– Refugee youth advocate, Mary Maker, called on UN member states to honor their commitments to transform education from the foundation up to the top, starting with those living in the direst and fraught circumstances.
Maker, a South Sudanese refugee who fled her country and found hope while attending a school in Kukuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, chaired a session called “Education in Crisis Situations – A Partnership for Transformative Actions for Learners” on the final day of the Transforming Education Summit (TES).
The session focused on education and learning in crises and the forced displacement that often results from these situations.
“I am really excited about this session because this is my story. This is the story of so many other refugees,” Maker, who also supports the UNHCR, said. “And as we’ve conversed over the last few days, I hope that this Call to Action becomes actually something we can implement after this session.”
She spoke on the significance of the session, “given the increased displacement around the world, and the added need for collective effort to transform the provision and financing of quality education.”
Member states affirmed their commitment to transforming education on the third and final day of the Transforming Education Summit. The TES Leaders Day, September 19, was dedicated to the Heads of State and Government to present their National State of Commitment to the summit’s goals in Leader Roundtables. Concurrently, thematic sessions were hosted with the intent of cross-cutting priorities for transforming education and reaffirming commitments and plans for action from multiple stakeholders, including world governments, UN partners, and civil society organizations.
The session launched “Education in Crisis: A Call to Action,” a commitment to transform education systems so that they can prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from crises and so that all crisis-affected children have access to continuous, inclusive, and safe learning opportunities. The Call to Action asks countries, multilateral organizations, civil society groups, and education partners to work toward the agreement by improving education access and learning outcomes in equality and inclusivity; protecting and improving external financing; working together to build resilient education systems in the spirit of international cooperation; to scale and mainstream high-impact and evidence-based interventions into policy and programme efforts.
“This Commitment to Action is the result of extensive consultations with over 45 crisis-affected countries from five continents, more than 100 civil society organizations, as well as other stakeholders, including youth,” Estefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General UNESCO, said.
UN agencies, represented by its leaders, emphasized the urgency of education in crisis.
Filippo Grandi, High-Commissioner of UNHCR, spoke on the impact of compounding crises, such as climate change, famine, and armed conflict.
“Across all these underlying aspects of crises, forces of crises, you have forced displacement,” he said. “People flee or are obliged to flee their homes because there is fighting. They’re obliged to flee their homes because there is hunger, and they are now increasingly obliged to flee their homes because of climate change. More importantly, all these factors are interlinked.”
He added, “And all these faces of crisis are multipliers for vulnerability…These challenges, or crises as we should see them, challenge education.”
Due to ongoing crises, climate-induced disasters, and forced displacement, 222 million children and youth have experienced disruptions to their education, affecting their learning access or continuity.
“We have reached a historical – a sad historical – number of forcibly displaced peoples, the highest number of peoples since World War II,” said Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), during a panel discussion.
“Despite the enormity of this challenge, we have to reach every one of these, and we have to make sure they have foundational learning,” said Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF.
Appealing directly to Heads of State and Government, Russell asked them to prioritize education, especially its access during times of crisis. “We need your help to deliver domestic and humanitarian funds to education. We need you to help prevent or stop attacks on education. We need your commitment to build resilient education systems so that they can withstand the future shocks that we know for sure are coming. And we need your commitment to safeguard education for the most vulnerable children.”
Member states represented in the session, including Qatar, Ecuador, South Sudan, Pakistan, Norway, Switzerland, the European Commission, and the State of Palestine, affirmed their support of the Commitment to Action, and shared their states’ implementations toward improving access to education.
“We know that education systems must be resilient enough to prevent, prepare, repel, and recover from armed conflict. Our Call to Action will hopefully do that,” said Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, as she closed the spotlight session.
“The alignment between national priorities and international commitments is critical to making education systems more resilient and can ensure the protection of children and their rights, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
This spirit of international cooperation across multiple stakeholders will indeed be critical to transforming education on a fundamental level. In the global conversation, this will be revisited with the ECW High-Level Financing Conference, slated for 16 and 17 February 2023. The conference will take place in Geneva, with co-conveners South Sudan, Niger, Germany, and Norway.