amid the chaos.

After the immediate crisis, UNICEF‘s work evolved to planning and supporting long-term restoration. Chief among these efforts was building better and stronger schools.

Our first priority in every crisis – whether a natural disaster such as the tsunami or human-made strife as in Darfur – is always the immediate needs of those who are suffering. We also believe in building back better, turning destruction and trauma into catalysts for a brighter future.

At UNICEF, we aren’t content with simply rebuilding – we want to renew, reinvigorate and revitalize. And we know that a fundamental way to accomplish this is through education.

Education is not only an end in itself, it is part of an ongoing solution. Providing education is a first step in getting countries back on the path to development, a step that can help restore even the most wounded societies. Educational institutions are a repository of a society’s knowledge, values and traditions, which serve to bind people together as they work to improve their country’s future.

As schools are rebuilt and improved, they can become hubs for protective, care and support services, including safe water and sanitation, nutrition, health and recreation. And they provide an opportunity for a society to rediscover itself, to address factors that contributed to disaster in the first place – from faulty construction and lack of preparedness in an earthquake zone to the destructive forces of inequality and discrimination that can precipitate conflict.

UNICEF has a long track record of quick and effective response to emergencies, particularly in re-establishing spaces for learning. Our approach to education is grounded in the rights of the child, which are most at risk during crises and their aftermath.

Experience shows it can take as long as two decades for a conflict-affected country to move through the initial humanitarian relief phase into reconstruction and development. If education is not a priority from the beginning, the chances for an early and sustainable recovery are greatly reduced.

A critical need in post-crisis transitions is building countries’ capacities to develop new and better education systems. Time after time, this investment yields significant dividends by helping today’s traumatized survivors become tomorrow’s strong and capable leaders.



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