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Monday, March 1, 2021
Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait
NEW YORK, Feb 10 2021 - “As we enter 2021, education must be at the core of pandemic response and recovery efforts,” says António Gutteres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his interview with Education Cannot Wait (ECW) for this monthly issue, reminding us that “upholding our pledge to leave no one behind starts with education.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has further impacted the marginalization of girls and boys in contexts already affected by crisis, while wealthier children in stable countries have more easily been able to sustain their learning using remote technologies. However, today, a staggering 2.2 billion children globally, or 2/3 of children and youth under the age of 25, do not have access to internet at home, preventing them from accessing online learning during school closures. Today, only 6% of children in low-income countries have access to internet at home compared to 87% in high income countries, while only 5% of children and young people in West and Central Africa have access to internet compared to 33% globally. These figures reveal the stark reality of the huge digital divide in a long-standing learning crisis.
As a result of COVID-19, the learning crisis is now plunging to new depths. During our ECW mission to Burkina Faso in January 2021, we stood face to face with the naked reality of this learning crisis: teachers without the technology and internet access needed, alongside internally displaced and refugee children and youth with no possibility to access remote learning. Their eyes hollow, their hope fading away.
“Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else,” Leonardo da Vinci once said. Education sits at the very heart of all Sustainable Development Goals. Without an inclusive quality education, the world will also drift further away from achieving gender equality, ending poverty, ensuring decent work and economic growth, and from achieving peace, justice and strong institutions – in both conflict- and crisis-affected countries that need it the most to build back better.
In 2016, well before COVID-19, over 600 million girls and boys, including adolescents, were estimated to not be reaching minimum proficiency levels in reading and math. Pre-COVID-19, an estimated 53% of girls and boys in low- and middle-income countries could not read proficiently by age 10. Today, these figures are growing as countries in crisis are falling into the dark abyss of abandonment by the international community – unless it makes bold and morally courageous moves to show unprecedented solidarity and humanity.
The intensification of armed conflicts and climate-induced disasters, forced displacement and migration will deprive millions of children and youth from accessing their right to a quality education. There were 18.8 million climate-related displacements in 2017. The combined and related effects of climate change and conflict are now causing unprecedented rates of displacement. Before COVID-19, refugee children were already twice as likely to be out of school than non-refugee children. Only 31% of refugee children were enrolled at the secondary level, and just 27% of girls.
“Without resolute political commitment by global leaders, as well as additional resources for Education Cannot Wait, and its UN and civil society partners, millions of girls and boys may never return to school. Investing in the education of these vulnerable children and youth is an investment in peace, prosperity and resilience for generations to come – and a priority for the United Nations,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told Education Cannot Wait in his interview for this newsletter.
Education Cannot Wait, and its UN and civil society partners are investing in their education and we do so together with host governments, local communities, strategic donors, UN and civil society partners and the private sector. In just four years since ECW’s creation, nearly 4 million children have received quality education in some of the most violent wars and most challenging refugee and forced displacement contexts, while another 10 million children benefited from our rapid response to provide remote learning as a result of COVID-19 in 2020.
However, with more funding many more crisis-affected children and youth can be reached. Our biggest challenge is the availability of funds to deliver on the ground through the well-established coordination structure of the United Nations that enables host-governments, local communities, UN agencies and civil society to efficiently mobilize and expand their operations.
It is precisely this coordination structure and collaborative togetherness that have enabled Education Cannot Wait to operate with humanitarian speed in delivering quality, inclusive education across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus through the ‘whole of child-approach’, while giving due consideration to crucial crisis-related factors, such as mental-health and psycho-social services, protection, reaching 60% girls in ECW joint programming and paying special attention to children with disabilities and other marginalized children and youth in emergencies and protracted crisis.
By working through the United Nations’ established coordination structure on both the humanitarian and development sides and bringing these together with our strategic donors, Education Cannot Wait’s investments are implemented through coordination, collaboration and joint programming, wherein each actor contributes with their added value to collective outcomes. In doing so, the New Way of Working is put in action and contributes to real learning outcomes, while reinforcing the Grand Bargain, as local communities are empowered along with national government ministries.
A catalyst and facilitator, the Education Cannot Wait Global Fund offers an example of a rapidly growing and results-driven UN entity (hosted by UNICEF), that has reduced bureaucracy to strengthen accountability in support of multilateral and national efforts under the UN umbrella, where all dots are connected – coming together in a powerful commitment for those left furthest behind.
When realizing that we are ‘stronger together,’ we also become worthy of bringing hope and delivering immediate and sustainable results – or, as the UN Secretary-General António Gutteres concludes his interview with Education Cannot Wait: “We can move from an ‘annus horribilis’ to make 2021 an ‘annus possibilitatis’ – a year of possibility and hope. We must make it happen – together.”
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