Development & Aid, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here

Education Cannot Wait Interviews EU Commissioners Jutta Urpilainen & Janez Lenarčič

Aug 17 2020 - The European Commission (EC) is one of the founders of Education Cannot Wait, which was established at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 and aims at increasing funding and efficiency in delivering quality education to some 75 million children and youth affected by conflicts, natural disasters and forced displacement. EC plays a major role since in advancing education in the humanitarian-development nexus during crisis. Please elaborate on the EC vision in driving education to achieve humanitarian-development coherence and deliver quality education in situations of crisis, for refugees, for girls, and other stakeholders who are left furthest behind.

The Commissioner Lenarčič: Education is an essential part of EU humanitarian assistance. It is a powerful tool to bring positive changes to individuals and to wider society and bring hope for a better and more sustainable future. Schools also protect children from violence and provide food, water, health care and hygiene supplies. They provide children with safe space and help them cope with traumatic experiences.

We need to remember that half of all out-of-school children live in conflict-affected countries. When a child’s education is disrupted by an emergency, there is a high possibility that they will never return to school. Just over half of refugees of primary school age attend school, and less than a quarter of the equivalent age group is in secondary school. We are deeply committed to bringing those girls and boys back into education and ensure their return to safe and quality learning within three months of their education disruption, so they have the rights and opportunities they deserve.

I am an advocate for greater investment in education, and we have set our own target at 10% of EU’s humanitarian aid budget. We support the education system reform to provide for greater quality and resilience, and capacity building of education actors. The protection of education against attacks is another important objective. Education needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner, we take seriously our global responsibilities and contribute to coordinated multi-stakeholder education actions that create added value and enhance impact.

Commissioner Urpilainen: Beyond the initial emergency response, education is and will remain a top priority for EU development assistance, particularly for children living in fragile contexts.

Strengthening education systems is at the core of our development programmes. We work through long-term partnerships with national governments to expand education services, to re-build infrastructure destroyed by disasters, and to strengthen the resilience of education systems to withstand future shocks. We improve governance systems to ensure that education services are equitably distributed, staff are paid regularly, and finances are managed efficiently.

In 2018, the European Commission produced a Communication on Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises, which sets out our vision of shared responsibility. We use the term ‘nexus’ to describe the shared space of humanitarian, development and political instruments to achieve education for all. Within the European Commission, and among EU Member States, we have the different tools needed to address these different needs.

1- You jointly visited Burkina Faso earlier this year to assess the ongoing crisis. What were your main takeaways from the trip? What left you feeling hopeful about the work we are doing and the role of education in protracted crisis to achieve peace, stability and sustainable development?

Commissioner Urpilainen:

I was deeply impressed by the resilience of the families I met. Long-term poverty, poor infrastructure and weak social services have prevailed for many years. The current security and forced displacement crisis is worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. These crises risk undermining the education gains made in Burkina Faso in recent years, in terms of access to education and the quality of teaching and learning.

The national education system in Burkina Faso has significant development needs to improve the infrastructure, system management and quality of education. Girls are more likely to be out of school, and some 52% of girls are subject to early marriage.

During the visit I had an opportunity to talk with Burkinabe youth who emphasised the importance of accessibility in vocational education and training (VET). This point was raised also by President Kaboré in our meeting. Skills acquired through quality training help support smooth transition to labour market. In the long term, skilled labour force is a key element of sustainable economic growth and stability.

Commissioner Lenarčič: Unfortunately, hundreds of schools have been closed in Burkina even before COVID-19 pandemic. Many have been under attack, affecting thousands of children and teachers. Out-of-school and vulnerable girls and boys face violence and exploitation, including gender-based sexual violence, child labour and forced recruitment.

Scaling up and improving humanitarian assistance to Burkina Faso has become an imperative. More, better and faster humanitarian aid requires adequate coordination. Only an integrated approach can ensure communities’ security, the ability to meet their needs and aspirations, and to restore trust.

Education is crucial in this respect. To intensify our efforts, we recently decided to support two large multi-annual partnerships to address broad education and protection needs in the Sahel region with the EU’s humanitarian aid budget.

