Podcast #90: Shine the light of education

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After decades of reporting on the human cost of war, Janine di Giovanni can clearly articulate the way forward. “We have to shine the light in darkness, and that light is education,” she says in the latest Beyond School Books podcast.

© Rannjan Joawn
Janine Di Giovanni

NEW YORK, United States of America, 22 January 2014 – As the world’s private and public sector leaders gather in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, UNICEF and its partners have one message: Invest in girls’ empowerment.

Around the world, girls are often denied their right to education – and therefore the opportunity to reach their full potential. The situation for girls’ education is especially dire in countries that are affected by conflict.

Yet investing in girls’ education is the ultimate ‘win–win’ for everyone. For example, a one percentage point increase in secondary female education raises the average level of GDP by 0.3 percentage points.

The figures speak clearly, but are the decision-makers listening? If not, how do we make them listen?

In this episode of Beyond School Books, we spoke with Janine Di Giovanni, who, for the past 30 years, has been reporting about the human cost of conflict. An award-winning author and journalist, and currently Middle East editor for Newsweek magazine, Ms. Di Giovanni has been covering conflicts since the 1980s. She is attending the Davos conference with one goal in mind: to inform policy and influence change through stories that give conflict a human face.

Listen to the podcast in streaming MP3 format


Ms. Di Giovanni has just returned from South Sudan, where, according to her, more than 60,000 people are displaced and are being sheltered by the United Nations. “I can’t tell you how miserable their lives are,” she said. “Just the hunt for water, for sanitation, for food…Their lives have been stopped, their education has been stopped. Everything is on hold, and they have lost people…Some of them are alone in the world because they have lost everyone they know.”

Ms. Di Giovanni talked to different children at length, while in South Sudan. “It is interesting because UNICEF in Juba, South Sudan, was preparing children for exams on January 13. It’s very important when people are living in dire conditions to have some semblance of ordinary life, of what life used to be like,” she said. Ms. Di Giovanni hopes to convey this story and others to leaders who are participating in the Davos conference, therefore acting as a conduit of policy information.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0149/Brian Sokol
South Sudan, 2012 Boys who have been displaced by inter-ethnic violence play volleyball, outside a UNICEF-supported child-friendly space, in Pibor Town, Pibor County, Jonglei State. The space provides recreational activities for over 200 children, serves as a temporary learning centre and also offers psychosocial support.

Discussing the role of education and schools in conflict situations, Ms. Di Giovanni relayed a story from an earlier trip to Juba – two years ago. She said that she witnessed a strong desire to learn. “I went to schools, spoke to teachers, students and educators – and what was really extraordinary was the desire to learn, because they realize that knowledge propels them out of a very dark place,” she said.

She sees education not only as the way out of darkness, but more so, as a strong component that prevents societies from falling into conflict in the first place. Asked about what makes her hopeful, she said: “Someone said to me, ‘How do we prevent getting to this place [conflict]?’ The way we prevent that is education. Aside from the other things that lead to conflict, such as lack of transparency, corruption, lack of justice, lack of strong institutions, there is also the fact that there has to be education. We have to shine the light in darkness – and that light is education.”

Story by Rudina Vojvoda

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