Why ‘education cannot wait’…The case for children living in conflict

Female-run SMEs and youth at the heart of AfCFTA
Amos Safo is a Development and Communications Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate.

In January 2023 when the Ghana Government started its domestic debt exchange programme as a condition to receive a US$3billion financial bail-out from the IMF, many stakeholders demanded that the government cut public expenditure. Not surprisingly, some Ghanaians against the free Senior Secondary School (SHS) policy are putting pressure on the government to reconsider the free Secondary School policy, which is believed to be one of the huge expenditure items on the public budget.

On the contrary, an international agenda to increase investments in education, especially in deprived or war-torn countries, across the world is gathering momentum. Two weeks ago, the ‘Education Cannot Wait’ (ECW) project, a consortium of developed countries coordinated by the United Nations, launched its 2023-2026 agenda to advocate on the need for the international community to pay attention to education in war-torn countries. Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is advocating that investing in humanity means that every child and young person affected by crises can still access quality education. “Every girl and boy, whether caught in a violent conflict, climate disaster or forced to flee their home, deserves the chance to pursue their dreams. These children suffer excruciating pain and loss, and endure deprivation and trauma. Education is the key that unlocks the chain that traps them in disempowerment and loss of hope”, the report noted.

Investing in humanity

ECW emphasises that investing in education means investing in humanity. Investing in those left behind is a manifestation of humanity responding to inhumanity. It means investing in a peaceful, prosperous future where everyone accesses their human rights toward the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Globally, 222 million children and young people are affected by the horrors of war, disaster and displacement are desperate to learn. Despite their terrible conditions, these young people dream of a brighter future. According to the report, as many as 78 million out of the 222 million are out of school, and close to 120 million are in school but not achieving minimum proficiency in math or reading. In fact, just one in ten crisis-impacted children attending primary or secondary education are achieving these proficiency standards. ECW projects that US$1.5billion can help governments to provide education to 20 million children and youths in crises. It can also help to catalyse an end to this shocking statistic between 2023 and 2026. Worryingly, the ECW research indicates that responses to education in emergencies and protracted crises are persistently under­funded, and that the funding gap appears to have worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Crisis map

A map of crisis-torn countries, where most of the 222 million children and youths lack basic education includes Sudan, South Sudan, Niger, Nigeria, Burundi, Condo DR, Central Africa Republic, Cameroun, Ethiopia, Chad, Mali, Libya and Burkina Faso. This unfortunate human deprivation should be of interest to Ghana because some West African countries, especially Ghana’s northern neighbour Burkina Faso, is caught in an intractable and internecine political and social instability. Ghana’s version of Burkina Faso is the Bawku chieftaincy conflict which dates to the colonial days and is seeing no end, given a recent escalation of violence. As the war in Bawku continues, children and adolescents are losing their right to education though Ghana may not be officially designated as war-torn or a country in crisis. Therefore, the protagonists in the chieftaincy dispute should have a mindset change. What is more, to the extent that Bawku borders Burkina Faso on the north of Ghana should raise the stakes on the future of the children and youths in the area since the area is becoming volatile by the day. Some of these neglected children and youths could be willing tools for rebels and insurgents to use in planting explosives. Undoubtedly the lack of education and employable skills is the major cause of the internal and external migration of Africa’s youths, with Europe as their preferred destinations.

Access to education

Since Education Cannot Wait was established in 2016, big steps have been taken to improve access to education in emergencies. ECW provides cogent reasons that a quality education will enable children to be empowered to realise their dreams, the dreams of their communities, countries and even the world. They will positively contribute to making the world more prosperous and humane. Without an educa­tion, the reverse will most likely impact us all.

Currently, ECW is reaching almost seven million children and adolescents with quality education in some of the toughest and most complex crises. So far, ECW has offered a proven model by increasing the number of chil­dren and adolescents reached with an inclusive, child-centred, and holistic quality education. During the first few years, ECW reached close to one million children and youths a year. In 2022, ECW reached 3.7 million, bringing the total to seven million girls and boys in less than five years of operations.

ECW’s successes have been drawn from the United Nations Global Fund for Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises, a fund which is focused on delivering education as a development right in humanitarian contexts. Other stakeholders like civil society organisations, host-govern­ments, donor governments, private sector partners, communities, affected teachers, youths and children themselves are being mobilised.

222 Million Dreams

In response to these alarming trends, ECW and its strategic partners have launched the #222 Million Dreams campaign to appeal to world leaders, businesses, foun­dations and high net-worth individuals to provide, at least, US$1.5billion to ECW to implement its 2023-2026 Strategic Plan. ECW notes that millions of vulnerable girls and boys around the world await the collective action of the world. From inside makeshift refugee settlements, dam­aged walls of classrooms and communities destroyed by war, 222 million children and youths still have hope that education will allow them to realise their dreams.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres points out that “around the world, 222 million children are having their education cruelly interrupted. We need governments, businesses, foundations, and individuals to support the vital work of Education Cannot Wait. Deputy Secretary-General of United Nations, Amina J. Mohammed adds that: “I strongly support ECW’s High-Level Financing Conference. ECW is pioneering a new way of working – a partnership approach to invest in the education of children and youths left furthest behind in crisis. I urgently appeal to donors to contribute generously to this critical appeal”.

The Federation of Switzerland and Norway are two countries that have demonstrated commitment to the vision and mission of ECW this far. The President of The Swiss Confederation, Ignazio Cassis, underscores the fact that despite its significance, education in emergencies remains chronically underfunded while needs are growing. “That is why Switzerland is partnering with Education Cannot Wait. We are proud to co-host the Education Cannot Wait High-Level Financing Conference in Geneva, together with Germany, Niger, Norway & South Sudan as co-conveners.”

“The Swiss Confederation is helping efforts to reach those left furthest behind – refugee, internally displaced and crisis-affected children and youths, and their teachers and communities – all of whom are desperately holding on to hope in refugee camps and communities torn by war, forced displacement, climate-induced disasters, and other crises.”  Similarly, Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, Minister of International Development, Norway, says: “Norway is proud to be a co-convener of Education Cannot Wait’s High-Level Financing Conference and the #222Million Dreams Campaign. “Together, we must take action to address the global education crisis”.

Ghana Education Outcome Project

As if on cue, a few weeks ago, the Ghana Government launched the Ghana Education Outcomes Project (GEOP) and the Ghana Accountability for Learning Outcomes Project (GALOP), aimed at ‘improving the quality of education in low performing basic education schools, and to strengthen the education sector equity and accountability in Ghana.

In a bid to make education equitable by bringing children back into the classroom, the Ghana Government is partnering with the Foreign Commonwealth Development Organisation (FCDO). The partnership seeks to improve the quality of education in low-performing basic schools and to strengthen education sector equity and accountability through Ghana Education Outcomes Project.

FCDO is providing US$25.5million through the Global Partnership for Results-Based Approaches Trust Fund (GPRBA-TF) and a counterpart funding of US$4.5million by the Government of Ghana.

GEOP is aimed at identifying and returning 70,000 out-of-school children to the classrooms as well as improving learning outcomes in over 600 GALOP schools in 29 districts across the country. In my view, the number of children out of school could be more than double the estimated figure as long as there are still schools under trees in some parts of the country. Therefore, the Ministry of Education should cast the net wider to ensure every child and young person desiring to return to school or to learn a skill is provided the opportunity.

Under the theme ‘Getting All Children Educated through Support to Schools and Communities”, the intervention is supported by the Word Bank and other donor agencies. In a speech, President Akufo-Addo explained that: “These 70,000, children will be taken through a robust accelerated learning programme (ALP) known as the Complementary Basic Education (CBE), where children would be trained to acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills through this period.

According to him, in the past, Ghana made significant gains in education; and was hopeful this GEOP would boost the development of education. The Education Practice Manager of the World Bank in charge of West and Central Africa, Dr. Scherezad Latif, praised the government and the Education Ministry and its agencies for the demonstration of ownership of GEOP.

By working together through joint programming, we bring humanitarian and development actors together, supporting coordinated responses and investing in collective outcomes. We are designed for complex crises, which allows us to move with humanitarian speed to achieve development depth. Our investments are flexible, efficient, dy­namic, and deliver high impact where it is needed most. For just US$130, we can provide a child with three years of holistic education. This includes continuous access to education facilities, protec­tion and psychosocial services, gender equality, teacher training, learning materials, school feed­ing, tests and exams showing advanced learning outcomes, early childhood education and an array of support that provides whole-of-child solutions to a whole-of-society problem.

As we set in motion our new 2023-2026 Strate­gic Plan, we call on our partners worldwide to urgently mobilise a minimum of US$1.5billion in additional resources, to ensure 20 million children and young people affected by crises – including 12 million girls – receive quality education over the next four years.

We know that investing in education generates tremendous return on investment. For every dollar invested in girls’ education, there will be US$2.80 in return. We also know that investing in education is an investment in peace, stability and prosperity. It’s an investment in stronger economies and an end to hunger and poverty. Indeed, education is our investment in the future. It is our investment in the 21st century and in all the generations to come. Education is an invest­ment in humanity, theirs and our own.

Leave a Reply