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On the path toward a brighter future for refugee youth: Education Cannot Wait

World leaders pledge to support education in emergencies at the World Humanitarian Summit

The world is facing one of the greatest educational crises of our time. Right now, some of the world’s brightest minds are struggling just to make it to class in war zones and regions devastated by natural disasters around the world. If we do not act now, we risk losing millions of future doctors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, teachers, and leaders; youth whose drive, creativity, and commitment to a fairer world will be critical to building a brighter, more peaceful future.

The numbers are significant. In 35 crisis-affected countries, there are 75 million children and youth aged 3-18 who are in dire need of access to quality education. The older they are, the more likely youth are to be out of school. While an estimated 50% of refugee youth are attending primary school, only 25% percent make it to secondary school. And just 1% have access to tertiary education. Gender is also a contributing factor; young girls are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys in conflict-affected countries.

But there is hope for change. This week, the world is helping these countries envision a brighter future through the launch of the Education Cannot Wait fund at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey. This platform is the first of its kind to support education in emergency settings. It aims to deliver a more collaborative, agile and rapid response to education in emergencies in order to fulfil the right to education for children and young people affected by crises.

This global effort in support of education in emergencies marks an important step toward better integrating immediate humanitarian assistance with long-term development support. Displacement is increasingly becoming a life-long struggle; the average length of major refugee and displacement crises has increased from nine years in 1993 to 17 years at the end of 2003. In addition to responding to immediate needs, support needs to be sustainable for the years to come. And education is at the heart of sustainability.

For more than six decades, WUSC’s work in education has been responding to the needs of youth living in conflict and crisis settings. We have seen first-hand why education cannot wait for the millions of young people affected by crisis around the world. As countries move into rebuilding phases following years of conflict or natural disasters, it is the youth of today who will lead these processes. We have witnessed many of our own Student Refugee Program alumni return to their countries of origin to take up leadership positions in peacebuilding and rebuilding efforts. Education is key to ensuring these youth are prepared to engage in the long and complicated process of rebuilding stronger and more peaceful national political institutions, legal systems, physical infrastructure and economies.

Gender-sensitive and girls’ education in particular can have a transformative impact on society. Education has played an important role in improving health outcomes and in preventing early and forced marriage and early pregnancy. Education is also an important tool of economic empowerment and independence that can help women achieve a higher standard of living and a better quality of life. WUSC is currently working in Kenya and Afghanistan to promote more gender-responsive teaching in refugee and post-conflict contexts to better ensure girls receive the educational support they need.

A recent policy paper by UNHCR and UNESCO that was published in advance of the World Humanitarian Summit highlights the obstacles and opportunities in providing education in emergency situations, particularly for displaced persons, including the importance of programs such as our Student Refugee Program in removing the barriers to higher education for refugee youth. It also notes the need for accelerated learning programs to assist over-age learners who have already missed significant year of schooling, and the need for ensuring an adequate supply of trained and motivated teachers. Click here to review the full report.

Rawdanur Cuma, a young Syrian refugee, and speaker at the World Humanitarian Summit told attendees that “Education is the only way to build a better future for Syria and all countries affected by conflict”. The ambitious targets of the Education Cannot Wait fund is an important step forward in ensuring that such a future is possible. Click here to learn more about the fund.

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