23 August 2012

Africa: Education Is the Uncontested Key to Development

opinion

Photo: SA Presidency
Children from Laerskool Voorspoed in Galeshewe in South Africa.

Education must be included as part of every humanitarian response, says INEE director Lori Heninger

In 2000, the international community came together to create both Education for All and Millennium Development Goals; 2015 is the end-point for many of the goals. The question being asked in the international community is, "What happens after 2015?" Will the international community reconvene to assess progress on goals and determine ways forward?

The world has made progress toward the MDG of achieving universal primary education. The UN estimates that there are currently 61 million primary-school-aged children out of school; this is a decrease from a UNESCO estimate of 115 million in 2001. In sub-Saharan Africa, enrollment rates have increased significantly, rising from 58 percent to 76 percent between 1999 and 2010. Around the world, girls are attending school in greater numbers than in the past. Gender equity has been less successful in Western Asia and sub-Saharan Africa; however, eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa have greater numbers of girls than boys in primary school.

Half of the 61 million out-of-school primary-age children live in situations of conflict or the result of natural disaster. This is not a problem limited to countries in development; Hurricane Katrina in the US and the 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan are examples of the ways in which disasters impact countries and people across the globe.

The average length of refugee displacement due to conflict or crisis is 17 years. The average length of conflict in the lowest income countries is 12 years. Education often stops during these situations, leaving children and youth without basic literacy and numeracy and ill-prepared to participate in aspects of the economic, political and social life of a country or region. Education is a human right; this right is not suspended during conflict or crisis, and is critical for a child's protection, growth and development. Education is an enabling right; it is the foundation for other human rights.

When an emergency occurs as a result of conflict or natural disaster, educating children in a "school" - whether in a tent, under a tree or in a classroom - provides a sense of normalcy, continuity and security. It allows parents the time and space to rebuild, to look for missing family members, to collect water or food. Education must be included as part of every humanitarian response.

As critical as it is to ensure that all children have equitable access to primary education, it is equally important to ensure that the education provided is relevant, of a quality that will prepare children for post-primary learning, and that post-primary learning opportunities exist. These requirements are as pertinent to emergency situations as they are to situations of normalcy because education plays such a vital role in people's lives.

The Jomtien World Declaration on Education for All states:

The role of education is to enable people to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning. The scope of basic learning needs and how they should be met varies with individual countries and cultures, and inevitably, changes with the passage of time.

The ability to provide a relevant and quality education encompasses many considerations. Quality in education means ensuring that teachers are trained and adequately compensated, and that class sizes are manageable. Developing a curriculum that does not discriminate or omit groups (people with disabilities, girls, ethnic groups), textbooks that provide inclusive images and schools built in areas accessible to all can help mitigate education's impact on conflict. Preventing conflict and preparing for natural disasters is critical in education policy and practice. Disaster risk reduction planning from the Ministerial to the local level can save lives and limit a natural disaster's impact on learning.

Education, whether formal, informal or non-formal, is the uncontested key to development. All children and youth are guaranteed the right to education no matter the circumstances; it is the role of nations, and the international community as a whole, to ensure that right is upheld. Lifting up the right to quality education for all, and mandating education in all humanitarian responses, should be primary goals in the next iteration of the international goal-setting agenda.

Lori Heninger is the Director of INEE

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