By Joyce Chimbi
A silent catastrophe is unfolding in Ethiopia on the backdrop of years of inter-communal conflict and the most prolonged and severe drought in recent years. High inflation and food insecurity in the drought-ravaged country is among the worst in the world.
The risk of losing an entire generation of children is imminent as nature’s wrath and conflict stand in the way, undermining access to education, school infrastructure, and functional educational administrative systems. Girls, especially teenage girls, children with disabilities, and displaced children, are among the most at risk.
Graham Lang, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Director of the High-Level Financing Conference and Chief of Education, visited Ethiopia on a joint high-level mission that included Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, the Minister of International Development for Norway, and Birgitte Lange, CEO of Save the Children Norway to take stock of urgent education needs.
“Ethiopia is facing one of the largest education crises in the world. The government estimates that over 13 million children are out of school. Of these 13 million, 3.6 million are out of school as a result of conflict and climate-related emergencies. This has increased from 3.1 million children in just a few months,” Lang told IPS.
“It is estimated that the worst drought in four decades is now impacting 1.6 million children alone, of whom over 500,000 have now dropped out of school. Additionally, there are over 430,000 refugee children, of whom close to 60 percent are out of school.”
He said the scale of the crisis is staggering and rapidly increasing. Within this context, Lang, Tvinnereim, and Lange visited schools and communities benefiting from holistic education support funded by ECW and delivered in partnership with UNICEF, Save the Children Ethiopia, and local partners in support of the Government.
“Education in crisis and conflict is a priority for the Norwegian government. In conflict, especially, girls drop out of school. What this field visit has shown us is that if you manage to bring children back into school, they will eventually help build the societies they live in,” said Tvinnereim.
ECW has invested $55 million in Ethiopia to date, which has reached over 275,000 children thus far, and is about to approve an additional $5 million for the drought response. The mission was an opportunity to highlight the needs, not just in Ethiopia but globally, and to further highlight the ongoing effort to get children back into school and keep them there.
The funding ECW provides through its multi-year resilience programme has supported the construction and rehabilitation of safe and protective learning environments such as schools, latrines, and canteens.
“It has also supported gender clubs. We witnessed boys and girls discussing issues such as gender-based violence and menstrual health management. Challenging deeply held norms around girl child education and empowering a new generation of girls to articulate their needs and fight for their right to education,” Lang expounded.
The delegation also saw ‘speed schools’ – an innovative program – where through a condensed programme, over-age children can complete three years of primary education in just ten months. Thereafter, these children can re-enter the system in grade 4. A lifeline for children who have dropped out of school because of conflict-related violence and displaced or climate changes.”
The delegation also encountered climate clubs where children and adolescents were discussing the impact of climate change, a real and visible phenomenon in Ethiopia, and for the 1.6 million children forced out of school by the drought.
The provision of one school meal a day, Lang affirmed, is such a powerful factor in drawing children into schools and keeping them there. ECW is also supporting community participation, including community leaders, parents, and teachers’ engagement to encourage children to return to school and stay in school.
The impact of these ongoing efforts on affected children and host communities was visible to the delegation. For instance, Lang says enrollments in targeted schools have significantly increased, in some cases three-fold and in other cases even quadrupled.
“The main challenge we see is funding at the global level, for example, to funds such as ECW and country level through donor governments, private sector institutions, and other means. This is the critical issue,” Lang emphasized.
“Partners on the ground are working with the governments to implement activities and make desired tangible changes. They have the capacity, commitments, and ability to scale these actions up so that all children can benefit, but there is not enough financing.”
ECW is committed to supporting crisis-impacted communities in Ethiopia and beyond to reach as many vulnerable children as funds will allow. In this regard, Lang spoke about ECW’s new strategic plan for 2023/2026, which starts in January through which ECW aims to reach 20 million children over the next four years.
To do that, ECW needs at least $1.5 billion to provide safe, inclusive, quality education for 20 million children. To launch action towards raising the much-needed $1.5 billion, Education Cannot Wait’s High-Level Financing Conference will take place in Geneva on 16 and 17 February 2023.
Hosted by Switzerland and Education Cannot Wait – and co-convened by Colombia, Germany, Niger, Norway, and South Sudan – the Conference calls on government donors, private sector, foundations, and high-net-worth individuals to turn commitments into action by making substantive funding contributions to ECW to realize #222MillionDreams.
IPS UN Bureau Report