New York, March 2, 2011 – The newly released 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report (GMR) finds that over 40 per cent of the world’s out-of-school children live in conflict affected countries. The comprehensive report details how the humanitarian community is failing to provide critical educational needs to 28 million children around the world.
The report entitled, “The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education,” was launched at Columbia University in New York by a host of international figures including Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002, Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile and Executive Director of the newly established UN Women, Michaëlle Jean, UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti and Former Governor General of Canada, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO and a video address by Graca Machel, Founder and President of the Foundation for Community Development.
Every year the GMR monitors progress towards the Education for All goals to meet the education needs of all children by 2015. This year’s report sets out a comprehensive agenda for change, including tougher action against human rights violations, an overhaul of global aid priorities, strengthened rights for displaced people and more attention to the ways education failures can increase the risk of conflict.
“Armed conflict remains a major roadblock to human development in many parts of the world, yet its impact on education is widely neglected,” said Bokova. “Education lies at the frontline of conflict – it should be at the forefront of building peace.”
The report calls for an end to a culture of impunity surrounding sexual violence, with stronger monitoring of human rights violations affecting education, a more rigorous application of existing international law and the creation of an International Commission on Rape and Sexual Violence backed by the International Criminal Court.
‘Human rights are an Education for All policy issue front and centre,’ said Robinson. “As the nature of armed conflicts change, children are no longer suffering as collateral damage. Children and schools in particular have become a subject of systematic and deliberate attacks.”
“Children are forced to live in a climate of terror,” explained Bachelet. “The 2011 GMR provides a stark reminder that no monitoring or high level resolution is a substitute to delivering protection when it its needed.”
Financing far below the need
Many of the poorest countries spend significantly more on arms than on basic education. Twenty-one countries spend more on the military than on basic education; if they were to cut military spending by just 10 per cent, an additional 9.5 million more children could go to school.
“We have no financial crisis, we have a moral crisis,” said Professor Sachs, noting the failure of the international community to allocate adequate resource to education – a mere 2 per cent of humanitarian aid resources.
Jean echoed the urgency of the crisis facing children who have no access to schooling when speaking of the devastation in her native country.
“Access to education is a matter of life and death for Haiti’s children and youth,” said Jean, who spoke at length on education as the pillar of stable and peaceful nations. “The culture of peace must first be instilled in the hearts and minds of individuals before it can take root in the families, the communities and the institutions of society. Education has the capacity to instill faith in the transformative power of truth and reconciliation.”
The role of UNICEF
UNICEF has a long history of delivering education to children during as well as after conflict and natural disasters. Through generous funding from the Government of the Netherlands, UNICEF initiated a US$ 201 million programme to strengthen access to and quality of education in order to contribute to national stability of emergency and post-crisis transition countries. Since 2007, the Back on Track programme has provided educational opportunities in 41 countries for an estimated 6 million children annually.
One of the recommendations in the report was to enhance the role of UNESCO and UNICEF in peacebuiding initiatives that are seen as a vital component to building resilience against future conflict and helping heal communities after war.
UNICEF is currently undertaking a research study on the role that education can play in peacebuilding and long-term development plans for countries mired by crisis.
Though travelling in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the moment, Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF, addressed the audience via a videotaped message. “Armed conflicts destroy more than lives and buildings, they destroy progress and can defeat potential,” said Lake, underscoring UNICEF’s commitment to education as a pathway to sustainable dev.
While the impact of armed conflict on education has been widely underestimated, it is hoped that with renewed interest government, donors and civil society can now use this report to advocate for its importance in international development efforts.