Conflict, natural disasters, and other emergencies severely disrupt children’s education. Children in fragile, conflict-affected countries are more than twice as likely to be out of school than children in non-conflict affected countries 21. Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children 22.
Lack of prioritization
Damage or destruction of schools
Despite being one of the first services demanded by families, children, and youth during crises, education has thus far been a very low priority in humanitarian aid to countries in conflict. Only 2.7% of global humanitarian assistance was allocated to education in 2016 23 , leaving an US$8.5 billion funding gap 24.
During times of conflict or natural disasters, schools may be damaged or destroyed, leaving children with no place to attend classes. Where school structures survive, they may be used as emergency centers or shelters, further disrupting classes.
When children and youth are forced to flee their countries, their host country may not recognize their qualifications or achievements, forcing them to repeat grades they have already completed, slowing their educational progress or discouraging them from continuing their studies.
While school should be a safe space, in some crisis-affected countries children risk violence or attacks either during the journey to school or at school itself. Between 2013 and 2017, there were almost 13,000 attacks on education, harming more than 21,000 students and educators 25.
Out-of-school children in emergency contexts are often more vulnerable to exploitation, for example, recruitment as child soldiers, child labor, slavery, and trafficking. Girls may be especially vulnerable during emergencies, with sexual violence and early and forced marriages increasing for girls during and after disasters and conflict.
Reduced risk of conflict
Quality education in emergencies strengthens children’s resilience amidst adversity, supports their socio-emotional and cognitive development.
Investing in education for all can prevent the recruitment of child soldiers, and can prevent girls from being child brides and exploited by trafficking networks. Schools can provide a safe space for learning, as well as other life-saving services including health, nutrition, and psychosocial support.
Investing in education is one of the best ways a country can lift people out of poverty, increase national economic growth, and reduce the risk of conflict. A country that has more than 87% of its children in school can decrease the risk of conflict by nearly 75% 26.
Education helps reduce vulnerability to disasters and enhances adaptation to climate change. It does this through improving knowledge, the ability to understand and process information, and risk perception. It also indirectly enhances socioeconomic status and social capital.
Conflict and crisis is no way for a child to grow up, but schools can offer a safe place for children to learn and develop skills to cope with the trauma they’ve experienced. For refugee and internally displaced children in particular, schools provide a welcome return to normalcy, and an opportunity to play in safety and reconnect with other children.
School also plays a peace-building role, strengthening messages within society about the negative impacts of violence, educating children in non-violent ways of responding to conflict.