Power for Good

When educationalists in the UK and many other countries speak of exclusions, they are referring to students who have been asked to leave the classroom, usually as a result of their behaviour. Every now and again, there is a public outcry about the number of UK students being excluded, with records for 2014-15 showing 5,800 students were permanently excluded and a whopping 302,980 students were excluded for a fixed term.

Nearly a third of a million young people missing out on important parts of their education is an issue that needs to be addressed – and I am sure that the Department for Education would say that it is being.

But, what if that number was not a third of a million, but a full million? Or ten million? Surely, the media would have a field day, questions would be raised in Parliament and 'something' would be done.

And what if those students were not British? What if the schools from which they were excluded did not come under the authority of the Department for Education? And what if the reason for the students' exclusion was not their own behaviour, but that of local militias who have made educational provision dangerous, if not impossible?

Such questions are not hypothetical. The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, has warned that warfare and conflict are preventing 25 million young people from getting any access to school. In conflict zones in 22 countries, about one in five school-age children is missing out on education. And in south Sudan, almost three-quarters of primary-school-age children receive no formal education.

Whilst every exclusion – wherever in the world it might take place – is a minor disaster for those involved, the sheer scale of the disruption to young people's education in conflict-affected areas is breath-taking. And without the efforts of agencies such as UNICEF, the tragedy would be even greater. But the UN and its constituent agencies do not have an endless supply of funds on which to draw. Indeed, not only is the UN expected to do a lot with a little, but a number of its member states are notably slow in delivering their contributions, thereby creating even greater financial pressure.

Which is why the work of organisations such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is so important. At the end of April, the GPE - the only global fund solely dedicated to education in developing countries – launched a new fundraising drive for US$2 billion a year by 2020 to support 870 million children around the world. The drive also aims to mark the beginning of a new era of education financing which will reverse the trend of declining aid for education.

Such a fundraising campaign may be seen as problematic by some people. Why, they could argue, should the private sector and NGOs make additional financial contributions to work that is traditionally the responsibility of government? And why should more money be required, when each member of the UN contributes financially to addressing international, if not global, challenges?

To answer that, you only need to look at the alternative: do nothing and see what happens. Not only will the present lives of millions of young people be diminished, but their futures will also be undermined. And with the undermining of individuals' lives will come the undermining of communities' ability to prosper. Failing communities lead to failing nations and failing nations lead to further conflict. The cycle continues.

Investing today in offering sustained access to education – despite conflict, instability, poverty, energy access etc – instead represents an investment in the future. And not just in the future of those young people, many of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa, who are most directly affected. Rather, it is an investment in capacity-building, in nation-building, in peace.

As Muzoon Almellehan, a 19-year old Syrian now working in Chad with child refugees who have fled violence in Nigeria, says of her own experience:

"Education gave me the strength to carry on. I wouldn't be here without it.

"Conflict can take away your friends, your family, your livelihood, your home. It can try to strip you of your dignity, identity, pride and hope.

"But it can never take away your knowledge."

 

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