2021 Report
Around the world, 222 million children and adolescents are currently experiencing conflict and crises. Of those children, 78.2 million are unable to attend school and 119.6 million face barriers to an adequate education. The findings come from the United Nations’ education fund in crisis-impacted countries, Education Cannot Wait, in its 2021 report.

Education Cannot Wait is the U.N.’s first global fund for “education in emergencies and protracted crises.” The fund underwent establishment in 2016 at the World Humanitarian Summit and aims to ensure that every child can attain an education, regardless of their circumstances.

Despite global challenges, ECW found many successes in 2021, from increased funding to the number of children it was able to serve with its programs. Titled “We Have Promises to Keep,” the 2021 report highlights the fund’s record highs in education grants and mobilization as well as improved gender parity in its educational programs.


  • Forcible displacement due to conflict or disaster presents the main barrier to education. Children and adolescents have disproportionate representation among internally displaced, refugee and returnee populations. A little under half of the 89.3 million internally displaced people in 2021 were under the age of 18, which had a significant impact on their access to education. Child refugees may not be able to enroll in school within temporary accommodations or host communities, or they face financial pressure to work and support their families. The increasing trend in displacement has only continued. As of May 2022, there were more than 100 million displaced people, a record-breaking number according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
  • Changing weather patterns remains one of the primary causes of displacement and its impact on education. Natural disasters drove the most displacement in 2021 and around 40 million children have disruptions in education because of extreme weather. Climate-driven poverty and malnutrition are also becoming a large concern for children, especially in South American and African countries.
  • Attacks and military presence in schools have increased, especially in crisis-impacted countries. There were 2,100 attacks on education in 2021, which was a 33% increase from 2019. Moreover, girls were subject to gender-based attacks in at least 11 countries. 
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issues mentioned above. Low and middle-income countries have been slow to reopen schools, and 42 countries still had partial closures and six countries had fully closed schools as of July 2022. The countries also face challenges in implementing remote learning due to the lack of widespread technology access. This disproportionately affects girls, as the report points out the “digital gender divide.” 


  • According to the 2021 report, ECW raised $388.6 million in funding in 2021 and mobilized a total of $1.07 billion since its establishment, which surpassed its initial targets. 
  • The fund supported 11.8 million children and adolescents through its COVID-19 interventions in 2021 alone, bringing the total number of children supported during the pandemic to 31.2 million, of which more than half were girls. A large share were children from internally displaced and refugee populations. 
  • It also provided textbooks and learning materials to more than 2 million children in 2021. 
  • ECW implemented programs in 32 countries with 174 grants, the majority of which were countries in severe crisis. 
  • The share of children reached for early childhood education increased from 5% in 2019 to 9% in 2021, and secondary education from 3% to 11% for the same period. 
  • About 92% of ECW programs reportedly achieved improved gender parity. 

Looking Ahead

Education Cannot Wait’s “We Have Promises to Keep” report shows that even in the face of increased global challenges, significant progress can occur. Despite setbacks in the education sector, the fund broke records and targets set in 2016. However, keeping increasing trends in conflict and crises and their impact on education in mind, more work if necessary.

Ramona Mukherji
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Malawi's SchoolThe COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools to shut down globally, leading to a crisis of learning as countless students are left without in-person instruction. School reopenings in Malawi show this effect, where remote learning alternatives are not widely available. A week-long teacher walkout recently heightened the tension between education and public health in what has already been a rocky school reopening. While Malawi attempts to balance the safety of teachers with the learning of an already struggling student population, international organizations such as UNICEF have lent a helping hand.

Malawi Teachers Strike

On April 6, 2021, in-person education in Malawi was put on hold as the nation’s teachers left their classrooms and refused to return. The boycott was in response to a dispute between the Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) and the federal government. The government failed to deliver the nation’s teaching staff a previously promised monthly stipend of MK50,000 (about $66) as additional compensation for the hazardous nature of their positions.

Malawi’s government has argued that it does not have enough funding to compensate its teachers, an expense that would cost the impoverished government $2.4 million each month. But, teachers refused to return to the classroom without their hazard pay, until TUM signed a deal with the government, which sent teachers back to work empty-handed.

Learning During the Pandemic

The teachers’ boycott in April was yet another interruption during an already fragmented school year. Malawi’s schools were initially closed on March 23, 2020, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. After months of closed schools and public outcry, Malawi’s president reopened the nation’s schools in a two-stage process in early September 2020. Unfortunately for Malawi’s students, the return to school was not long. Around mid-January 2021, Malawi’s schools closed once again as COVID-19 cases spiked throughout the country. It was not until February 22, 2021, that students returned to classroom learning.

