Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

Education in Emergencies


"Safeguarding the right to education must be an integral part of our response to all crises. Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’ I would like to emphasise the term ‘for all.’ Refugee and displaced children cannot and must not be excluded."
-- Ms. Leila Zerrougui, SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict

The promise to get all children everywhere in school will not be achieved without a much greater commitment to planning, prioritising, and protecting education particularly in conflict and crisis contexts.

  • The number of out-of-school children and adolescents totalled 124 million and rising in 2013 (1).
  • Globally, one in eleven children is out of school, totaling 59 million children in 2013, a growth of 2.4 million since 2010. Of these, 30 million live in sub-Saharan Africa while 10 million are in South and West Asia (2).
  • One out of six adolescents is not in school, totaling 65 million in 2013. Of these, 26 million lived in South and West Asia, and 23 million in sub-Saharan Africa, where there are more adolescents out of school today than in 2000 (3). 
  • The proportion of out of school children in war zones has grown from 30% to 36% since 2000. There are now 34 million out of school children and adolescents living in conflict-affected countries (4). 
  • The world faces a shortfall of 3.3 million primary school teachers and 5.1 million lower secondary school teachers by 2030 and the areas most in need of education personnel are countries affected by emergencies and disasters (5).

Key impacts of conflict, natural hazards, and other emergencies

  • Displacement. The average length of displacement for refugees is now approaching 20 years (6). In protracted conflicts, destruction of infrastructure and limited access to remaining schools has the potential to deny education for several years, interrupt progress in education (for individual students and wider systems), and lead to entire generations missing out on an education.
  • Poverty. Conflicts and other crises interrupt economic activity and can drive families, communities, and countries deeper into poverty. For every three years of violence, GDP growth drops at least 2.7%, limiting opportunities for social and economic development (7).
  • Rise in violence against women and girls. The onset of disasters and armed conflict limits economic opportunities, weakens social institutions, and increases the chance of sexual violence against women and girls. Girls, particularly from poor families, are also at higher risk of early and forced marriage due to limited alternatives to protect and provide for families (8).


Education under attack

In addition to the challenges of ongoing conflict, displacement and other humanitarian emergencies, education is under attack around the world. Between 2009 and 2012, non-state armed groups, state

UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0062/Iyad El Baba ©
A girl looks through a hole in a wall in her school, in the Tal Al Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City that was shelled during a military incursion in the Gaza Strip.
armed and security forces, and armed criminal groups have attacked thousands of schoolchildren, teachers and education establishments in at least 70 countries worldwide (9). One key risk factor for attack is the military use of schools - as bases, barracks, weapon caches, and detention centers - putting schools at risk of targeting by opposing forces, and jeopardising the safety of the students within them (10). In April 2014, nearly 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in Nigeria, causing a global outcry and highlighting the importance of protecting schools, teachers and students and ensuring every child’s right to education everywhere.

Education: a  lifesaving intervention

Short-term: In emergencies, education saves lives and is a major component of strategies for child protection. Out-of-school children are at greater risk of violence, rape, and recruitment into fighting, prostitution, and other life-threatening, often criminal, activities (11)Education in these settings can also provide children with life-saving information including self-protection from sexual abuse, landmine awareness, hand-washing, and other survival skills necessary in the specific context (12). Importantly, providing education in emergencies sustains progress already made by school-going children and maintains investments made by children, parents, and communities, reducing the impact of interruptions caused by crisis.

Long-term: Education protects not only against situations that hurt and kill children immediately but also against future threats to lives and livelihoods. Education provides a return to familiar routines and instills hope for the future, mitigating the psychosocial impact of violence and displacement. Good quality education provided during conflict can also counter the underlying causes of violence, and foster inclusion, tolerance, human rights awareness, and conflict resolution – supporting the long-term processes of rebuilding and peace-building (13). Education lights every stage of the journey to a better life, especially for the poor and the most vulnerable. Education empowers girls and young women, in particular, by increasing their chances of getting jobs, staying healthy and participating fully in society – and it boosts their children’s chances of leading healthy lives (14, 15)

Children, parents, and communities demand education

In the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, 30% of individuals surveyed ranked education as their first priority – before basic services like health, water, food, shelter, and psychosocial support (16)

When children living in emergency and crisis are asked what they need most, time and time again they tell us they want to continue their education. According to 8,749 children caught up in 17 different emergencies – ranging from conflict to protracted crises and disasters – who took part in 16 studies by eight organisations covering 17 different emergencies, 99% of children in crisis situations see education as a priority. In eight studies surveying 4,713 children in nine emergency-affected countries where children were asked to rank their needs in order of priority, 38% identified education as their first priority, and 69% ranked education among their three highest priorities (17, 18).

The United Nations Secretary-General reports from his world travels that in ‘areas ravaged by war and disaster, the plea of survivors is the same – education first.’(19)

Financing education in emergencies

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the myriad benefits of education to individuals, families, and societies, education in conflict-affected situations continues to be underfunded by both governments and humanitarian actors alike (20). 

Conflict-affected countries are spending far below the recommended levels on education. In 2012, just 3.2% of national income was spent on education in 21 of these countries – far below the global average of 5% or the recommended target of between 4% and 6% of national income. With so many of the world’s out-of-school children and adolescents living in conflict-affected countries, investing in education should be a priority for donors, but many countries in protracted crises do not receive enough humanitarian financing. In addition, humanitarian aid appeals often do not include sufficient requests for education funding. In 2014 less than 2% of global humanitarian funding was allocated to education (21). 

