Global fund helps nine million children with their education amid pandemic

The Education Can't Wait fund, hosted by UNICEF rapidly allocated $23 million in COVID-19 emergency grants to support continued access to education
Representative Image | Pic: Flickr
Representative Image | Pic: Flickr

As the world marked the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, initial progress reports on the Education Cannot Wait's (ECW) Covid emergency responses to date showed that the fund and its partners have already reached over nine million vulnerable girls and boys in the midst of the worst education crisis of the lifetime.

Within days of the declaration of the pandemic one year ago, the ECW, hosted by UNICEF, rapidly allocated $23 million in Covid emergency grants to support continuous access to learning opportunities and to protect the health and wellbeing of girls and boys living in emergencies and protracted crises.

Shortly after, the ECW continued to scale up its response with a second allocation of $22.4 million -- specifically focusing on refugee, internally displaced and host community children and youth. "During Covid-19, our investments have been life-sustaining for children and youth enduring crisis and conflict around the world. Despite the pandemic, our government partners, civil society and UN colleagues have been working hand in hand with communities to deliver remote learning and continued education in safe and protective learning environments," said ECW Director Yasmine Sherif. "Yet, so many children and youth have been left behind, as financial resources are required to reach them. We risk losing entire generations of young people who are already struggling in emergencies and protracted crisis."

Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education and the Chair of ECW's High-Level Steering Group, reinforced the urgent need for more funding to deliver on Sustainable Development Goal 4 through ECW --during and after the pandemic: "I call on all education stakeholders to join Education Cannot Wait's efforts in mobilizing an additional $400 million to immediately support the continued education of vulnerable children and youth caught in humanitarian crises, stressing the need to move with speed. "We cannot afford to lose more time, nor to let millions of refugee and conflict-affected children, their families and teachers lose hope."

In total, ECW's COVID-19 emergency grants target 32 million vulnerable children and youth (over 50 per cent of whom are girls) in over 30 countries affected by armed conflict, forced displacement, climate-related disasters and other crises. For these girls and boys, the pandemic has generated a 'crisis within a crisis', further entrenching pre-existing vulnerabilities and inequalities.

Without access to the protection and hope of an education, they face multiple risks, including child labour, child marriage and early pregnancy, human trafficking, forced recruitment into armed groups, sexual exploitation and gender-based violence. ECW's COVID-19 emergency grants to over 80 United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations working on the ground in 33 crisis-affected countries and contexts support a wide range of interventions ranging from pre-primary (19 per cent), primary (56 per cent) and secondary (25 per cent) education as well as non-formal education.

These include: Remote learning: with the total disruption of the usual education systems in emergency-affected areas, ECW grants support alternative delivery models, including informal education materials at the household level, as well as scaling up distance education programmes, particularly via interactive radio. A focus on gender: gender-specific actions were integrated at the design stage of the response, supporting rapid gender assessment and targeted approaches for girls. Over half of the children and youth reached to date are girls and 61 per cent of all teachers trained are women.

A focus on forcibly displaced population: seven million refugee and internally displaced children and youth are specifically targeted through ECW-supported interventions.

Safe and protective learning environment: Activities improve access to water, hygiene and sanitation to protect children and their communities against the risks of COVID-19. Messaging, tailored to local languages and contexts, provides practical advice about how to stay safe, including through handwashing and social distancing.

Mental health and psychological support: This includes COVID-19-specific guidance and training for parents and teachers to promote the resilience and the psychosocial wellbeing of children and youth. ECW also supports all children and adolescents to receive instruction in social emotional learning.

In addition to its 12-month emergency grants portfolio, ECW also invests in multi-year resilience education programmes that provide longer-term holistic learning opportunities for children and youth caught in protracted crises to achieve quality education outcomes.

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