Malawi faced significant difficulties in supplementing school closures with remote learning alternatives. During the initial closures, the government, in conjunction with UNICEF, implemented the Emergency Radio Education Programme (EREP). The EREP delivered primary school lessons to Malawi’s students over the radio. In total, the EREP delivered 400 lessons in English, maths and Chichewa to nearly two million primary school students. Furthermore, more than 70,000 high school students had access to online learning and 50,000 high school students received self-study resources.

But, these remote learning initiatives were not all-inclusive. More than 60% of primary and secondary students in Malawi did not have access to remote learning resources during school closures. These long-term lapses in learning have been devastating for students.

Malawi’s School System

Primary education in Malawi became free in 1994. Since then, 90% of Malawi’s school-age children have enrolled in primary schools. Yet, high enrollment has caused problems because Malawi’s education system does not have the infrastructure to support and teach such a massive student body.

While Malawi’s education system has met the rising demand for schooling, it has struggled to maintain quality schooling. A review of student performances in Malawi found low rates of comprehension in multiple subjects. Additionally, only about half of Malawi’s students complete their primary education. Furthermore, for those who do pass primary school, only 16% continue to receive a secondary education.

The frequent pauses in learning due to the pandemic threaten to degrade students’ already low rates of comprehension and completion. Malawi’s education system has received international assistance to avoid further issues.

UNICEF Assists

UNICEF has been a key ally to Malawi’s education system during the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from implementing Malawi’s Emergency Radio Education Program, UNICEF’s most substantial efforts have been to procure international funding for the education system’s COVID-19 response. This effort included $10 million from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and more than $300,000 from the Education Cannot Wait fund.

UNICEF has also helped to create health and safety protocols, which have guided the return of Malawi’s students and teachers to classrooms. Additionally, UNICEF has worked to distribute supplies to Malawi’s schools. For instance, the organization delivered 650 portable chalkboards to disadvantaged schools to facilitate outdoor learning for thousands of students.

UNICEF’s support has been vital to the reopening of Malawi’s schools during the pandemic. However, the recent teacher walkouts illustrate that the impacts of COVID-19 are persistent in Malawi. Malawi will need further international support for the country to fully revitalize its education system.

Joseph Cavanagh
Photo: Flickr

Importance of Primary EducationOf all the resources that may cause enrichment of a nation, none are as valuable as the cognitive attainments of its population. The issue of access to primary education remains a critical one for many nations, particularly those in the developing world. Access to primary education and the impediments to its universalization may determine a nation’s trajectory for many years. Below are 10 facts about the importance of primary education.

