The Global Education Crisis Must Be Addressed Today to Build a Better Tomorrow

In 2023 humanitarian funding for education in emergencies dropped by 4%. As we lead up to the Summit of the Future and UN General Assembly, we have a chance to put education back on top of the international agenda.

We are facing a global education crisis. In all, 250 million children are out of school worldwide. On the frontlines of the world’s worst humanitarian crises – in places like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gaza, Sudan, Syria and Ukraine, where more than 224 million girls and boys are in need of urgent education support – the situation is even more dire. 

The crisis is derailing development gains, stalling peace processes, upending economic progress and actively denying millions of girls and boys across the globe their inherent human rights, especially the right to a quality education.

Despite these challenges – and the proven return on investment for every dollar spent on education – humanitarian funding for education in emergencies dropped for the first time in a decade in 2023, according to a new analysis from the Geneva Global Hub for Education in Emergencies (EiE Hub).

There are numerous issues at play here. Global humanitarian funding dropped from US$41.5 billion in 2022 to US$33.9 billion in 2023, a truly concerning 18% decline. By the end of April 2024, total humanitarian funding was already 36% down from the same period the previous year.

Education is a traditionally neglected sector in this overall humanitarian funding window. This said, over the past ten years – with the emergence of dedicated global multilateral funds such as Education Cannot Wait (ECW) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) – humanitarian funding for the education sector inside and outside of UN-led humanitarian appeals saw a notable increase from US$136 million in 2012 to US$1.16 billion in 2022. 

In 2023, this trend came to a halt, when US$1.12 billion was mobilised to address education needs in humanitarian crises – a 4% decrease from the year before.

The countries where children’s education is at greatest risk are the most underfunded. In all, 11 of the countries that Save the Children viewed as having ‘extreme’ or ‘high’ risks to education in 2023 – Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – were also the places where the education sector was critically underfunded.

This is madness. It simply doesn’t make any sense. In the countries with the greatest needs – where girls and boys face grave violations of their human rights including killing and maiming, forced recruitment into armed groups, sexual violence, abduction, attacks on schools and denial of humanitarian access – we are delivering the least amount of education support.

A Value Proposition for Education in Emergencies

As we look forward to this year’s Summit of the Future and the United Nations General Assembly in our race to deliver on the promises outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we have a number of opportunities to address these persistent challenges.

First and foremost, Education Cannot Wait and the Global Partnership for Education should receive increased funding in accordance with stated targets, while collaboration between the two global funds should be further strengthened and institutionalised to build on previous successes.

ECW has already mobilized more than US$900 million toward its 2023-2026 Strategic Plan. With US$600 million in additional funding, ECW and its strategic global partners can reach 20 million crisis-impacted children with the power and opportunity that only quality, holistic education provides. 

Secondly, we must expand funding for education in emergencies across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. This means delivering with humanitarian speed while also paving the way toward sustainable development with long-term development investments.

And finally, we must connect climate action with education action to tap new resources and partners. ECW’s climate appeal was launched at COP28 in Dubai. The appeal calls for world leaders, the private sector and other key stakeholders to urgently mobilize US$150 million in additional funding for ECW’s climate and education programmes. At the COP, Denmark announced approximately US$6.5 million in additional funding to ECW to scale-up access to quality educational opportunities for girls and boys living on the frontlines of the climate crisis. This is a key first step to improve the delivery and impact of both education and climate investments worldwide.

The cost of inaction is truly astounding. Even when they are in school, millions more children are falling further behind. Without additional measures, by 2030, an astonishing 300 million children will lack basic numeracy and literacy skills worldwide. This will have unimaginable consequences on world security and the global economy.

We must act now – as a united people – to place funding for education in emergencies at the top of the global agenda. This is our investment in human rights, our investment in equality and our investment in peace in our times.

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.