By Busani Bafana
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Jan 24 2022 – Education lifts millions out of poverty, but because the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out gains made in recent decades, a holistic approach to providing education in crises is crucial, says German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Svenja Schulze.
“Education is a human right and can provide stability and protection for children and adolescents in times of crisis. Yet education is often one of the first services to be suspended, and among the last to be resumed,” Schulze noted following Germany’s announcement of €200 million (US$228.3 million) in new, additional funding to Education Cannot Wait (ECW), a United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crisis.
“Through Germany’s additional contribution to Education Cannot Wait on the International Day of Education, we intend to make a strong call for more international solidarity to support the education of crisis-affected girls and boys worldwide,” Schulze told IPS. She urged other countries with strong economies, such as G7 partners and private donors to invest in and prioritize education in times of crisis.
Germany’s contribution brings ECW’s Trust Fund to $1.1 billion. Over $1 billion has been leveraged through ECW in-country programmes, making ECW a US$2 billion global fund in just a few years since its establishment in 2016. Appropriately the announcement was made on the International Day of Education with the theme: ‘Changing Course, Transforming Education’.
“This new funding brings Germany’s total contributions to ECW to over €318.8 million ($362.7 million),” ECW’s Director, Yasmine Sherif, told IPS.
“It is a shining example of multilateralism being both bold and results-driven. With this new multi-year announcement, Germany becomes ECW’s number one donor, and Germany becomes the leading donor to commit to multi-year funding,” Sherif says.
IPS reporter Busani Bafana spoke with Schulze and Sherif following the announcement of the new funding. He asked them about the impact of global investments in realizing inclusive and equitable quality education.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
IPS: Why is it important to Germany to invest in multi-year resilience programmes in education through Education Cannot Wait – particularly for vulnerable children and adolescents impacted by armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate-induced disasters, and protracted crises?
Schulze: Germany is committed to the guiding principle of the 2030 Agenda, Leave No One Behind. The international community has agreed to focus on the most vulnerable and reach those who are currently the furthest behind.
Today, one in four school-aged children and adolescents worldwide lives in a country affected by crises. ECW’s multi-year resilience programmes are an appropriate response to the educational needs of crisis-affected children because they bridge the divide between short-term humanitarian interventions and longer-term development cooperation. Education Cannot Wait – the name ECW points out so clearly: now, with COVID-19, we can see the serious consequences of disrupted education even in our own country. For children and youth living in countries affected by crises, the situation is much worse. They need our ongoing assistance, and we need their talents in these challenging times.
With today’s new, additional contribution to ECW, Germany has become ECW’s number one donor – congratulations! What is it about ECW’s mandate and its work with other strategic donors and partners in delivering quality education for crisis-affected children and youth that appeal to Germany?
Schulze: In order to resolve today’s education challenges, we need multi-stakeholder partnerships. For Germany, ECW is a ground-breaking initiative because it brings together public and private actors in humanitarian aid and development cooperation. By combining innovative short-term and medium-term financing, ECW strengthens the international aid architecture to deliver quality education in emergencies.
Germany is also a strong partner of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Last year, we launched the Support Her Education (SHE) Initiative with a pledge of €100 million towards GPE’s Girls’ Education Accelerator. The focus on girls’ education is a priority for us in development as we know that girls can be agents of change for entire societies – just think of Greta Thunberg and her outreach for climate change. As a former Environment Minister, I am very aware of this. So, this money is an investment with a high return. And we will continue to strengthen international partnerships and improve coordination amongst development partners.
IPS: Today, ECW and BMZ announced a major contribution to the ECW global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. Do you have a specific plan for this significant contribution?
Sherif: The money will be pooled into the ECW Global Trust Fund and delivered via our Multi-Year Resilience Programmes (MYRPs). In all, ECW supports MYRPs in 24 countries along with fast-acting First Emergency Responses (FERs) in 35 countries worldwide. Since ECW was launched, a total of 42 emergency and protracted crisis countries have benefitted from the fund’s investments. Our goal is to scale up our responses to reach even more children and youth with the safety, hope, and opportunity of quality education. This significant and generous contribution by Germany will enable ECW to scale up its added value and results in achieving results-driven and impact-yielding multi-year investments based on the humanitarian-development nexus in crisis-impacted countries and to ensure sustainability, local empowerment, and the Grand Bargain for those left furthest behind.