10 Facts About the Importance of Primary Education

  1. Primary Education Consequences: Major life-long consequences accrue from access to primary education. The cumulative nature of the learning process, whether in literacy or numeracy, requires the early internalization of basic abstractions. Without this process at a young age, children fall behind in the trajectory of cognitive development and fail to reach their potential. Moreover, primary educational access facilitates the identification of, and assistance to, both gifted and struggling young minds.
  2. Nations’ Development: A nation’s development relies considerably on the access of its population to educational institutions. Access to primary education, regardless of class or caste or income, levels the social playing field. Gender equality, another significant marker of national development, improves alongside the universalization of access to educational institutions, including primary schools.
  3. Refugee Children: According to the United Nations, roughly 39 percent of refugee children across the globe do not receive a primary school education. This enrollment statistic contrasts sharply with that of non-refugee children, with 92 percent receiving primary school education. From 2017 to 2018, the number of unenrolled primary-school-age refugee children rose to a total of four million.
  4. Teachers: UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics calculates that ensuring primary education access for all requires roughly 24.4 million more primary school teachers. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers a scarcity of primary school teachers in more than 70 percent of its constituent nation-states. South Asia falls directly behind Sub-Saharan Africa in its primary school teacher scarcity crisis, requiring approximately four million more teachers by 2030 to attain the goal of universal primary education.
  5. Disabled Children: A UNESCO study of 37 countries determined that children with disabilities face a greater likelihood than their non-disabled peers of total exclusion from primary school and are more likely to experience fewer years enrolled in school and suffer major literacy deficits. These disadvantages are more likely to afflict disabled girls, thus sharpening gender asymmetries. Of the studied countries, Cambodia exhibited the most dramatic gap between disabled students and their peers, with 57 percent of the former unenrolled compared to 7 percent of the latter.
  6. Gender Parity Improvements: Data suggests improvements in gender parity in access to primary education. Sub-Saharan Africa features a 2 percent gap between the genders in non-delayed access to primary education, with 29 percent of girls unenrolled compared to 27 percent of boys. However, of children two or more years above the standard enrollment age, girls remain at a disadvantage compared to boys, attesting to the persistent influence of gender expectations on access to primary education.
  7. Violence and Exploitation: Children deprived of access to primary education risk a greater likelihood of suffering violence and exploitation. Where educational deprivation results from conflict or natural catastrophe, the danger of child trafficking intensifies. Conflict and natural disasters impeded educational access for approximately 39 million girls in 2015. As girls face a greater likelihood of impeded educational access than boys in conflict-ridden or disaster-affected regions, girls likewise face an increased risk of child trafficking out of proportion with their population percentage.
  8. Education Cannot Wait (ECW): On December 11, 2019, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced a $64 million educational funding initiative in the conflict-ridden countries of Chad, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Syria. Though targeting affected youth of all backgrounds, this project places particular focus on girls, disabled children and refugees. This initiative will facilitate teacher training and student enrollment in vulnerable regions. Ultimately, this project anticipates the mobilization of governments, NGOs and civilians for the growth and maintenance of secure and effective educational sectors.
  9. The LEGO Foundation: The LEGO Foundation announced a grant of $100 million on December 10, 2019, for an early learning solutions initiative targeting crisis-affected groups in Ethiopia and Uganda. Play-oriented learning programs will improve the skill sets of both primary-school-aged and pre-school children. These play-oriented learning strategies assist children in surmounting trauma that may otherwise impede their scholastic potential. Roughly 800,000 children will benefit from this project.
  10. The Global Partnership for Education: December 10, 2019, witnessed the grant of $100 million by The Global Partnership for Education for educational initiatives across Asia and Africa. Burkina Faso, for instance, plans investment of its four-year GPE grant of $21 million toward improving primary school enrollment and developing pedagogical infrastructure. The investment of $21 million in Somalia’s Somaliland region seeks to rectify gender imparity in access to primary education.

Access to primary education provides the foundation upon which the talents of a nation’s youth may grow. Moreover, there exists a strong relationship between primary education and the promotion of such values as gender equality and social mobility. Although an indispensable institution in the contemporary age, crises both man-made and natural threaten primary education across continents. Fortunately, initiatives involving NGOs and governments promise to overcome these impediments, the importance of primary education weighs more as a right rather than a mere privilege.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

Global Citizen Festival
Now in its fifth year, the popular and innovative online campaign of the Global Citizen Festival has called upon music fans to win political support in tackling issues including global education. The festival’s ongoing goal is to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.

The Global Citizen Festival kicked off its advocacy season by mobilizing fans to complete a number of tasks on their online platform. Strategically aligned with the U.N. General Assembly dates, users were encouraged to sign their name on poverty-related petitions, tweet photographs to world leaders and mobilize friends.

As an incentive, participants earned the chance to attend the Sept. 24 concert in NYC’s Central Park, which showcased a line-up of famous performers such as Rihanna, Selena Gomez and Metallica. Most importantly, participants felt like a part of a coalition that shapes poverty awareness, policy-making and the overall conversation of global poverty and inequality in international affairs.

On their website, Global Citizen explains, “The effects of small actions are not always obvious, but by working together specific and tangible outcomes are achieved.” In previous years, the organization has highlighted various initiatives to help mobilize support and successfully secure international funds for poverty-related issues such as sanitation, food resources and education.

In 2014, Global Citizen successfully mobilized 40,000 participants to sign a petition to support the Global Partnership for Education as well as send 2,284 tweets to Raj Shah, Administrator of USAID. This mobilization not only doubled the budget to $40 million for the 2014 financial year but enabled further commitment of $45 million in 2015 and an additional $70 million in 2016.

This year, one of Global Citizen Festival’s featured campaigns is Education Cannot Wait, which is timely as the fund launched in May and more pledges from world leaders are needed. The Education Cannot Wait Fund is a government fund for global education for children in emergencies. The fund strives to ensure that education is not disrupted for children in humanitarian, war and refugee crises.

According to the Education Cannot Wait Fund, approximately 75 million children ages 3 to 18 are currently out of school due to wars, natural disasters and other emergencies. Moreover, Evelyn Rodriquez-Perez, director of USAID’s Office of Education in Washington, D.C., states that the world is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, as conflicts in Syria and 35 crisis-affected countries disrupt education for 43 million children.

In a U.N. article, Special Envoy Gordon Brown stated, “We believe that this fund will offer young people hope because when we ask ourselves what breaks the lives of once thriving young children, it’s not just the Mediterranean wave that submerged the life vest, it’s not just the food convoy that does not arrive in Syria, it is also the absence of hope; the [..] certainty that there is nothing ahead to plan […] for, not even a place in school.”

With less than two percent of humanitarian aid going toward global education, hope for children and the significance of education in humanitarian crises as they help them recover from trauma, provide normalcy and rebuild their futures will continue to be disparate.

In acknowledgment, The Global Citizen Festival has called fans to advocate for the fund, asking citizens to reach out to world leaders from France, Switzerland, Canada, Kuwait, Finland, Germany and Denmark to commit to a pledge. These mobilizing efforts of the Global Citizen’s campaign will not only assist in securing more funding and increasing pledges by world leaders but will hopefully continue to make a big difference at future U.N. General Summits.

Priscilla Son

Photo: Flickr


Emergency education fund

U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education and former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced an emergency education fund, the Education Cannot Wait Fund, at this year’s World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. The fund, which hopes to raise $3.85 billion in the next five years, aims to ensure that the millions of children across the globe who are directly affected by emergencies are provided with an education.

What is Considered an Emergency?

Conflict or wars, natural disasters and health-related crises, such as the yellow fever outbreak, are all examples of emergencies.

How is Education Affected by Emergencies?

Children are often displaced or taken out of school due to emergencies and schools may be attacked or taken over by armed forces.

The number of children that do not attend school is alarming. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), along with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), found that only 50% of refugee children are in primary school and 25% of refugee adolescents are in secondary school.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, 2.6 million Syrian children stopped attending school due to Syria’s civil war, 1,200 schools were closed and made into shelters in Iraq and an estimated 400,000 children in South Sudan withdrew from school.

The number of schools attacked or taken over — an estimated four each day, according to UNICEF — is also devastating. Attacks have also occurred in Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria and Palestine.

Why is an emergency education fund necessary?

Education received two percent of emergency relief funding, the smallest share of humanitarian funding, according to an Education For All Global Monitoring Report. Only 38% of aid requests for education are met, which is about half of the average for all other sectors.

“Without school, young children caught up in emergencies are at risk of becoming the youngest laborers in the field, the youngest brides at the altar, the youngest recruits vulnerable to extremism and radicalization,” said Brown at the summit in Istanbul.

Education contributes to peacebuilding and the rebuilding of damaged communities. Future generations will be disadvantaged if education is not prioritized in humanitarian response. Uneducated and unprepared citizens may struggle to contribute to their society’s recovery.

Additionally, an emergency education fund provides hope. Brown stated, “We believe that this fund will offer young people hope, because when we ask ourselves what breaks the lives of once thriving young children, it’s not just the Mediterranean wave that submerged the life best, it’s not just the food convoy that does not arrive in Syria, it is also the absence of hope; the soul-crushing certainty that there is nothing ahead to plan or prepare for, not even a place in school.”

The Education Cannot Wait Fund, which was launched with an initial $100 million in donations, aims to reach a minimum of 13.6 million children over the next five years; it aspires to reach up to 75 million children by 2030.

The emergency education fund will support local NGOs, as they are able to provide education more cheaply and quickly than U.N. agencies or the World Bank.

Alice Gottesman

Photo: Flickr


Education promises to be the defining issue of poverty alleviation for the next century.

UNICEF reports that 25% of school-aged children (almost half a billion) live in countries affected by violent crises. Meanwhile, more than 75 million of these children and youth are missing education in some way, either by being out of school or attending low-quality schools and are at high risk of dropping out.

However, new collaborations between governments and educators are working together to help solve these issues. Here are new solutions in global education that are on track to create permanent change.

Education Cannot Wait

Education Cannot Wait, a fund for education in emergencies and crises, was recently announced during the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. The fund seeks to reach over 13.6 million children living in conflict, disease or natural disasters. By creating this fund early, leaders are seeking to address critical droughts in education before they arise. The fund also promises to help bridge gaps between short and long-term solutions in education development in crisis areas.

