By Alison Kentish
NEW YORK/GENEVA, Oct 5 2021 – The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of education globally, but for children in emergencies and protracted crises, its blow has been particularly devastating.
Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the global fund that brings teaching and learning to children and adolescents in emergencies and crises, has said that 2020 was ‘exceptionally challenging.’
ECW released its Annual Results Report, Winning the Human Race today, October 5, World Teachers’ Day.
“The pandemic acted as a risk multiplier, as it not only created new challenges but also amplified existing challenges and risks for the most vulnerable groups, especially girls and children and adolescents with disabilities,” the report stated.
“With COVID-19 upending entire societies and socio-economic systems, 2020 is remembered as a uniquely challenging year in modern history. While close to 90 percent of learners worldwide saw their education disrupted – with nearly one year lost in schooling for one billion children – those who were already marginalized and left furthest behind in crisis contexts are paying a heavier price,” said UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown.
“An entire generation faces irreversible loss. Among them, an estimated 20 million displaced girls, particularly adolescent girls, are at risk of permanently dropping out of school, not only losing the opportunity to learn, but also the protection that education offers against gender-based violence, child marriage, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking.”
For the past nearly 5 years, Education Cannot Wait has worked tirelessly to minimize disruption in learning for close to 5 million children in some of the world’s most dire emergency and crisis zones in countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, and Yemen.
“Without immediate additional significant financial investments to support education in emergencies and protracted crises, entire generations will be lost. COVID-19 has compounded the already existing devastation of conflicts, climate-related disasters, and forced displacement from Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, to the Sahel, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Venezuela – to name but a few of the 38 crises where ECW is working with partners to deliver on the right of every girl and boy to a safe, quality education,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait.
As the world honors teachers at a challenging time for education, the latest ECW report is confirming that the global fund has recruited close to 150,000 teachers to help fill the gaps in education for children in crucial crisis settings.
ECW ensures that the teachers have access to resources and receive training in education in emergencies and protracted crises (EiEPC). The educators are also trained in the provision of mental and psycho-social support, gender, and inclusion.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, ECW acted proactively and decisively. Soon after the World Health Organization’s March 11, 2020 pandemic declaration, ECW initiated 85 grant packages in 32 countries. According to the annual report, ‘US$23.0 million was mobilized from the First Emergency Response (FER) reserve within 21 days, and a further US$22.4 million was approved in July 2020 – a total of US$45.4 million.’
It was the fund’s most rapid disbursement of funds and a concerted effort to protect the world’s children furthest behind. Over 29 million children and adolescents benefitted, with girls making up 51 percent of that figure.
With Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong opportunities for all as a guide, ECW has pivoted through the pandemic; scaling up resources and support for distance-learning amid school closures, promoting COVID-19 protocols, and supplying health and hygiene products.
In some countries, like Afghanistan, home visits ensured that the pandemic did not derail children’s learning.
In Yemen, ECW partner UNICEF donated electronic learning materials to over 330,000 children.
In Iraq, ECW and its partners embraced technology and used applications such as WhatsApp and Viber to communicate, send lessons, and support over 5,000 students.
Children in protracted crises in Afghanistan, Chad, Palestine, and Uganda received health and hygiene lessons, while emergency funds supported a range of continuing education programs.
ECW credits its rapid response and impact during the pandemic to the flexibility of the fund, and the resilience of its partners, communities, and the children and adolescents its serves. However, interrupted education and learning in the face of armed conflicts, forced displacement and climate, and food crises, and a pandemic pushing millions more into poverty, financing will remain a major challenge.
“If we are going to advance in our quest for the human race, our global community must play a pivotal role in making the notion of our ‘shared humanity’ a reality. This means providing these children with at least 12 years of quality education. This is an investment in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, an investment in peace, an investment in our future, and an investment in our universal human rights,” Sherif said.
ECW’s vision is to bring quality and inclusive education to at least two-thirds of children in the world’s most acute and urgent crisis regions.
According to the report, ECW has raised US$828.3 million through the ECW Trust Fund, and with its partners, helped leverage US$1 billion worth of programs aligned with ECW’s Multi-Year Resilience Programmes in close to 18 countries.
The fund has been a lifeline for millions of children in the grips of war, displacement, humanitarian and emergency crises. The fund has proven that even in the world’s worst crisis-affected countries, children and adolescents do not have to be left behind. On the contrary, they should, according to ECW, be the first in line for empowerment and global support.
“Working together with our partners, the scope of our collective achievements is unequivocal: less than 5 years into existence, ECW has demonstrated its proof of concept through concrete results for crisis-affected children and youth. I call on world leaders, the private sector, and our global community to urgently and generously support Education Cannot Wait in reaching the millions of children that are already falling through the cracks,” said Sherif.