Education in emergencies


Half of the world’s out of school children live in fragile and conflict affected states and millions more are affected by sudden onset emergencies. Prioritising education for these children is key to meeting the education MDG targets, and can contribute to stability, economic growth and good governance.

The UK Government is one of the world’s leading donors on education, spending millions each year on the poorest and most marginalised children around the world. DFID’s recent strategy recognizes the importance of investing in education in fragile and conflict affected states and commits to ‘ensure that short-term emergency responses to education protect longer term prospects of rebuilding of education systems’ (DFID, Learning for All, 2010).

There is much to be done to meet the educational needs of children affected by all types of crises, whenever and wherever they occur.

This event provided an opportunity to discuss and develop the best ways forward for education in emergencies from a UK perspective, taking into account experience from education in emergencies in practice in affected countries. It sought to address the following concerns:

  • What are the educational needs in emergencies and why should they be a priority?
  • What makes a good response?
  • What is the impact of not responding?
  • How can the humanitarian and development communities give more attention to education in emergencies?



Mr. Pierre Michel Laguerre – Director General, Ministry of Education, Haiti

Pauline Rose – Senior Policy Analyst, Education for All-Global Monitoring Report

Greg Ramm – Director of Global Programmes, Save the Children

Suraiya Begum – Additional Secretary, Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, People’s Republic of Bangladesh


Wendy Fenton – Coordinator, ODI Humanitarian Practice Network (HPN)


Wendy Fenton introduced the panel, including the Haitian speaker connecting remotely from Port-au-Prince.

Suraiya Begum, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Education of Bangladesh, overseeing education policy and programming for primary public education, presented on the Bangladeshi response to education in emergencies.

Bangladesh’s challenges lie in its over-population, the poverty faced by its population and climate change. In this regard, Bangladesh is frequently exposed to environmental disasters. Suraiya presented a disaster calendar where there is no one month where the country is free from disasters. The map showed that 46 out of the 64 districts are prone to all types of disasters, causing enormous damage to schools, disrupting education for many thousands of children, and posing a challenge for the Ministry in its response. Suraiya mentioned that from 2004-2007, this has amounted to 11 billion Dhaka losses.

The challenges faced by the Ministry of Education included the limited capacity and resources to respond to the massive scale of disasters; the limited funds available, among others. However, the government has taken positive steps to address this; preparedness plans have been introduced in school kits; buildings are being built to cater for disasters, among others.

Greg Ramm from Save the Children spoke about the global scale of the issue and how important education is in any emergency. He reminded the audience that the Education Global Cluster, co-led by UNICEF and Save the Children, coordinates in emergencies with the Ministry and other INGOs and UN agencies, but that coordination alone does not make a response. Funding is needed to ensure education is delivered; unfortunately only 31% of the need is covered. Despite the Cluster being vital, this figure only demonstrates it is chronically underfunded.

Greg Ramm had five points to present:

  1. Education is central for children’s recovery; education is a fundamental right, central to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); and we need to recognise the impact when normal lives are disrupted.
  2. Education is what children request; we should be listening to them and responding effectively to these requests to ensure that we are accountable to our beneficiaries – this is a central humanitarian principle.
  3. Restoring essential services is part of the collective effort, and building back better; Education services are interrupted and rapidly deteriorate when there is no response.
  4. Education is an enabler of other emergency sectors, and provides a space to provide a range of other responses including health checks, nutrition and food distribution, water and sanitation, etc. Schools are also centres for information dissemination. After sudden on-set emergencies, adults have other things to do to rebuild their lives and knowing that children are protected in school allows them to get on with enrolling in cash-for work schemes, finding relatives, receiving distributions. The benefits for children are also significant, as it provides them with an opportunity to learn and adds a sense of normality to their lives.
  5. Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) can be introduced through schools; schools can be dissemination centres, and build on prevention with children and the community.

Greg concluded we must make education second nature to our emergency responses.

The audience was interested in pointing out children’s resilience, with examples from Uganda, where education has been crucial in providing people with resilience, particularly in prolonged emergencies. A point was also made that education enables a much more rapid recovery to ‘normality’ to related to education in peaceful times; education is also a mans to coping strategies. Education in emergencies also provides legitimacy to the State, as the State is seen to have a ‘benign role’ in providing services.  Gender dynamics were important in the delivery of education; the gender lens requires analysing the differentials and the effects the emergency may have on girls’ education in particular.

