This year’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which is launched today, shines a welcome light on the fact that almost half of the world’s 69 million out of school children are caught up in conflict.
Speaking at the London launch of the report, Save the Children International’s Chief Executive Jasmine Whitbread called for the report’s recommendations to be implemented. “Save the Children knows from experience that in humanitarian crises the provision of education to children is almost always slow and inadequate,” she said.
Back in 2006 Save the Children launched a global effort to address that very issue because we knew that nothing short of a sea change in the world’s thinking, funding and doing was necessary if we were going to have any chance of getting those children into school.
Since then we’ve supported over 1 million children to get an education and helped bring public and political attention to the issue. But the hidden crisis in education in conflict-affected states is a global challenge that demands an urgent international response.
There is little funding provided for education during humanitarian crises. In 2009 humanitarian aid for education amounted to just 2% of the total humanitarian aid provided.
Double disadvantage facing education in emergencies
Education in emergencies suffers from a double disadvantage: it accounts for a small share of humanitarian appeals and an even smaller share of the appeals that get funded.
Save the Children has argued for some time that support for education should be no less than 4% of the humanitarian funds spent in response to a specific crisis.
The chronic under-financing behind these figures leaves children in conflict areas out of school at a time when being in school will not only secure their learning, but help protect them from violence and begin to help them heal.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the report exposes the systematic use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon in the ongoing conflict there, of the paltry $25 million requested for education in 2010, less than 15% had been delivered by the middle of last year. There are more than 2 million displaced people in the Congo and large numbers of children in those communities aren’t going to school.
Yet we know that families caught up in conflict put the opportunity for their children to go to school at the top of their priorities.
On countless occasions I’ve seen how displaced communities struggle to start and sustain schools during and after conflicts. I’ve sat with parents who have shared their desperate hope that in the senseless violence going on around them, they can give their children the opportunity to go to school. I’ve also been moved by the steely determination of children themselves to get an education, often against what appear to be the insurmountable odds.
In order to support those hopes, more predictable and sustained humanitarian funding is required and more of it needs to go to education.
However, with the honourable exception of the United Kingdom, spending cuts in donor countries are expected to negatively affect the amount of aid available to tackle poverty, let alone begin to close the gap for education in conflict zones.
As a result we need new and innovative ways to raise the necessary funds.
Cuts in military spending could put more children in school
One potential source of funding that the report identifies is a cut in military spending. 21 of the world’s poorest developing countries spend more on military budgets than primary education – in some cases, much more. Chad, for example, which has some of the world’s worst education indicators, spends four times as much on arms as on primary schools. Pakistan spends seven times as much.
If the countries devoting more to military budgets than to primary education were to cut the former by just 10%, they could put a total of 9.5 million additional children in school – equivalent to a 40% reduction in their combined out-of-school population.
Military spending is also diverting aid resources. Global military spending reached US$1.5 trillion in 2009. If rich countries were to transfer just six days’ worth of military spending to development assistance for basic education, they could close the US$16 billion external financing gap for achieving the Education for All goals, putting all children into school by 2015.
The report makes a compelling case for both developing and donor countries to identify the potential for converting unproductive spending on bombs into productive investment in schools, books and children.
All countries have to respond to security threats. However, lost educational opportunities reinforce the poverty, unemployment and marginalization that drive many conflicts.