Promises to Keep and ‘Miles to Go Before We Sleep’


We have promises to keep. Promises for a more just, more equal world. Promises to provide inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG4) and Human Rights Conventions. Promises to leave no child behind.

This week, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, issued our “We Have Promises to Keep Annual Results Report.” The report highlights the significant progress ECW and our strategic partners have made since the Fund became operational in 2017.

We have reached 7 million children and adolescents with a quality education in the world’s most challenging humanitarian crises by working together with governments, donors, UN agencies, civil society organizations, the private sector, communities and affected youth. Girls represent nearly half of the beneficiaries reached. And, in 2021 alone, we reached 3.7 million children and adolescents, and an additional 11.8 million with our COVID-19 interventions.

While progress is being made, we still have a long way to go. As we deal with the multiplying impacts of war, conflict, displacement, climate change, COVID-19 and protracted crises, we must keep in mind that there are miles to go before we sleep. Indeed, we are faced with the cruel reality of 222 million children and adolescents worldwide in wars and disasters in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America who need urgent financial investments to access a quality education.

According to our recent analysis, 78.2 million of these children are out of school and 119.6 million are not achieving minimum competencies in mathematics and reading despite attending school. Exacerbating the issue even further, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a global learning crisis that threatens to leave millions out of the safety and protection of education forever.

Think about these numbers from a global perspective. 222 million crisis-affected girls and boys is more than the total population of Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy combined.

Education for these 222 million children is our investment in peace, our investment in universal human rights, our investment in sustainable economies, and our investment in a better world for generations to come. We need to come together to deliver on these 222 Million Dreams✨📚.

Education must come first if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, including SDG4: equitable, inclusive, quality education for all. We must work to inspire political support and financing, improve joint planning and timely response, and strengthen capacity, evidence and accountability through our education in emergencies and protracted crises investments around the world.

Together we have a dream for a better world. This means refugee girls like Bchiote in Ethiopia can dream of becoming a banker and boys like Jia in Bangladesh can dream of becoming a doctor. It means refugees are included in national education systems, such as in refugee-hosting countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Uganda that integrated refugee children into the national system.

It means new fast-acting responses that prevent interruption of a child’s education and immediately provide life-saving education to bring them back to quality learning, school feeding programmes and psychosocial support in countries like Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Ukraine and Yemen.

As a global movement and a coordinated and cooperative platform for action, ECW’s investments have been made possible through US$1.1 billion in contributions to the ECW Trust Fund. Germany’s ground-breaking additional$228.3 million contribution in 2021 – and its continued strong leadership and advocacy through the G7 – provide a beacon of light to deliver on these 222 million dreams.

Now world leaders, government donors, the private sector, foundations and high-net-worth individuals must step up to expand this work to ensure no child and no adolescent already suffering the hardship of wars, forced displacement and climate-disasters are left behind. 

This year’s United Nations Transforming Education Summit “seeks to mobilize political ambition, action, solutions and solidarity to change and elevate education: to take stock of efforts to recover pandemic-related learning losses; to reimagine education systems for the world of today and tomorrow; and to revitalize national and global efforts and investments to achieve SDG4.”

The lessons learned from this summit will build toward ECW’s High-Level Financing Conference taking place in Geneva in February 2023. Hosted by Switzerland and Education Cannot Wait – and co-convened by Germany, Niger, Norway and South Sudan – the conference offers an opportunity for global leaders to keep our promises and turn commitments into action for all children and youth left furthest behind in soul-shattering crises.

Now is the time to deliver on our promise. Their education cannot wait. We cannot rest until each of the 222 million children and youth in crisis have reclaimed their right to an education. To paraphrase the great poet Robert Frost, “We have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep.”

Yasmine Sherif
Yasmine Sherif
Yasmine Sherif is the Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait, the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. Follow ECW and Yasmine on Twitter at: @EduCannotWait and @YasmineSherif1.


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