“The thing I need most in my life is to be educated.”

Education: How the IRC’s programmes are supporting children like Hamisu to build a brighter future

Hamisu is one of the more than two million Nigerians displaced from their home by violence. Photo: Euan Robinson for the IRC

For millions of children returning to school in the U.K. this week, their summer holidays offered them a chance to take a break from the classroom, and to play in the sunshine with friends. Education has provided them not only with the ability to read and write but also with the ability to feel confident, happy and to build strong relationships.

For children that have experienced war and conflict, the stability and normalcy that schooling brings not only helps to maintain that confidence and well-being, but is also a vital step to overcoming the trauma that many will have experienced.

The fact, therefore, that less than half of all primary school age refugee children currently have access to an education, a number that further drops to 25% for secondary school, is unacceptable. It is vital that donors and policy makers work together to do more to get the 37 million children around the world who are being denied access to education due to war and conflict back to school.

This year the EU humanitarian aid department (ECHO) demonstrated its commitment to education in emergencies by announcing a further 52 million Euro funding package for the area — part of their promise to raise the percentage of their annual budget for education in emergencies from 1% to 4%.
Others must follow their lead. The urgent need to increase the amount of funding for education in emergencies is further underlined by the increasingly protracted nature of conflict today. With the average person being displaced from their home for more than 17 years , we are risking generations of children growing up without the quality schooling they need to lead successful and fulfilled lives and to help rebuild their countries.

Children in Tanzania, back in school due to IRC and ECHO support get to grips with the alphabet. Photo: P. Biro/IRC

This is a phenomenon that extends well beyond the well documented plight of Syrian refugee children, affecting the lives of millions of children whose chances of receiving an education have been destroyed due to conflict. In Nigeria alone, 1 million children have been forced out of school due to violence.

In 2015, the International Rescue Committee helped some 1.3 million children gain access to education and schooling. Our approach gives children a range of opportunities depending on their needs, including non-formal or community based programmes that have pathways to the formal systems. The IRC supports the teaching of not just academic skills, but also social and emotional skills. These skills are known to be an important precursor to success for any child in the classroom and even more so for those who have encountered trauma.

In north-east Nigeria, the IRC, supported by ECHO, is enabling children forced to flee their homes by Boko Haram violence to get back to learning. Through the provision of a non-formal education programme, focused on social-emotional skills as well as literacy and numeracy we are helping them on the path to overcoming their trauma.

“Going to school makes my mother proud. When I come back home, she always asks me what I have learned today.” says Ruth. Photo: Euan Robinson for the IRC

For children like Ruth, 14, who was about to start secondary school when Boko Haram attacked her village, the importance of school is clear: “school and play help us forget what happened, and allows us to make new friendships so we can deal with our situation,” she says.

IRC’s country director in Nigeria, Sarah Ndikumana, explains: “if you ask adults their biggest need they will all say food, water, jobs. But if you ask children, they will all say that they want to go back to school.”

By providing education during an emergency, we can help to ensure not only that children like Ruth do not miss out on critical years of schooling, but also that they are equipped for a future of peace, ready to rebuild their communities once they are able to return home.

“I used to really struggle with maths, but our teacher is really helping me. Lessons are in Hausa [the local language] which makes things easier. One of my favourite subjects is English.” says Ruth.

We must ensure that Ruth and the other 37 million children out of school due to conflict, have that chance. For girls in particular, the evidence to support the importance of education is overwhelming. Girls who receive over seven years of schooling are likely to marry on average four years later, thereby avoiding the dangers associated with child marriage including early pregnancy and increased vulnerability to abuse and exploitation. Every extra year a girl spends in education leads to a potential 10–20% increase in her income. Girls who stay in school are also likely to have fewer and healthier children, helping to break the cycle of poverty and ensuring that future generations have a brighter future ahead of them.

Ruth plays with her classmates outside her classroom in north-east Nigeria. Photo: Euan Robinson for the IRC

The launch of the ‘Education Cannot Wait’ Platform at the recent World Humanitarian Summit offers some hope for the 462 million children who live in countries affected by crisis. The platform aims to transform the delivery of education in emergencies around the world, with the goal of reaching all crisis-affected children and youth with safe, free and quality education by 2030. This platform is evidence that the narrative is beginning to shift to ensure that not just more aid is being delivered, but better aid. We must ensure not only that children are in school, but that they are learning in safe and conducive environments that promote their well-being.

The International Rescue Committee committed to providing children, youth and adults with educational opportunities that help keep them safe and learning the skills they need to survive,thrive and overcome adversities and trauma. For school age children, the IRC is committed to ensuring that they develop literacy and numeracy as well as the social-emotional skills necessary to achieve this. For children like Ruth, these programmes are far more than a set of goals and have the real ability to shape and change lives.

“Nowadays without education, life is not complete. Going to school is always important, wherever you are,” says Ruth.

In partnership with the European Commission Department of Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), the IRC is prioritising education for children affected by conflict through the Children of Peace Initiative. Learn more about the IRC’s work around the world. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.

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