“In Aleppo all the schools were closed. I was happy and excited to leave the country,” says Israa Cheikh Karrouch, 15, a student at one of the educational programs that we manage in Lebanon. Israa is one of the 44 million children in countries ravaged by armed conflicts, and who are not in school. One out of four asylum seekers in Europe are under 18 years. There are children who have not been in school since the start of the armed conflict in Syria five years ago.
The European Union signed an agreement with Turkey on March 18 in which it was agreed, among other things, to return to it all immigrants and refugees arriving in Greece. But Turkey is overloaded – it receives nearly three million Syrians who have fled the barbarism — and has no capacity to guarantee the right to education for all refugee children. In fact, in the current year, some 400,000 thousand Syrian boys and girls have been left without education in Turkey. Some parents do not know whether their children can enroll in school or do not know how. The children face many difficulties because they do not speak the language, and many are forced to work to survive.
In many other parts of the world, conflicts pose a major obstacle to education. On average, the rate of completion of primary education in countries not affected by conflicts is 75%, while in conflict-affected countries it is 58%. Moreover, in the latter, young women are nearly 90% more likely not to be enrolled in secondary education.
Education is a right and promotes human dignity, but above and beyond, as JRS says in its report, it is “a life-saving intervention.” It protects children from exploitation and recruitment by armed groups, it helps them cope with psychosocial damage and family separation and gives them stability. Above all, education restores their hope and helps them build a decent future. “I want to learn because learning helps us move forward and fulfill our dreams,” says Sahed Habbab, 10, who participates in an educational program of JRS and “Entreculturas” in Lebanon. Ali Mostafa is 14 and left Syria with his family three years ago to take refuge in Lebanon, where he also studied in a school of JRS. He says, “I love going to school and I do not want stop because my only hope in the future is literacy.”
Furthermore, the direct influence of education on armed conflicts has been demonstrated, because the higher the level of education in a country, the lower the chances of armed conflict taking place. In fact, as UNESCO points out, an increase in the enrollment rate in primary education from 67% to 100% would have reduced the likelihood of civil war to 35% between 1980 and 1999 worldwide. Also, increased spending on education from 2.2% to 6.3% of GDP can cause a decline of 54% in the probability of a civil war. Naturally, a good education, inclusive and equitable, can play a key role in promoting a culture of peace and peaceful conflict resolution.
In order to promote education in conflict situations, it is essential to take measures to ensure that schools are accessible, violence-free learning spaces with quality and equity, that teach tolerance and coexistence. It is also essential to increase funding in education in emergencies and conflicts. Conflicts, attacks against schools or the huge increase of refugee children in the world in recent years make it more relevant than ever. And yet, education in situations of conflict and emergency still has a minor role in the agenda of donors; it is in a kind of limbo between development and humanitarian aid, without a decisive stand being taken for it in either one or the other option. In fact, only a paltry 2% of humanitarian aid goes to education.
The World Humanitarian Summit to be held on May 23-24 strives to have leaders of governments, NGOs, the private sector, academia and communities commit to working together to take action to prevent and reduce the impact of future crises. Looking ahead to the Summit, Ban Ki-Moon drew up the Agenda for Humanity, which contains five core responsibilities to achieve this goal. One of these core responsibilities is to leave no one behind; and to achieve this, it is essential to guarantee sure access to quality primary and secondary education for
all children – whether in conflict or emergency zones or displaced.
In this first Summit a specific fund for education in emergency situations, called Education Cannot Wait, will be launched to give priority to the education of children who are internally displaced and those who are refugees. States must commit to invest in education so that it becomes the most powerful tool to combat conflict. As Pau Vidal, SJ, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Maban, South Sudan says, “Education is building a better future and a future in peace.” By protecting the right to education we struggle for peace building. Education provides options for the future to those who face an adverse situation in which there seems to be no room for hope.
By Sara García de Blas and Valeria Méndez de Vigo (@vmendezdevigo) of @Entreculturas