Emergencies of all sorts wreak havoc on society and deeply affect children. The right to education is most at risk in situations of emergencies and post-crisis transitions. Half of the world’s out-of-school population (39 million children) live in conflict-affected fragile states. UNICEF believes that education can get countries back on track after a crisis. In addition to being a basic human right, education is a tool for recovery. It not only restores schooling and all its related benefits to affected populations, but also helps countries rebuild the institutions and systems destroyed by natural disasters or conflict.
The international community, increasingly aware of the importance of education in countries recovering from crisis, has been supportive of UNICEF’s efforts in this area. In 2006, initiated with a grant of US$201 million by the Government of the Netherlands, UNICEF was joined by key donors and partners to create the Back on Track programme on education in emergencies and post-crisis transition countries. Back on Track was created to address precarious conditions in countries that cannot access traditional global education funding, often in areas where communities and nations are at a pivotal moment in their history. It supports strategic interventions to help rebuild education systems, often in countries working to make the transition from crisis to normal dev. The benefits of education in post-crisis societies are far-reaching.
Designed to be innovative and pragmatic, the programme seeks to help countries in building capacity and moving towards sector-wide approaches while deepening partnerships with local communities and civil society. These partnerships are intended to help get countries ‘back on track’ and ready them to access international aid frameworks for dev. The core principle of the programme is that by building capacity, these countries will be less likely to slip back into armed conflict or be overwhelmed by the next disaster.
What’s at Stake?
Schools are safe places where children are cared for and accounted for, protected from being abducted, recruited into a militia or sexually or economically exploited. Schools also create an environment for psychological and emotional healing. By re-establishing a daily rhythm and helping to restore a sense of normalcy, schools become therapeutic spaces, creating stability and consistency in the midst of destruction. Whether through psychosocial programmes or through learning and play, schools play an essential role in the healing process.
Once education is restored, it provides knowledge and skills necessary for surviving crises. By disseminating information about landmine safety, HIV prevention, basic hygiene and health care, conflict resolution and peace-building, education empowers children and, by extension, their families and communities. For societies reeling from a crisis, education establishes a foundation for dev.
And by caring for children and providing relief services, schools help families get back on their feet and allow parents breathing space to begin picking up the pieces.
Education – A catalyst for peace and recovery
In addition to being part of basic recovery efforts, education also offers seeds of opportunity for the future, the chance to “build back better than before.” In countries affected by long-term conflict, education can act as a catalyst for peace, forcing once-opposing parties to work together for the sake of their children. In the fragile wake of conflict, societies can create a more inclusive educational system with a curriculum that promotes peace and reconciliation.
While economic growth, political stability and true reconciliation can take a long time to achieve, getting children back to school is a quick win yielding tangible benefits, jump-starting development and offering prospects of a stable future.