Despite widespread commitments on paper to the second Millennium
Development Goal - the provision of universal primary education by 2015 -
72 million children remain out of school. More worryingly, 39 million
(54 per cent) of these children reside in conflict-affected fragile
states (CAFS), where they face multiple pressures in terms of lack of
access to basic rights, and an accompanying unwillingness on the part of
international donors or even local governments to place an emphasis on
As a result, one in three children in CAFS do not go to school,
compared to one in 11 in other low-income countries, according to data
compiled by the UK-based charity Save the Children (STC).
"It is obviously practically difficult, both logistically and in
terms of safety for students and staff," says Tove Romsaas Wang, the
head of STC's worldwide Rewrite the Future (RTF) campaign, which aims to
prove that primary education can be provided even in the difficult
circumstances presented in CAFS.
"But our starting point is that every child, whether you live in a conflict area or not, has the same right to education.
"Conflicts today may last 10 or maybe 30 years - if you don't provide
education in conflict situations, you may miss out on five or six
generations of primary school children."
Decimated teaching force
Undertaken in 2006, the RTC campaign has so far reached more than 10
million children in 20 countries - mainly located in Asia and Africa,
and including Angola, Afghanistan, Haiti, Cote d' Ivoire, Southern Sudan
and Uganda. Its aim is to both increase enrolment and improve the
quality of education in CAFS, in partnership with local ministries of
education, through a combination of direct investment of aid and
pressuring governments to live up to aid commitments.
RTF is funded through a combination of national, private and
corporate donors, the more significant of which include Australia,
Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, the US, the EC, the UN,
UNICEF, the World Bank, Accenture, ExxonMobil Foundation and Ikea.
There are several challenges when it comes to delivering education in
areas which are either experiencing conflict, or where conflict has
recently ended, according to John Gregg, the director of the Qatar-based
Education Above All NGO and strategic planner at the office of Her
Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned of Qatar. With active
hostilities, he said, logistics can be a challenge, but the lack of
teachers can often be of even greater concern.
"Often the first
wave of violence will actively target the elite, and this includes
teachers - either as pro-government figures, or as community leaders. So
you get situations where your actual teaching force has been decimated
by the conflict."
Exacerbating existing barriers
But the lack of teachers in these areas, while a key concern, is simply the tip of the iceberg.
In areas where conflicts are either ongoing or recently concluded, it
is often a serious logistical challenge to build new school structures,
deliver school materials - such as textbooks, desks and writing
materials - or revise curricula if need be. Moreover, in CAFS, the
conflict often exacerbates existing barriers such as poverty, lack of
infrastructure and discrimination in admissions policies - both economic
The RTF approach, Wang said, is that the actual school building
itself is secondary - teaching may happen "in someone's home, or even
under a tree". But while the teaching can occur in makeshift spaces,
what is important, she added, is to ensure that the education that is
being delivered is of a high quality.
To this end, RTF's approach focuses on training teachers, helping
communities rebuild their schools and providing school materials.
"One of our key learnings [sic] was that when we manage to work very
closely with the community, and the community takes ownership of the
school, [it] is likely to succeed," she stressed. In this respect, STC
is better placed than many other international actors, according to
Wang, because of the charity's long-term presence in these states. "We
have been in these countries for years. So this allows us to build trust
with local communities, networks and actors."
From the ground up
But having a context-driven, flexible approach to each state is
simply not enough. Resources, as ever, remain an abiding problem.
While CAFS represent 60 per cent of the current annual funding
requirements for education - which stands at $16.2bn - only about 10 per
cent of what they need is being committed to them, and even less
actually gets to them. "Often the priority for those who want to
respond [to conflicts or emergencies]," said Gregg, "is in a physical
thing. So, for instance, they say 'I want to build 70 schools'.
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"Okay, that's very nice, but where are the teachers for the 70
schools, where are the desks, where are the books? How about the teacher
training, or the psycho-social support for both students and teachers?
"Donors often get concerned about giving money in fragile environments, so they'd rather invest in something concrete."
data reveal a telling picture. As CAFS tend to also be low-income
countries, comparing their expenditure on education with
other low-income countries is a useful indicator. While other low-income
countries devote an average of 16.9 per cent of government
expenditure to education, CAFS spend just 13.5 per cent, even though
their needs may be far greater, given that in many cases they have to
rebuild education systems from the ground up.
This shortfall in local expenditure means that foreign donors become
particularly relevant in the case of CAFS. The 2010 UNESCO Education For
All Global Monitoring Report estimated that CAFS require $9.8bn in
education aid. The actual amount committed, however, remains a paltry
$1bn, of which less than 12 per cent ($113mn) has actually been
The issue is not just that there is a funding shortfall, but the way
that global education aid is structured. Not only is the aid tied to
government's domestic concerns (which have seen aid commitments from
countries such as the UK, Canada and the World Bank actually decrease),
but more than half of CAFS aid went to just five countries -
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Uganda.
Analysts say that this if often because these countries have a more
well-proven 'track record' when it comes to aid, and also because
delivery of aid to CAFS can often occur in unpredictable circumstances.
Wang, for example, pointed out that many donors would be unwilling to
invest in building schools in ongoing conflict zones because there is
no guarantee that the building will not be destroyed.
She asserted that this was a particularly unhelpful approach, as the
structure itself was simply a starting point for aid, and that it can
still be invested in many other, intangible education assets - such as
teacher training or funding support for local ministries of education.
Furthermore, with the lack of coordination in aid into conflict
zones, education often falls into the gaps between humanitarian and
development aid, with pre-crisis levels perhaps supporting education,
but emergency and post-crisis aid neglecting adequate investments in
Finally, much of the aid coming in from national donors, according to
Gregg, is often tied to very "narrowly defined government policy"
outcomes. These measures may look good, but they can be very
Gregg pointed to the Millennium Development Goal itself as an example
of this: "It's a very shallow measure, really. Getting children into
school is one thing, but is what they're getting at the school equipping
them for life? Is it a quality education? That's a huge question that
we're not measuring. So sometimes some of the things we set ourselves as
a goal or intent as a donor [...] are a little bit superficial."
Barriers remain high and funding scarce, but Wang said: "I think we
have made the point that it is possible to deliver education in CAFS.
When we deliver results, that will generate funding, as it is
unrealistic to expect donors to invest without a model for success to
And the effect is showing, with the Netherlands and Spain
both increasing their level of committed and delivered aid. The funding
shortfalls, however, remain, and with education aid levels actually
dropping between 2007 and 2008, it is clear that these are contingent
upon domestic political realities.
With the world financial crisis, innovative financing options now
need to be developed to allow money to continue to flow in in a manner
that builds sustainable systems. Steen Jorgensen, the World Bank's
sector head of human development in the Middle East North Africa region,
for example, has called for the development of a 'human capital'
market, to be run along the same lines as the carbon market.
In the meantime, children in CAFS continue to face poorly resourced
schooling systems, where governments remain either unable or unwilling
to make the necessary investments to provide them with access to primary
and secondary education, and barriers such as poverty, lack of teachers
and lack of quality education continue to exist.
With these 39 million voices out of the net, the Millennium
Development Goal remains a tool for rhetoric, in both possibilities for
attainment, and, perhaps, even content.