Education for Refugees and Undocumented Migrants

Organizations like Interpol and UNICEF plan to address gaps in education among unaccompanied children and minors who live in the cracks of societies as refugees or undocumented migrants. Leaders in Greece, for example, will implement summer education classes for unaccompanied refugee children living in limbo. That includes the 55,000 asylum seekers still scattered throughout Greece.

The Gyeongju Action Plan

Recently, representatives of nonprofit organizations and academia have decided on a global education action agenda related to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted earlier this year. The Gyeongju Action Plan has three main pillars: Formal Education, Informal Education and Advocacy and Public Information. These pillars aim to eliminate key sources of inequality across a variety of educational sources.

Innovative solutions and movements like these will help create a brighter future for people with little access to education across the globe.

Eliza Campbell

Photo: Wikipedia

Education in GreeceGreece serves as a new home for hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrian refugees. The country has opened its arms to over 57,000 refugees, over half of them women and children, thus creating a dense population of families within small areas.

Although the Greek government accepts new refugees it has no choice but to place these individuals in camps that, in many cases, do not meet humanitarian standards. The country strives to create a stable environment for these refugees, as it is estimated that the children have been out of school for an average of 1.5 years. This lack of schooling affects their potential as well as depriving them of a basic right to education, therefore education in Greece must be a priority.

With the help of volunteers, children are receiving an education through refugee schools located on campgrounds. Education in Greece, as well as many other countries besides, remains difficult for refugees to obtain.

Understanding the necessity for a learning system, the United Nations recently created a fund called “Education Cannot Wait.”

This fund aims to reach approximately 20 million refugee children who are currently denied a proper education. The European Union used money from this fund to create a pilot program on May 16, in order to begin language courses for the refugee children in Greece. These courses are currently in session to prepare children for the school year that commences in September.

Teachers will be assigned based on the language of the refugee children, which will include English, Greek and their native tongue. The Greek government plans to unveil this education program beginning in September. The Ministry of Education, responsible for running the education in Greece, began language courses beforehand to bridge the language gap that held some children back. The courses will assign two to three teachers to each 150-student classroom.

“The average length of time spent living as a refugee is now 17 years, meaning that millions of children and young people will miss out on some, it not all, of their education, severely diminishing their own future life chances and that of their families and communities,” said Tanya Steele, interim CEO of Save the Children.

Less than two percent of global humanitarian aid goes to education. Education, as the United Nations is realizing, is crucial in the long-term. Without education, studies show that children are at higher risk of crime and violence.

Schools carry the promise of opportunity and aspiration for the future. Education creates a solid foundation for the rebuilding of society for those displaced.

Education in Greece portrays how many other regions are striving to help refugees. Students here, as with many other refugee schools, are only given two days of schooling per week. With the help of the European Union and the United Nations, teachers hope to push for more educational opportunities, including a 5-day school week.

AnnMarie Welser

Photo: Flickr

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, called for this year’s first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. He scheduled the summit for May 23-24 as a response to levels of humanitarian crisis around the world.

The goal of the World Humanitarian Summit is to bring together world leaders and the international community in order to address the issues facing those in crisis. The United Nations listed such problems as lack of food, shelter and medical care. Furthermore, violent conditions and lack of care for pregnant women and young children threaten families in crisis regions.

Also on the agenda is the issue of education. The WHS will see the launch of a new platform designed to provide funding for education specifically in crisis situations. This program, titled Education Cannot Wait, is the first of its kind.

After recognizing that education is a basic human right and that war and other humanitarian crises disrupt children’s education, ECW developed a multi-pronged strategy. This strategy includes calling on the international community to accept more financial responsibility. Additionally, the community should take part in the planning and execution of strategies to improve access to education in crisis areas. It also holds the other nations and people involved accountable for their actions.

Financial pledges are certainly of primary importance. According to A World at School, less than two percent of humanitarian funding has gone to education each year since 2010. Consequently, this lack of funds results in the deprivation of schooling for tens of millions of children in crisis situations.

The website details the “Breakthrough Fund” component of ECW, with key points including the necessity for multi-year financial commitments. These commitments adequately meet the needs of funding education for those in crisis without taking funding from other humanitarian projects.

UNICEF will take charge of the Breakthrough Fund for its first year. Afterward, the Breakthrough Fund will transition to a more permanent administrative host. The fund will attempt to raise $3.85 billion USD by year five of the project.

The WHS website reports that the World Humanitarian Summit held a roundtable discussion of Education Cannot Wait at a Special Session. It was open to the media and webcast live.

Katherine Hamblen

Photo: UN Multimedia