Climate Change, COVID-19, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Health, Poverty & SDGs

We Must Rise to the Occasion, Now.

NEW YORK, Dec 20 2021 - In 2021, COVID-19 continued to plague the world – a world already burdened by armed conflicts, climate-induced disasters and forced displacement. Communities, nations and people struggled to maintain normalcy in the midst of the abnormal. This was especially notable in the education sector – a sector that is the very foundation for achieving all human rights and all Sustainable Development Goals.

Yasmine Sherif

Countries affected by existing crises also suffered the absence of infrastructure and the omnipresence of extreme poverty, while conflicts raged all around. In 2021, with little, if any means, these countries had to rise to the occasion. Teachers, parents and students sought to protect lifesaving, continued and inclusive quality education for children and youth to sustain hope in the future.

It was a most difficult year for millions of crisis-affected children and adolescents around the world. More children and adolescents were pushed out of school. While we celebrated Human Rights Day a week ago under the theme of “equality”, one can only lament the stark reality: today, over 128 million girls and boys are being denied their basic right to education due to violent conflicts, forced displacement and climate-disasters wreaking havoc around the world.

In recent months, I witnessed firsthand the impact attacks and disruptions in education are having on the human dignity and well-being of children and adolescents caught in crises as diverse as Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, and just a few weeks ago, Cameroon.

In Cameroon, Jan Egeland, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, and I met some of the more than 700,000 children and adolescents affected by deliberate attacks on education and by school closures in the North-West and South-West regions. The Far North region and eastern parts of the country are also impacted by the Lake Chad Basin conflict and the refugee influx from neighboring Central African Republic, respectively.

They reminded us that we all must rise to the occasion, now. Working with our in-country partners in governments, communities, civil society, the United Nations and amongst strategic donors, ECW will launch a Multi-Year Resilience Programme in these three crisis-affected areas of Cameroon in early 2022. With this in mind, we urgently appeal to all ODA, private sector partners and foundations to fully fund this humanitarian life-saving and sustainable development investment in Cameroon and across another 35 crisis-affected countries. In doing so, we need to place the rights of girls upfront.

In Cameroon and elsewhere, I heard tragic stories of despair and lost opportunities, in particular for adolescent girls. As the UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Girls’ Education, Helen Grant, stresses in ECW’s latest interview, when crises hit, girls are more likely than boys to miss out on education. Meanwhile, we know that girls’ education is the foundation to creating healthier and more peaceful, prosperous societies, or as the World Bank states, ensuring all girls’ education will contribute with US$12 trillion to the global economy. Together with all our partners, ECW will continue to put girls at the forefront of all our investments and pursue affirmative action with a target of 60% girls and adolescent girls in all our investments.

Thanks to our partners in civil society, communities, host-governments, strategic donors, the UN system, regional organizations and the World Bank, the Education Cannot Wait community has mobilized $845.3 million in contributions to the ECW Trust Fund and leveraged over $1 billion aligned with ECW’s investments in joint programmes. Our latest Annual Results Report highlights our collective impact in reaching nearly 30 million children and youth in response to COVID-19, and an inclusive, whole-of-child quality education approach for close to 5 million children and adolescents, half of whom are girls.

This has brought us hope. As 2021 draws to a close, our hope was further fueled at the RewirEd Summit 2021, convened by Dubai Cares during Expo 2020 last week. The global education community was on fire. It came together in full force to steer the dramatic shifts needed in education globally. It laid the ground for the United Nations Secretary-General’s Summit on Education in 2022, as well as the development of ECW’s new Strategic Plan in 2022 with an expected funding requirement of $1 billion at minimum.

Indeed, we shall rise to the occasion, again and again. This is what education in emergencies and protracted crisis is all about. To learn from those we serve despite the odds they face: the 128 million crisis-affected girls and boys in the world’s toughest contexts. Every morning they bravely rise up to learn.

Yasmine Sherif is Director,
Education Cannot Wait
The UN Global Fund for Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises

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