5 October 2021, Geneva/New York – On this World Teachers’ Day, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, announced it has reached more than 4.6 million children and adolescents (48% of whom are girls) with quality education in more than 30 of the worst humanitarian crises around the world.
The Fund’s new Annual Results Report ‘Winning the Human Race,’ stresses the importance of investing in the teaching force to support and promote quality learning outcomes for crisis-affected girls and boys. To date, ECW has recruited or financially supported close to 150,000 teachers (including over 41,000 women) and provided over 2.6 million children and adolescents with individual learning materials in emergency contexts and protracted crises.
ECW’s COVID-19 education in emergency response also helped an additional 29.2 million vulnerable girls and boys and 310,000 teachers living in crises and emergency settings. This included support to distance-learning solutions and various integrated messages and products to ensure continuing education and protect the health and wellbeing of children, teachers and their communities through the pandemic.
Despite these achievements, ECW’s report underlines that COVID-19 acted as a risk-multiplier, not only creating new challenges but also amplifying existing risks for the most vulnerable groups, particularly girls and children and adolescents with disabilities.
“For millions of marginalized children and adolescents already caught in armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate change-induced disasters and protracted crises, COVID-19 hit as a ‘crisis within an already ongoing crisis’,” said UN Special Envoy for Global Education, The Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown. “An entire generation in emergencies and protracted crisis faces irreversible loss. Among them, an estimated 20 million displaced girls, particularly adolescent girls, are at risk. The Annual Results Report 2020 is a living testimony of how we can resist the threats and stand greater chances of winning the human race. World leaders must step up and ensure adequate financing for education dedicated to all girls, children and adolescents support by our collective mission.”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the importance of education to the fore. Today more than ever, education is the key to unlocking opportunity for the next generation: it kick-starts economic recovery, innovation, and climate action, and provides a safety net and lifeline for children and adolescents living in crisis-affected areas.
At the same time, the pandemic also negatively affected both overseas development assistance (ODA) and humanitarian funding for education. Some donor countries have already started shifting their budgets away from aid to domestic priorities. Meanwhile funding requirements for education in humanitarian appeals have significantly increased – from $1 billion in 2019 to $1.4 billion in 2020 – further widening the funding gap for the sector.
“COVID-19 has compounded the effects of armed conflict, instability, climate-related disasters and forced displacement from Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, to the Sahel, Ethiopia and Venezuela – to name but a few of the crises where ECW is working with partners to fulfill the right of every girl and boy to a safe, quality education,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. “We can win the human race provided that we are ready to invest in it and ensure that these children and adolescents access an inclusive 12 years of quality education. This is an investment in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, an investment in peace, an investment in our future, and an investment in our universal human rights and our shared humanity.”
While nearly all children worldwide have been affected by school closures due to COVID-19, those living in the poorest countries have been disproportionately so, according to the report. Since March 2020, schools in crisis-affected countries – where ECW prioritizes its investments to ensure that no child is left behind – have closed for an average of 32 days more than in other countries. Students in South Sudan, for example, lost 16% of their schooling over a lifetime, compared to 3% for students in countries of Europe and Central Asia.
The ECW report shows that this learning loss will only aggravate the pre-pandemic rate of learning inequalities, particularly affecting the 53% of children in low- and middle-income countries who, by the age of 10, cannot read or understand a simple text.
Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, the report also underscores multiplying risks for crisis-impacted children and adolescents.
The global climate crisis is having a significant impact on the well-being and educational opportunities of children and adolescents, with weather-related hazards such as storms and floods, displacing over 30 million people in 2020. With scientific consensus that extreme weather events will increase in severity and frequency, even more children will be put at risk.
In times of disaster, children usually account for almost half of those affected. Globally, more than a half-billion children live in areas with an extremely high flood rate and 160 million live in high or extremely high drought severity zones.
Forced displacement of people, including children, due to conflicts increased significantly in 2020, with ten countries producing three-quarters of the world’s refugees. In addition, there were 40.5 million new internal displacements in 2020 – connected in part to conflict, climate change, poverty and insecurity – the highest number on record.
Schools continue to be targeted in attacks. Between 2017 and 2019, there were more than 11,000 reported attacks on schools, universities, students and education personnel.
A call to action
Since its inception in 2016, ECW has mobilized US$828.3 million through the ECW Trust Fund, and helped leverage with its partners US$1 billion worth of programmes aligned with ECW’s Multi-Year Resilience Programmes in 10 countries.
“Working together with our partners, the scope of our collective achievements is unequivocal: less than 5 years into existence, ECW has demonstrated its proof of concept through concrete results. I call on world leaders, the private sector and our global community to urgently and generously support Education Cannot Wait in reaching the millions of children that are at risk of falling through the cracks,” said Sherif.
- Total reach: ECW’s investments in holistic education programmes for crisis-affected girls and boys have reached 4.6 million children and adolescents (48% of whom are girls), with a focus on those left furthest behind: refugees (38%), internally displaced children (16.4%), and of host community children and adolescents and other vulnerable populations (45.6%). In addition, shorter and more targeted COVID-19 interventions aimed at continuing education and keeping children and adolescents safe from the pandemic reached a total of 29.2 million girls and boys in 2020 alone.
- Increased access to education: 96% of ECW-supported programmes increased access to education for crisis-affected children and adolescents. In Uganda, for example, the gross enrolment ratio of refugee children grew steadily from 72% in 2017 to 79% in 2020.
- Strengthening equity and gender equality. 94% of ECW-supported programmes show improvement in gender parity in access to education. Girls represent 48% of all children reached through ECW’s investments since inception, and 40% of teachers recruited or financially supported through ECW’s funding in 2020 are women. The percentage of children with disabilities reached grew from 0.2% since inception to 1.3% in 2020 across ECW’s programme portfolio.
- Increased continuity and sustainability of education: By the end of 2020, ECW had cumulatively reached some 275,000 children (51% girls) with early-childhood or pre-primary education interventions since its inception. The share of children reached with secondary education across ECW’s programme portfolio increased from 9% in 2019 to 13% in 2020.
- Improved learning and skills: Since ECW’s inception nearly 70,000 teachers (48% female) have been trained through regular non-COVID-19 programming. A total of 2.6 million teaching and learning materials were provided to children and adolescents (47% to girls). Learning outcome measurement has also expanded to an increasing number of ECW grants.
- Safe and protective learning environment: In 2020, ECW’s partners increased access to water and sanitation facilities in 2,225 learning spaces and provided some 3,100 children with safe transportation mechanisms to and from school. In 2020 remote mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) interventions for children, teachers, and caregivers were undertaken, and more than 19,500 teachers (54% female) were trained on MHPSS. ECW investments supported children with school feeding programmes in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Sahel region.
For additional information and to access the full report: