What’s next for ‘education in emergencies’? A veteran reflects.

Margaret Sinclair reflects on INEE’s Twentieth Anniversary Webinar

By Margaret Sinclair

Go for it, INEE! Cross the humanitarian-development divide and build the nexus to ensure children’s education

It was great to see representation of the founders and current actors within INEE at the webinar on 9 November 2020 for INEE’s twentieth anniversary. I remembered the late 1990s when Eldrid Midttun was arguing for education as the ‘fourth pillar of humanitarian response’, and when Gonzalo Retamal edited a large collection of papers advocating Education as a Humanitarian Response (1998). They faced an uphill task, as the ‘humanitarian’ branches of donor agencies were focused on keeping people alive and reluctant to fund education, except in certain favored refugee situations.

The 1990s had seen an eruption of civil conflict, leading to the idea of ‘complex humanitarian emergencies’ (with a combination of refugees, internally displaced, returnees and conflict-affected stay-put people in need of support). Following discussions on the topic at Dakar, and thanks to strong leadership from Chris Talbot of UNHCR, the Consultation on Education in Situations of Emergencies and Crisis was held in Geneva in November 2020—I was there behind the scenes, and INEE was set in motion and thrived.

Education levels and expectations have risen since then, and donors have increasingly acknowledged the call by INEE and its member organisations for education funding in crises. Yet, despite some gains in primary education, a myth arose, that primary education was ‘life-saving’ (and hence a ‘humanitarian’ priority) but secondary education was a luxury. There was and is no rationale for this. I spent my time at UNHCR in the 1990s arguing for secondary education as a necessity (to encourage students to persist through an often weak primary schooling and to build on it).

Based on the huge gaps in provision and quality that remain, I support the recommendation in the INEE 20th Anniversary Report that education in emergencies should receive 10% of humanitarian funding. Indeed, all of us should prepare needs assessments that genuinely aim for improved learning outcomes and full access, and donors should provide support from their humanitarian or development budgets or both, in line with SDG4. These should be real needs assessments. A directive from the head of a field office instructing each programme officer to ask for last year’s budget plus at most 5% or 10% means that the education appeals reaching the international community will be far from what is really needed. I speak from personal experience, having spent long hours putting refugee education budgets up to a realistic level when there was donor interest and then taking them down again when the interest did not materialize; and having to compete with other sectors for space in the latest appeal. Education is not like other sectors, which require more up-front expenditure: education requires continuous support for increased and improved learning opportunities (if quality improves and drop-out lessens).

The time is ripe for a new approach, post-COVID-19, and INEE can help facilitate the discussion. Ideas about school operations are now more flexible. And there is support for investment in EdTech. Shortages of teachers and facilities at secondary level can be overcome to some extent, even in difficult or remote situations, by the provision of pre- recorded and other lower-level EdTech approaches. Teachers can study and/or receive coaching remotely, though some in-person visits are needed for best results.

Where will the needed resources come from and how can they be justified?

This remains a challenge. Perhaps some new funding sources can be found from the private sector and perhaps new education configurations can reduce cost. Remote learning as such doesn’t make sense for most children, as COVID-19 has shown, and more so where crisis has impacted students’ lives, making concentration difficult. The teacher has a key role to play, as has the peer group. Last week I was happy to see a webinar in which the NGO Camfed described their ‘Learner Guides’, —girls from poor families who have been supported through secondary school and now teach life skills classes in schools in their own community as volunteers, while receiving support to start their own business to stay afloat. Where there is a will, there is a way. Young people need to see positive roles for themselves, and if they could be enlisted in this way to help children overcome the barrier of acquiring reading fluency, that would be a huge step forward in the cost-effectiveness of schooling.

My justification for seeking donor resources for education in difficult situations of conflict and insecurity is pragmatic. Young people in those situations are at the fault lines between different social groupings in their societies. If they are not educated, and fall further behind their peers, then inequalities and misconceptions that can lead to conflict will be worsened, and this may have consequences for stability and security, at home and around the world.

Education is a special sector which, in protracted crises, must sit astride the humanitarian-development nexus and build for the future. For refugees, the 2018 Global Compact means they will be part of a host country education system, but in lower income countries this requires lifting standards of education for all schools in the often remote refugee-hosting areas. In short, we must acknowledge that the funding of education, from pre-school years to adulthood, in crises which are often measured in decades not years, means that ‘education in emergencies’ is not just a ‘humanitarian’ activity, but a priority investment in ‘development’ in crisis-affected areas if they are to recover and enjoy peace.

How can INEE and EiE contribute to conflict mitigation and prevention?

This question was raised during the INEE 20th Anniversary event, and remains of interest to me personally. Equitable access to education across identity groups is a key requirement of peacebuilding. In terms of curriculum, I helped organize the life-skills-based peace education programme in Kenya camps which ran successfully from 1998-2005—until trust funds were abolished by UNHCR’s governing body. An evaluation in 2002 showed that in such circumstances, this kind of highly contextualized small scale programme could be very effective. This programme was renamed an INEE programme to encourage others to take it up; but funds were very scarce and the initiative faded.

The term ‘peace education’ can be problematic, as governments don’t like to be seen as fearing conflict or its recurrence. There are many titles used for similar collections of competencies, including in the last few years ‘social and emotional learning’ (SEL), a term which is likely to be more palatable to ministries of education. Stephanie Jones at Harvard has analysed SEL programmes and categorized their contents under cognitive, social, emotion, values, perspectives, identity domains. I was pleased to see that she included conflict resolution skills (as part of the ‘social’ skills domain).

It’s not practicable to train all teachers in this area, so a small group of academics and practitioners have come together to explore the potential contribution of textbooks. I’m a co-founder of Networking to Integrate SDG 4.7 and SEL into Education Materials (NISSEM), formed in 2018 after a workshop convened by USAID’s Education in Crisis and Conflict Network and Education Above All. Education materials can reach teachers and learners across an education system, even in times of insecurity and protracted crisis. They can be used during school closures (if students have them!). For teachers and students alike, the textbook often IS the curriculum and the only teaching-learning resource. NISSEM aims to see competencies to support personal development and responsible citizenship – yes, and very importantly, conflict resolution skills – embedded in textbooks alongside supportive pedagogy.

Putting a tiny bit of extra resources into enriching textbooks and other materials with contextualized SEL and its applications to positive student agency for peace and sustainable development will not break the bank in any country. It should be as standard a requirement as gender equality. The World Bank called for textbook renewal in support of social cohesion, in 2006. It’s time to act. Let’s fund education fully across the humanitarian-development nexus and ensure, moreover, that gender, social cohesion and sustainable development clauses are required in every plan and contract. Go for it, INEE!
Margaret can be contacted at ma.sinclair@gmail.com. For updates on NISSEM’s Global Briefs and SELChat podcasts, please register at https://nissem.org/nissem

An INEE Twentieth Anniversary blog cross-posted, with permission, from https://inee.org/anniversary. The graphic, by Dr. Max Frieden of Artolution, is a creative visualisation of the Anniversary event.

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