Education is an inherent human right, but it remains inaccessible to millions of crisis-affected children and adolescents. How successful is ECW in ensuring that this human right becomes a reality?
Global leaders have committed to providing universal and equitable education by 2030 as outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDG4). ECW supports our global efforts to achieve these goals, specifically for the 128 million children and adolescents whose education has been disrupted in their young lives due to conflict, forced displacement, and climate disasters.
Decades of progress in achieving SDG4 have been pushed aside by the multiplying impacts of armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate-induced disasters, COVID-19, and protracted crises. According to UNESCO, as many as 258 million children and youth don’t attend school worldwide. Two out of three students are still impacted by full or partial school closures from COVID-19. Girls are particularly at risk, with estimates projecting that between 11 million and 20 million girls will not return to school after the pandemic. And over 617 million children and adolescents cannot read or do basic math. That’s more than the total population of Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States combined.
As you mention, ECW has a $1 billion funding gap for education in emergencies and protracted crises. How do you plan to close this gap?
Sherif: In just five years, ECW has met and surpassed its goals for resource mobilization. Part of our mission is underscoring the value of education in achieving our global goals for sustainable development. For every $1 spent on girls’ education, we generate approximately $2.80 in return. Making sure girls finish secondary education could boost the GDP of developing countries by 10 percent over the next decade.
As we’ve seen from Germany’s generous contribution today, key public donors are rising to this challenge and prioritizing education in their official development or/and humanitarian assistance. Now it’s time for others to follow suit, and we certainly hope Germany’s leadership will inspire them to do so.
The private sector needs to step up too. In a world where football teams sell for billions of dollars and billionaires fly themselves into space, how is it possible that we are not finding the resources to send every child to school?
Investing in a child’s education means investing in all of humanity. It is time to transform our perception of the world, our priorities, and how we shoulder our responsibility as a human family. I encourage world leaders and the private sector to join ECW’s movement to support crisis-affected children to realize their human right to quality, inclusive education.
ECW recently approved a $91.7 million Multi-Year Resilience Programmes investment in Bangladesh, Burundi, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, and Sudan. How many children are being reached through these investments?
Sherif: We recently announced a total of S$91.7 million in catalytic grant financing for new and expanded Multi-Year Resilience Programmes in Bangladesh, Burundi, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, and Sudan. All but Bangladesh are new multi-year investments, accelerating ECW’s growing expansion into countries impacted by protracted crises. These new multi-year investments announcements add to the multi-year catalytic grant announced earlier in 2021 for Iraq.
Across all countries, the catalytic grants aim to reach over 900,000 vulnerable children and adolescents, of whom 58 percent are girls. Half of the children and adolescents targeted are refugees or internally displaced, and 13 percent are children with disabilities.
These grants aim to leverage an additional US$250 million worth of public and private donors’ funding aligned to the multi-year programmes in these countries to reach a total of 3.3 million crisis-affected children.
You have traveled to schools where children access education in a safe environment for the first time. What impressed you most about the children, the teachers, and the parents?
Sherif: The vastness of human potential is what impresses me most when I meet with children, teachers, and their parents in places like Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, and beyond. If you teach a girl to read, she can lift up a nation. If you teach a boy to write, he can build a better world. In these places – truly the world’s toughest contexts – all that these children want is the opportunity to go to school, to learn, to grow, to thrive. When we deny their human right to an education, we are denying our own humanity. We can, and we must all do better for them, by working together.
We can still say Happy New Year … what is the biggest challenge for ECW at this stage in January 2022?
Sherif: Together with governments, UN agencies, civil society organizations, public donors, the private sector, and local communities, we need to transform the way we think about delivering education in emergencies and protracted crises. No single stakeholder can do it alone. At this year’s Transforming Education Summit, convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, we will ask ourselves how we can avert a generational catastrophe and rethink our education systems and financing to make good on our commitments and promises.
Are you optimistic that the world can achieve the SDGs, particularly SDG #4?
Sherif: Yes, I am optimistic by nature, but also realistic as this will require a global moonshot to achieve the SDGs by the 2030 deadline. We can do it. But every nation, every government, every person truly needs to come together to commit to them and deliver on our promises.