Could there be technological solutions to providing education in emergencies? Similarly, the issue of poor governance, and the channelling of money through government structures was brought up, and consideration of whether it wouldn’t be more effective to channel it through communities. In response to this the Bangladeshi representative stated her government successfully channelled the money for education in emergencies, and then ensured it was distributed.

Pauline Rose from the GMR-Education for All, concentrated her presentation on aid to education in conflict affected emergencies. Pauline started off with a key comment that an emergency can become a protracted crisis that may last years, decades. Therefore, it is responded to with a protracted humanitarian response.

She provided the example of Northern Kenya where children have been living in camps their whole lives, therefore going to the same schools in camps. Similarly, many of their teachers may have also received their education within the camp settings.

Conflict affects education in a number of ways: via attacks on schools and teachers; recruitment of child soldiers; forced displacement; and psychosocial distress. Inappropriate education policies can also contribute to conflict, for example, when there is inequality of access, poor quality provision, the language of instruction is not appropriate for the community, or where there are insufficient links with employment opportunities.

Pauline stated that development aid has increased for conflict affected and fragile states, referencing the UK’s increased commitment to these countries, for both achieving the MDG goals, as well as for security interests.

There has been increased attention to this issue at the international level, and referenced Save the Children’s ‘Rewrite the Future’ campaign, the Interagency Network on Education in Emergencies (INEE) and the Education Cluster.  However, effort and attention needs to be sustained for the issue to remain important at the international level.

However, what doesn’t work is also important. A failure to recognize education in humanitarian responses means holding back on education and opportunities for a whole generation, meaning many children will not go back to school. Pauline concluded by noting both the short term results benefit for education in these contexts as well as the long-term gains for peace and security.

Mr. Pierre Michel Laguerre, Director General of the Ministry of Education of Haiti, presented the short-term and mid and long-term strategy of the education response. The major challenge was to re-open schools, and this started to be achieved in mid-April. There were many difficulties in the areas affected by the earthquake. The short-term strategy concentrated on the distribution of textbooks and the teacher-training. The mid to long-term strategy addresses that 80% of schools are not public, and most teachers work in the private schools. The government needs more help in this sector. The mid-term strategy particularly concentrated on receiving more children in schools. It also includes opening schools to all children without having to pay for tuition and other fees, to work on their Education for All goals. Long-term efforts will concentrate on reforming the curriculum, and to have new schools adapted to the reality after the earthquake.

The second part focused on an interactive discussion between the audience and all panellists. This included questions for Haiti, particularly on the significant proportion of the education system which is in private sector hands; and the Government’s strategy to assure parents that children will go into good quality and safe schools.

The discussion also touched on the fundamental reform of the Fast-Track Initiative (FTI) for the Education for All goals; in particular the reform for the FTI to work in conflict affected fragile states including options for supervising entities, and the point that this needs to work much ‘faster’.

Questions were also raised to the Bangladeshi representative on the education that reaches refugee populations from Myanmar and indigenous populations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The Bangladeshi government described some of the challenges and the needs, and referenced increased availability for learning in mother tongue in the CHT, to cater for their specific needs,

Northern Kenya was brought up again in the discussion and the question about exams, and whether they link to host country or home country. As of recently, Somali children in the camps are now able to take Kenyan exams, but these are rendered meaningless as they do not have permission to work in Kenya.

A question was asked about disability awareness and the opportunity or ability to address, for example in Haiti, to address their needs when rebuilding the education system.  On the issue of school feeding – it was seen as important to be extremely clear on whether it is an intervention to reduce malnutrition (in which case the school is not the appropriate target to reach the poorest and most malnourished children) or an education intervention. Bangladesh mentioned that their cash-for-learning program is seen as more effective than the food-for-learning programme. However, this is still at a project level.

A question was asked about donor funding being used for teacher salaries and any examples of this being done sustainably.

Wendy Fenton concluded the event.


Event videos can be watched here.