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Strategy sessions II.5 > Emergency Situations
World Education Forum
Dakar, Senegal 26-28 April 2000
Education in situations of emergency and crisis
Issues Paper
Strategy Session II.5
Original : English
  1. The World Conference on Education for All (Jomtien, 1990) set challenging targets for the 1990s in order to make swift progress towards providing basic education for all (EFA). The Declaration and the Framework for Action approved by the Conference made only limited reference to education in emergency situations, but conflicts and natural disasters have proved a major barrier to the achievement of EFA. Disasters such as floods, hurricanes and earthquakes have taken a heavy toll of human life and also of educational opportunity, especially when they have struck densely populated areas. Wars and civil strife have left whole nations or large areas of countries in poverty and insecurity, and robbed children, adolescents and adults of any chance to study.
2. A special study commissioned as part of the EFA 2000 Assessment found that displaced population groups and communities affected by emergency situations often make great efforts to restore some access to schooling for their children. In refugee situations, they usually succeed, since host country governments and humanitarian agencies are conscious of their concerns and endeavour to provide the necessary resources. Most refugee camps and settlements have schools, though in some locations they lack textbooks, and teachers often need special training and supervision. Populations displaced within their own country or otherwise suffering from chronic insecurity are less able to access educational services for their children. In such situations, a generation of children may miss out on basic schooling. In post-conflict situations, the reconstruction of education systems is often slow, affecting access to all levels of education, including secondary and tertiary education, which are crucial for developing the skilled workforce needed for post-crisis renewal and national development.
3. Wider aspects of the EFA agenda, such as early childhood development and basic education for adults, have received some attention from organisations, notably NGOs, working for conflict-affected populations. Pre-school initiatives, literacy classes for youth and adults (especially women), and vocational training have been initiated by humanitarian organisations when funds were available. There have been some notable initiatives to provide education and training for children and adults disabled in conflict or later by land mines, and also innovative programmes to educate child soldiers and ex-combatants
4. The study examined some of the new directions in education policy for emergency and post-emergency situations. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child has led to a stronger awareness and emphasis on the child's right to education. This has coincided with the realisation that rapid educational response helps meet the psycho-social needs of displaced children and communities, leading to the idea that in emergency situations, educational and recreational supplies should reach affected communities very quickly, within weeks, rather than many months later. When populations are displaced across national borders, special attention to the curriculum may be needed. The concept of "education for repatriation" has gained currency, and there is an ongoing exploration of ways to ensure the recognition of studies undertaken by refugees while in exile.
5. In line with the Jomtien and Beijing emphases on the education of girls and women, recent interventions in emergency situations have sought to sensitise educators and parents to the importance of girls' education. In some cases, incentives have been provided to help girls attend school, with good results when a multifaceted strategy adapted to local concerns and culture is adopted. While some aspects of such a strategy are cost-free, such as fixing school hours that are convenient for girls, other aspects may require additional funding, for example, to provide sanitary materials and school clothing for older girls, or to provide nurseries and pre-schools to free older girls from child care duties so they can attend school.
6. The wide variation in the quality of education offered in emergency situations reflects uncertainty among supporting agencies about standards for the provision of educational materials, in-service teacher training, non-formal education, etc. Appropriate standards of resourcing should be defined, and then respected by implementing and funding agencies, with clear reporting of unmet needs.
7. The new information technologies could be more widely and effectively used, especially in situations of chronic instability or when education systems are disrupted or being rebuilt. Innovative radio programmes, such as New Home, New Life for Afghan refugees, represent a step forward in providing education to dispersed population groups. New international initiatives using electronic and satellite communication technologies could serve as vehicles for providing educational services to crisis-affected and post-conflict areas.
8. Education programmes for populations affected by natural disasters or war must be adapted to the special needs of these populations. The Machel Report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children has led to a greater awareness of the psycho-social needs of students and of the importance of providing education about land mines and the skills needed for peace. The devastation caused by HIV/AIDS has added a new dimension to the education agenda for emergencies, since the disease is almost certainly more prevalent in populations where family life is disrupted and where rape may have been a weapon of war.
9. The study bases its recommendations on the fundamental need to acknowledge the right to education even under conditions of emergency. A systematic advocacy effort is needed to make clear that human rights instruments and humanitarian law demand both the protection of children from abuse and under-age recruitment into military groups and also their right to education in times of war, which requires the protection of schools. It must be acknowledged again, as in the Jomtien Framework for Action, that the resources for education in emergency and post-crisis situations 'is an acknowledged international responsibility'.
10. A key recommendation of the study is that education in emergency situations should be planned from Day One as part of the country's development process and not solely as a 'relief effort'. Donors should avoid compartmentalisation of funding that can have the effect of creating an under-educated and bitter generation, because education was given a low priority for - or even excluded from -- inadequate 'humanitarian' budgets. Moreover, restoration of schooling in a post-conflict situation should be seen as a funding priority. There should be inter-agency coordination to ensure continuity from the early emergency to the reconstruction phase. The task of building a "culture of peace" to sustain future development in nations and communities divided by ethnic and other conflicts should begin at the emergency stage and continue into the building of civil society in post-conflict situations. Current initiatives in 'education for peace' in the humanitarian context should be brought together on an inter-agency basis, as a contribution to the forthcoming Decade for the Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World.
11. Norms and standards should be developed for educational responses in natural and man-made catastrophes, drawing on in-depth field studies of educational interventions. Such studies should include reviews and evaluations of modalities of rapid response and of standards for education in prolonged refugee or crisis situations and in post-conflict reconstruction. There should be review and sharing of educational materials and teachers' manuals developed by organisations working in humanitarian emergencies, as well as identification of other materials suited for use in such situations. Training modules on education in emergency and post-conflict situations should be developed for use with staff of humanitarian organisations and as part of standard courses in educational planning.
12. Inter-agency cooperation and coordination in the field of emergency education should be strengthened, and more use should be made of the new electronic communication media to link field staff to information sources and to enable them to participate in the inter-agency dialogue.
13. This Strategy Session will reflect on the lessons derived from recent experiences with a view to identifying priorities for the international community to improve its capacity to provide and support basic education activities in situations of emergency and crisis. The three questions below are proposed to orient the discussion.

What have we learned in the past decade about how the right to education is affected by emergency situations and how humanitarian law and assistance can serve to protect and ensure the exercise of human rights, including the right to education?

How can we ensure that humanitarian assistance and rapid educational interventions build on available capacity and are effectively linked to post-conflict or post-crisis reconstruction efforts and longer-term development planning, including development of the education system?

What are the most effective strategies to ensure that educational interventions in situations of emergency and crisis contribute to rebuilding the conditions of peace ?

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