By Taleen Vartan
NEW YORK, USA, 31 July 2012 – Humanitarian emergencies – from natural disasters to war and conflict – devastate families, societies and nations. In times of crisis, the fundamental right of every child to a quality education is often most contested, and also most needed.
To address this challenge on a global scale, UNICEF has significantly scaled up work in education in emergency and post-crisis transition countries since 2006 through the Education in Emergencies and Post-Crisis Transition programme. This five-year initiative, also known as the Back on Track programme, worked to ensure that children are supported both at the initial onset of emergencies – by restoring schooling and ensuring a safe learning environment – and by building back education systems in the long run.
The Government of the Netherlands has made Back on Track possible, contributing US$201 million. The European Commission also provided additional support of US$5.76 million to the programme.
The Back on Track programme supported a wide range of innovative education initiatives in 42 countries and territories that leveraged strategic partnerships and built evidence through enhanced monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
Key achievements of the programme
Between 2006 and 2011, UNICEF was better able to meet education needs during and after large scale devastating crises such as Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, the 2010 Haiti earthquakes, the Pakistan floods and the Horn of Africa drought and food crisis.
Overall, the Back on Track programme restored access to and improved the quality of education for 37 million children in emergency and post-crisis transition contexts. An additional 11 million children benefited indirectly through national adoption of best practices in education, innovative financing mechanisms and advocacy for policy reforms.
Nearly 300,000 teachers and education support staff received essential training and more than 30,000 schools, classrooms and temporary learning spaces were built or rehabilitated as part of the programme. More than 36 million items of education supplies, such as books and pencils, were distributed to children, teachers and communities.
Quality approaches to education included the implementation of child-friendly schools and policies as well as better integration of early childhood programmes and practices. Disaster risk reduction in education was significantly enhanced and strengthened as well. Moreover, the programme supported documentation and knowledge sharing of innovative practices in education in emergencies.
To improve the effectiveness of emergency response at global, regional and national level, the programme also provided support to the Global Education Cluster and helped build the capacities of nearly 5,000 front-line responders and 449 cluster coordinators in the application of standards and best practices in education in emergencies.
Challenges and moving forward
Back on Track operated in complex emergency and post-crisis contexts; the precarious nature of these situations led to considerable challenges for planning and implementation throughout the course of the programme. For example, many countries lacked national data on marginalized populations. Some initiatives, such as Learning Along Borders for Living Across Boundaries, which provided access to education in areas bordering the civil war-ravaged countries of Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone, were undermined by high maintenance costs and uncertainty about local communities’ capacity to support schools in the long term.
Despite these challenges, the achievements and contribution of the Back on Track programme have brought concrete and prevalent gains in education for children and youth. Programming has worked to create education systems that are more resilient in the face of crisis and to strengthen links between transitions from emergency contexts to reconstruction for long-lasting dev.
Moving forward, UNICEF will build on the experience of the Back on Track programme to continue to drive discourse around the concepts of education in emergencies, peacebuilding and social transformation within conflict-affected societies.