NEW YORK, Jan 23 (IPS) – As we look back on 2020, we all bear the scars of a devastating year. none as much as girls and boys around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the education of over 1.6 billion children and adolescents worldwide, and continues to do so. It has also deepened socio-economic inequalities and increased insecurities around the world, further affecting the lives of girls and boys everywhere. Persistent, protracted conflicts, displacement and the worsening climate crisis were no less forgiving.
In a nutshell, Yasmine Sherif2020 was a brutal year for the world’s children and youth – most clearly for the 75 million children and youth whose education had already been disrupted by emergencies and protracted crises and who are now doubly affected by COVID-19. and the effects continue to this day. It is vitally important that we take a moment to reflect on and celebrate International Education Day on January 24, 2021. Right now we need to step up our commitment to education as a crucial tool to find a way for all children in the world and their future, as I remembered on my last trips to Burkina Faso and Lebanon – both ravaged by several crises .
Conflict and insecurity have displaced a million people from their homes in Burkina Faso in recent years. Educational institutions were targeted, teachers and students were attacked, and school closings due to attacks doubled from 2017 to 2019, disrupting the education of more than 400,000 children.
Teachers and students in Kaya, the fifth largest city in Burkina Faso, to which many displaced families have fled insecurity and violence, showed me their tragic, challenging reality last week. The schools lacked the infrastructure to accommodate the students, there was a lack of teaching materials, and there was no water or sanitation. Some classrooms have tripled and now have over a hundred students each.
In addition, the 2020 pandemic resulted in the closure of all schools for several months. Currently, more than 2.6 million children have left school and in the six hardest hit regions of Burkina Faso, the primary school graduation rate is just 29%.
Yet even in these ill-equipped and overcrowded schools, hope and certainty are not extinguished and are kept alive by teachers, workers, and the overwhelming enthusiasm of the students themselves. Rodrigue Sawodogo, a nine-year-old boy displaced by conflict, said to me, “I want to become a police officer to save my country because I want everyone to live in peace.”
The crisis in Burkina Faso and in the entire Central Sahel region is one of the fastest deteriorating in the world. We can either watch and do nothing at all to give children like Rodrigue the chance to achieve their dreams, or we can actually act now by investing in children and adolescents to empower them to reach their full potential and make positive change bring about agents for their communities.
Education cannot wait – the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises – has started a multi-year program in cooperation with the government of Burkina Faso, UNICEF and Enfants du Monde, which aims to provide education to 800,000 children and young people in crisis areas in the country . ECW is initially providing $ 11.1 million for three years of seed capital. But that’s not enough. We urge public and private donors to raise an additional $ 48 million to reach every child at risk.
Just a few weeks before my visit to Burkina Faso, in December 2020, I also traveled to Lebanon to review the country’s education crises and to work around the world for more funds to make it easier for everyone to access education. Lebanon is home to the world’s largest proportion of refugees per capita of the local population. It has been home to a large Palestinian refugee community since 1948, and more than a million Syrians have crossed the border since 2011.
Worsening economic, health and political crises endanger over a million children and young people in Lebanon. According to the ECW’s 2019 Annual Results Report, more than 630,000 Syrian children and 447,400 Lebanese children at risk have faced challenges in accessing education.
According to a 2019 report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia, the banking system has collapsed and more than half of the country is living in poverty. And that was before COVID-19 deepened the economic recession and before Beirut’s port was torn apart by a catastrophic explosion in August that killed 200 people, left 300,000 homeless and damaged 140 schools. Within a month of the explosion, ECW approved a $ 1.5 million emergency fund to rapidly rehabilitate 40 schools and help 30,000 girls and boys resume learning.
During this final mission, the ECW worked with the Lebanese government, local NGOs and United Nations partners to set up multi-annual resilience programs in Lebanon. These are intended to close the gap between short-term humanitarian measures and longer-term development measures. A similar multi-year resilience program for the education sector is about to start for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Education is a developing sector and requires sustained investment to save millions of girls from marrying and giving birth early and boys from joining armed terrorist groups.
In order to achieve this, Education Cannot Wait needs the necessary resources to fully fund these multi-year programs. We urge public and private sector donors to help fill the funding gap to provide inclusive and high quality education to internally displaced persons, refugee children and vulnerable host communities.
Our past does not define our future. The violence, uncertainties and crises that defined 2020 will only inspire us to do more, act faster and build a stronger and more resilient foundation. We hope that on this International Education Day you can take a moment to reflect on how education has affected your life. Are you ready to share your privilege with others who are less fortunate?
We encourage you to reflect on the millions of children in multiple crises and how we all share the responsibility to help. We are all affected by the pandemic. We share a common humanity and a common human experience. Let us serve the weakest – children and young people in crisis – and be there for them when they need us most. Let our moral choices translate into financial support. Let’s make Sustainable Development Goal 4 a reality for all the most left behind.
The author is the director, education cannot wait
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