By Taleen Vartan
NEW YORK, 13 October 2010 – In 2009, over 6 million children around the globe benefited from interventions to restore learning and improve the quality of education in countries affected by emergencies. As the world marks the International Day for Disaster Reduction today, a report released by UNICEF shows how education programmes in countries affected by conflict or natural disasters – and sometimes both – are overcoming odds and contributing to long-term dev.
Enabling children to go to school during and after emergencies is a core part of UNICEF’s mandate. Since 2006, UNICEF has dramatically scaled up work in education in emergencies and post-crisis transition countries through the Back on Track programme.
This $201 million initiative, funded by the Dutch Government, represents the largest single earmarked contribution to UNICEF from a government donor. The European Commission also contributed about $5 million to the programme. This combined support has ensured that children are helped both at the immediate onset of emergencies – when the task is to restore schooling and establish a safe environment for learning – and in the more sustained period of post-crisis reconstruction aimed at building back education systems.
“Meeting these urgent needs for millions of children has been critical,” said UNICEF Deputy Director of Programmes Dan Rohrmann. “The programme has also been able to reverse prevailing tendencies to suspend support for education and other social services in situations of chronic crises, arrested development and deteriorating contexts. This has truly helped put children first and put UNICEF on the cutting edge of educational assistance.”
As of 2009, 38 countries from all regions of the world had participated in the Back on Track programme.
Restoring education after conflict
In post-crisis Sri Lanka, Back on Track has been instrumental in enabling UNICEF to contribute to meaningful and sustainable education initiatives in war-torn areas. UNICEF and partners provide supportive and protective learning environments for Sri Lankan children in the short term, while building a foundation to improve the quality of education, provide school access for the most vulnerable populations, and maintain school retention rates in the long term.
“Education plays a key role in bringing the communities of this country back to where they were,” said Brenda Haiplik, UNICEF’s Chief of Education in Sri Lanka. “It brings peace, it brings stability in communities. Children take messages home so it’s not just education and learning in the classroom. It is hygiene and health information and protection … knowledge going back to the home environment. And that will change lives.”
To support children in conflict-affected areas where security issues inhibited school attendance during the civil war in Sri Lanka, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education provided home-based learning modules for children in grades one through five. While the environment on the ground has changed significantly in the north and east of the country since the war ended in May 2009, initiatives such as these are geared to adapt to the situation while helping children keep up with their schoolwork and building the capacity of the education system in the country as a whole.
Through the Back on Track programme, UNICEF also has developed post-crisis education interventions in Guinea, such as the Learning Along Borders (LAB4LAB) Initiative. LAB4LAB aims to provide access to education and increase school enrolment for all children, including refugees and the displaced, in areas bordering the civil war-ravaged countries of Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
In order to ease conflict and create safe spaces for community education and social activity, LAB4LAB uses innovative education practices that promote diversity, gender equality and multiculturalism.
In 2009, the Back on Track programme made it possible to enrol 1,045 children between the ages of 7 and 10 in eight border schools in Guinea, construct eight child-friendly schools, involve local communities and pioneer pedagogical approaches with nationwide impact.
Sri Lanka and Guinea are two of the many examples of the significant impact being achieved by the Back on Track programme over the past four years. The fund has also been used for emergency response programmes for children living in areas that are vulnerable to natural disasters, such as the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, to receive learning opportunities.
For more information on Sri Lanka, Guinea, and other countries involved in the programme, please read the Consolidated 2009 Progress Report to the Government of the Netherlands and the European Commission.