Education is a fundamental human right for all children and youth. Education is especially critical for the tens of millions of children and youth affected by conflict and disaster-induced displacement, yet it is often significantly affected in emergency situations. During displacement, community services and normal support mechanisms are disrupted. Children and their families face dangerous and rapidly changing risks. Education can be a protective, life-saving and life sustaining intervention as well as enabling children and youth to contribute to sustainable peace and recovery of their communities upon repatriation/ return, local integration or resettlement. Education is an essential component of a holistic humanitarian response in the first stages of an emergency, through to recovery.
Children Affected by Conflict and Natural Disasters
"Globally, the number of children out-of-school fell from 60 million in 2008 to 57 million in 2011. The benefits of this slow progress have not reached children in conflict-affected countries. They now comprise 50 per cent of children denied an education, up from 42 per cent in 2008. The education of millions more children and youth is disrupted by natural disasters every year. Some 175 million children are expected to be annually affected by natural disasters in the next decade and are likely to experience disruption to their schooling."
Education for All Global Monitoring Report: Policy Paper 10 - Children Still Battling to go to School, UNESCO July 2013.
Education can provide physical protection in a camp setting. When learners are in safe learning environments, they are less likely to be exposed to exploitation and other risks, such as gender-based violence, forced or early marriage or recruitment into armed forces. Education can not only keep children safe within the learning space itself, but can also teach them about new dangers, such as landmines, and how to protect themselves and stay safe in the camp.
In displacement situations, children and their communities often prioritise education. Education mitigates the psychosocial impact for children of conflict, disaster and displacement. Going to school, and participating in learning with friends and trusted adults, is an activity that helps children and their families regain a sense of routine, stability and structure in a setting which is often chaotic and disorientating.
Voice From the Field - Communities Prioritise Education
“We had to leave behind all of our possessions. The only thing we could bring with us is what we have in our heads, what we have been taught – our education. Education is the only thing that cannot be taken from us.” Female refugee, Sudan, 2004.
“How does a young person acquire the skills to develop informed opinions or views on the hardships that refugees and internally displaced persons face daily? How does the community find its voice? Education gives a person a voice. Young people want education so that their voices can be heard. Education lays the basis for social and economic freedom to be achieved. As a young person, this only means, we want to be free!” Young female Ethiopian refugee, 2010.
Education activities in a camp setting can also act as an entry point for the provision of other key services, particularly those aimed at children, youth and their caregivers. Protection, nutrition, water and sanitation and health services can all work through learning spaces, ensuring the safety of children, providing key information and monitoring children’s well being.
Education can also contribute to the social, economic and political stability of communities in camp situations. In the short-term, education can support conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts. In the medium to long-term, education can be a vital part of a durable solution for displaced communities, providing them with the knowledge and skills to contribute to the recovery of their societies.
Education can’t wait. In emergency situations, Camp Management Agencies are responsible for a large number of tasks and must respond quickly to a range of urgent issues. This has often led to deprioritisation of education as a service not perceived as essential during an acute emergency phase in the first days and weeks of displacement. However, education has a critical role to play in keeping children and young people safe and can be a key entry point for reaching some of the most vulnerable members of a displaced community. It must not be delayed.
Children Born and Growing Up Amid Crises
The average length of a refugee or internally displaced person (IDP) displacement is now approaching 20 years, according to the University of Oxford's Refugee Studies Centre. This means generations of children are born and grow up as refugees or IDPs, many in camp contexts. Education cannot wait for a crisis to end but has to begin as soon as displacement occurs.
Do No Harm is a central principle of all humanitarians. Quality education can support children and their communities and facilitate the provision of other key humanitarian services. However, the Camp Management Agency should also be aware of the potential harm resulting from poor quality education, discriminatory practices, physical punishment or even sexual abuse. Teachers who have not been trained in key child protection principles may abuse their power and enter into sexual relations with their students. Education can contribute to conflict and reinforce inequalities and social injustice by denying access to school for some groups or by using biased teaching practices or curricula. A learning space which is built in a location that forces children to walk through dangerous areas or exposes them to risks can lead to low school attendance and dropouts or, at worst, cause injury or death. It is therefore essential that the Camp Management Agency reviews the good practice standards laid out in the INEE Minimum Standards and works with the affected community, national authorities and education service providers to continuously monitor the quality of education programmes offered in camps.