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Insight 18/05/2022

Spotlight on our work in education in emergencies

By Olivia Miller

Education is a prominent casualty in crisis situations, but it also plays a critical role in emergency response. Continued access to school provides a place of protection and sense of normalcy for children, while effective approaches to learning and inclusion foster resilience, and support longer-term processes of economic recovery and peace. With refugee numbers hitting headlines again, we reflect on two focus areas developed over more than 20 years’ experience working in fragile and conflict-affected states.

According to latest UN estimates, more than six million people have fled Ukraine since February 2021 and many more have been displaced within the country. This latest crisis adds to the escalating number of displaced people and refugee populations around the world – 26.3 million refugees, half of whom are children (UNHCR). Beyond this, an estimated 128 million primary and secondary aged children are out of school in crisis-affected countries. 

Our research on the quantitative impact of armed conflict on education: counting the human and financial costs (and related case studies in Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Pakistan) highlights the direct and indirect costs of conflict and insecurity on education resulting from: school closures, fear of sending children to school, forced displacement, reduced educational expenditure or public capacity to deliver education, and many more factors. In Ukraine, local authorities have already reported the damage of more than 1,500 educational institutions, with 22 more schools attacked every day.  

Our understanding of education in emergencies, including for refugees, has developed from our research and experience – ranging from large-scale post-conflict education capacity building and reform in Cambodia, Rwanda and Somalia, to providing immediate technical assistance in Ethiopia, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe, among others.  

Here are two key areas where we are building an understanding of how to achieve good quality teaching and learning for children in emergencies: 

1. Considering the needs and importance of teachers in crisis situations 

In crisis and displacement situations, the role of teachers is particularly significant: they are sometimes the only resource available to students. Recognising that more research is needed to understand the needs of teachers in these contexts, IIEP-UNESCO and Education Development Trust jointly published a review of the literature (2018). We found that not only do teachers from the refugee community play a key role in teaching refugee children, but that more support is desperately needed for national teachers teaching in host countries.  

Following the review’s conclusions, IIEP-UNESCO and Education Development Trust embarked on a series of country studies. These include published reports on Ethiopia (2020) and Jordan (2021), and ongoing studies in Uganda and Kenya. The research is already identifying promising policies, funding needs and priorities to support effective management of national and refugee teachers. The Kenya case study will be published later this year. 

We also have knowledge of teacher needs in conflict zones such as Syria where we have developed a capacity development framework for teachers to ensure consistency in humanitarian action (under the ‘All of Syria’ banner) – read more about it in our case study. We are currently supporting the training of teachers of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, building on the existing skillsets of teachers and leaders in the teaching of English and subjects taught in English. Where possible, we identify and train teachers who are themselves refugees – this work has built our understanding of the barriers faced by these teachers, ranging from language barriers, right to work, certification and renumeration challenges (see also our research into effective teacher salary systems in fragile states). Last year, our Alexandria Schools Trust programme reached 4,300 Syrian refugee children and increased its reach to the local teachers who teach these refugee children by 40%. 

2. Developing an adaptive response to girls in emergencies  

Adolescent girls are among those most at risks during emergencies and are a focus of our research in this area. Emergencies decrease girls’ access to safe spaces and increase economic pressures on families leading to higher rates of gender-based violence, early marriage and unplanned pregnancies. In a recent report for the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) on the State of Girls’ Education in Crisis and Conflict, we highlighted that even before the Covid-19 crisis, only 27% of refugee girls attended secondary school, compared to 36% of refugee boys. Gender-responsive budgeting, planning and programming is needed to address the gap.  

The multiple gendered barriers to girls’ education, such as lack of access to learning technology in the home, domestic labour and caring expectations, early marriages and violence should also be considered when designing interventions. Our recent reports, The link between girls’ life skills intervention in emergencies and their return to education post-crisis and prevention of unwanted pregnancies and early marriage and Girl-focused life skills interventions at a distance has shown that life skills interventions have the potential to generate positive outcomes for vulnerable girls in emergencies. This research sheds light on how these interventions can shift gender norms using media and approaches for remote Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH).  

In our Closing the Gap policy brief, we recommend that programmes should include gender-responsive strategies to ensure that girls’ rights are protected and that girls have access to learning opportunities before, during, and after a crisis. Our model for girls’ education combines gender responsive system strengthening work with girl-focused interventions for the most marginalised –this is particularly important in crisis settings. 

A second report and policy paper in the INEE ‘Mind the Gap’ global monitoring series is due to be published later in 2022, shining more light on the specific needs of girls in crisis. 

As education systems around the world, including in Ukraine and neighbouring countries, respond to growing numbers of displaced teachers and children, it is important to integrate existing knowledge and learnings into policy and practice. Equity in education in crisis will only be achieved by understanding the needs of all teachers working in emergencies as well as the most vulnerable children. Further research is also needed to deepen understanding in these contexts.

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