2- What motivates you to be part of the Education Cannot Wait, and as members of the ECW High-Level Steering Group? What do you hope to achieve through supporting this rapidly growing global fund?

Commissioner Urpilainen: I strongly believe in the power of collective action. Education Cannot Wait was formed to mobilise a collective response to urgent needs in education in emergencies, bringing together traditional and new actors. The European Union was part of ECW’s inception, bringing development funding to allow multi-year, predictable support.

From a development perspective, I place great importance in the Multi-Year Resilience Programming window of the fund, which incentivises humanitarian and development actors to come together in joint response.

Commissioner Lenarčič: Following the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, ECW created an impressive dynamic around the importance of education in emergency contexts. It rallied in an unprecedented way donors from around the world to support initiatives to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality education.

The sense of urgency, strong collective action, enhanced prioritisation and capacity to respond are our shared goals. From the humanitarian perspective, I would like to highlight the First Emergency Response Window. The EU has been strengthening in the past years the work of education clusters and working groups, as well as systematic inclusion of education in the rapid response mechanism. Together, we can continue to be a vocal advocate for the strengthening of clusters, improving coordination, needs assessments and localisation. We can also better identify and develop innovative approaches and build partnerships at the systemic level.

3- How do your different departments, the DG for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid and the DG for International Cooperation and Development, work together strategically and practically to promote quality education in the humanitarian-development nexus for girls, boys and youth caught in protracted crises?

Commissioner Lenarčič: Working across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus is at the core of our efforts. The first step was to develop a joint policy framework, making sure we have clear, shared objectives and goals. This is provided by the 2018 Communication on Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises, in which we jointly commit to four common goals (access to education, quality education, protection of education, coordination and partnerships). The EU Member States also endorsed this policy framework through Council Conclusions in 2018.

At country level, we have joint planning and review processes. EU Delegation staff and ECHO staff sit together at important moments, such as the formulation of the Humanitarian Implementation Plans (HIP), or the annual reviews of Multiannual Indicative Plans (MIP). Processes are often shared, such as monitoring visits, reviews, planning workshops. There is a regular exchange of information.

Our presence in the field is mutually reinforcing, with humanitarian actors operating in contexts where development instruments are not present, e.g. active conflicts or hard to reach areas.

Commissioner Urpilainen: Our EU Delegations have strong credibility with education ministries, based on years of partnership through budget support, technical assistance and policy dialogue. When appropriate, information from our humanitarian teams can be channelled into policy dialogue with national authorities. This is an effective way of influencing policy dialogue and improving coordination among actors, who may be trying to tackle the same issue from different angles.

Within the ‘nexus’ space we operate in different ways according to our mandates, but we share the same goals. We promote equity and equality, especially gender equality. We focus on the poorest and most vulnerable, striving for inclusive education systems. Peace, tolerance, good governance and non-violence are essential values in all education support.

4-What are the EU’s main priorities for education in emergencies and protracted crises in your new strategy for 2021-2027?

Commissioner Lenarčič: The EU’s policy framework for education in emergencies of 2018 will continue to guide our actions and offering children affected by humanitarian crises access to safe, quality, and accredited education.

Yet, we know that COVID-19 has disrupted education for 1.2 billion learners globally and added a new layer of complexity for education in humanitarian settings, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities.

I am deeply concerned about the most vulnerable children, at risk of never returning to school. If even a small percentage do not return to education, this translates into millions of children. We will strive to forge even closer links between child protection and education and promote integrated and comprehensive approaches to children’s needs.

To build up better education systems, we should focus more on the equity and quality aspects. Innovative, digital-based solutions are key but they should be accompanied with adequate attention to connectivity, skills and knowledge of teachers and caregivers, accelerated education programmes to bridge the education gaps, and development of alternative remote learning channels, such as pre-registered offline content or TV/radio-based teaching.

The scale of needs is unprecedented and requires sustained, timely and coordinated financing. Our key commitment to dedicate 10% of EU’s humanitarian aid budget to education remains for the years to come and will guide our policy, advocacy and funding support.

I was struck by the findings of the recently released report “Education under Attack 2020” by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. Much remains to be done to protect students, educators and personnel and schools from attack. Protection of education will also feature high on my agenda as Commissioner.

Commissioner Urpilainen: The current crisis risks reversing decades of progress towards education for all. We must re-focus attention towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 as education is part of the solution.

I have decided to boost the share of education expenditure in the upcoming EU Development Financing between 2021-2027. As a former teacher, I am convinced that investments in education will bring great returns in terms of human development, poverty eradication and reducing inequalities.

We know how important teachers are. For children caught up in cycles of violence and crisis, a reliable teacher can be the anchor that keeps them on track, helping them find their best future. We will support teachers’ professional development programmes and curriculum reform, so education teachers have the tools needed to provide 21st century skills to children.

Furthermore, qitting in school is not enough. Students need to graduate with strong skills. We are preparing students to live in a new world, to work in jobs that do not exist yet, with technology that has not been invented yet. Strengthening education systems to meet these needs is our main priority over the next seven years.

5- In 2019 and 2020 ECW increased its engagement in the Sahel and the Middle East as two regions in crisis. How do you see ECW making a difference for children’s education, particularly girls in these regions in trouble?

Commissioner Lenarčič: ECW plays a major role in advancing education in the humanitarian-development nexus during crises. ECW has been an important voice, highlighting the dire and worsening situation in the Sahel region and in the Middle East. ECW operates at an impressive speed – we saw this for the COVID-19 First Education Response funding, which reached 26 countries in March.

Furthermore, ECW has a clear targeting – focusing on vulnerable children affected by crises. This combination holds great potential for children in the Sahel and in the Middle East. In these regions, children are affected by multiple crises, often overlapping, and it is the most vulnerable, particularly girls and displaced children, who are left behind. The emphasis that ECW places on girls is much needed, considering for example the huge disparities in gross enrolment rates and literacy levels, e.g. in the Sahel region, girls are on average 17% behind boys.

The weight that ECW has as a donor allows it to push for more integrated actions, understanding that the educational needs of girls and boys cannot find their solutions only in education but require a more holistic view of the multifaceted barriers to education, which is particularly valid for regions like Sahel or the Middle East.

Commissioner Urpilainen: ECW’s plans to start Multi-Year Resilience Programmes throughout the Sahel in 2020 offers much hope. Countries like Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali require medium and long-term planning. The multi-year framework aims to improve coordination and incentivise joint planning and financing.

We are proud to be part of Education Cannot Wait’s drive to improve coordination and joint planning for children affected by crises.

6- The EU/EC plays an instrumental role at the global level and in its partnership with the United Nations, the World Bank and other regional and international and multilateral institutions. How do you see EU/EC’s role in supporting the achievement of all Sustainable Development Goals, not the least Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education, as we face COVID-19 and a continued uncertainty of the future. What can we all do to build back better?

Commissioner Urpilainen: In these extraordinary circumstances, the Sustainable Development Goals and the agenda of ‘leaving no one behind’ are more important than ever.

We need to draw a joint roadmap that considers COVID-19 and we need to harmonise the aid architecture for education. But above all, the education community must come together with a clear message: education is a top priority. Education for all will enable the achievement of the other SDGs, and it is especially in times of crisis that we realise its power.

People on the move take their education and skills with them, helping them to adapt to and thrive in new settings. Educated people are quicker to take up technology solutions to access information, such as health messages or remote learning programmes. Science and technology offer innovative solutions. We depend more than ever on highly skilled healthcare providers and data analysts. Educated agriculturalists can take up new opportunities in green farming.

Commissioner Lenarčič: Furthermore, we need to use our collective voice to speak to the wider global community, to ensure all decision-makers are convinced of the importance and power of education.

The agenda of building back better requires appropriate consideration to equity and quality, and lessons learnt from diversified strategies to address distance learning, especially in low-income countries and in humanitarian contexts. A people-centred approach that focuses on the most vulnerable groups and on people in vulnerable contexts should remain at the heart of our actions.


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