After accounting for projected domestic spending, a minimum of US$38 per child and US$113 per adolescent annually is needed to ensure all children and adolescents in conflict-affected countries can go to school. This equates to a total funding gap of US$2.3 billion; ten times what was given in humanitarian aid to education in 2014. The total annual financing gap between available domestic resources and the amount necessary to reach the new education targets is projected to average US$39 billion between 2015 and 2030. The gap is particularly large in low income countries, where it constitutes 42% of annual total costs (22). Responsibility for filling this gap must not lie solely with humanitarian actors; governments need to increase their education budgets and development aid donors also need to play their part to ensure that all those in need are being reached (23, 24, 25, 26).

Putting it another way: It costs on average $1.18 a day per child in developing countries (low and lower-middle income) to provide a full cycle of pre-primary through secondary education (13 years). The largest share of this cost, 88%, will be borne by developing countries themselves, leaving the international funding gap at just 14 cents a day per child, on average (27). 

Although figures for adequately providing education in all coutnries and contexts are high, the cost of not doing so is far higher. Education in crises at times can be lifesaving, is certainly life sustaining, and is clearly important as a critical long-term investment as both a private and public good, including for a nation’s long-term human capital and economic growth (28). Simply put, without fully funding universal access to 12 years of good quality primary and secondary education, in line with proposed Target 4.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals, the vision of the sustainable future to be agreed in September 2015 cannot be achieved and the world will be robbed of the tremendous potential of girls and boys eager to learn and to lead (29, 30, 31). 

“Let us become the first generation to decide to be the last that sees empty classrooms, lost childhoods, and wasted potentials.” 

--Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Laureate and Education Activist

Education: a priority in emergencies

This short INEE video on the context and importance of education in emergencies is available in five languages. Watch the videos on YouTube by clicking the links below, or download the video files from the INEE Resource Database or from Google Drive for offline use. Video created by Sophie d'Aoust, © INEE 2014.

English  |  français  |  español  |  Português  |  ​اللغة



1. UNESCO Institute for Statistics and EFA Global Monitoring Report, Policy Paper 22 / Fact Sheet 31, "A growing number of children and adolescents are out of school as aid fails to meet the mark." July 2015.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report, "Teaching and learning: achieving quality for all." January 2014. 
6. James Milner and Gil Loescher, Refugee Studies Centre, Forced Migration Policy Briefing 6, “Responding to protracted refugee situations: lessons from a decade of discussion.” January 2011.
7. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Council on Foreign Relations, “Fragile states, fragile lives: child marriage amid disaster and conflict.” June 2014.
8. Ibid.
9. Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, “Education under attack 2014.”
10. Ibid.
11. Christopher Talbot, Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training (NORRAG), Working Paper #3, “Education in conflict emergencies in light of the post-2015 MDGs and EFA agendas.” January 2013.
12. Phillip Price, University of Denver, “Education in Emergencies: Benefits, Best Practices, and Partnerships.” 2011.
13. Christopher Talbot, Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training (NORRAG), Working Paper #3, “Education in conflict emergencies in light of the post-2015 MDGs and EFA agendas.” January 2013.
14. UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report, “Education transforms lives.” 2013.
15. UNESCO, “Data tell us.” 2014.
16. Catherine Gladwell and Lydia Tanner, Save the Children UK and the Norwegian Refugee Council, “Hear it from the children: why education in emergencies is critical.” 2014.
17. Save the Children UK, “What do children want in times of emergency and crisis? They want an education.” 2015.
18. Save the Children, World Humanitarian Summit - Regional Consultation: East and Southern Africa, “Education in emergencies: a community’s need, a child’s right.” October 2014.
19. Ban Ki-moon, Global Education First Initiative, "Statement from the Secretary-General." September 2012.
20. Education Cluster, “Education cannot wait: humanitarian funding is failing children.” 2013.
21. UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report, Policy Paper 21, “Humanitarian aid for education: why it matters and why more is needed.” June 2015.
22. UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report, Policy Paper 18, “Pricing the right to education: the cost of reaching new targets by 2030.” July 2015.
23. UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report, Policy Paper 21, “Humanitarian aid for education: why it matters and why more is needed.” June 2015.
24. UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report, Policy Paper 18, “Pricing the right to education: the cost of reaching new targets by 2030.” July 2015.
25. Elizabeth Wilson, Brian Majewski and Kerstin Tebbe, Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children Norway, “Walk the talk: review of donors’ humanitarian policies on education.” June 2015.
26. Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly and Claire Mason, Save the Children UK, “More and better: global action to improve funding, support and collaboration for education in emergencies.” 2015.
27. Global Partnership for Education website, September 2015
28. Susan Nicolai, Sébastien Hine and Joseph Wales, Overseas Development Institute, Background paper for the Oslo Summit on Education in Development, “Education in emergencies and protracted crises: toward a strengthened response.” June 2015.
29. The Malala Fund and Results for Development, “Beyond basics: making 12 years of education a reality for girls globally.” July 2015.
30. A World at School, "Policy in Brief: The Consequences of Not Investing In Education in Emergencies." July 2015
31. Brookings Center for Universal Education, "Financing Education: Opportunities for Global Action." July 2015