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Q&A with Jenny Hobbs, EU humanitarian expert on education in emergencies

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In Guinea, children orphaned and affected by Ebola receive education and psycho-social support. © EU/ECHO/Jonathan Hyams

Education in emergency situations can rebuild children's lives; restore their sense of normality and safety, and provide them with important life skills. It provides protection to children affected by crises, helps them to be self-sufficient, to be heard, and to have influence on issues that affect them.

In recent years the European Commission's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department support to education in emergencies has increased greatly. To understand why this area has become such a strong focus of our humanitarian work, and where we plan to go in the coming years, we have spoken with Jenny Hobbs, EU Humanitarian Aid expert on education.

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By Nandor Gergely, Information and Communications Assistant, EU Humanitarian Aid.

1) Why has education in emergencies become such a priority for the EU?

EU Humanitarian Aid started funding education in emergencies in 2012 under the Children of Peace initiative, seeing a need to respond to the child protection and education needs of children affected by conflict. Still, funding to education in emergencies was less than 1% of EU Humanitarian Aid's budget until Commissioner Stylianides took office in 2014. He saw the effects of protracted humanitarian crises on the education opportunities for children – in countries like Syria, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria – and he recognised the lack of funding globally to address these needs.

In response, EU Humanitarian Aid dedicated 6% of funding to education in emergencies this year; and we intend to increase this amount to 8% in 2017. This funding targets the millions of children who are out of school due to humanitarian crises – often due to displacement, natural disasters and conflict, including attacks on schools, students and staff. Among refugees, 39% of primary school-aged children and 77% of secondary school aged children are not enrolled. EU Humanitarian Aid has taken a role in global leadership to address the needs of out-of-school children, and to call on others to recognise this important humanitarian need.

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Jenny Hobbs, EU Humanitarian Aid expert on education. © EU/A.Duong

2) Why are humanitarian actors so well suited to meet these needs?

Humanitarian crises directly affect children’s ability to go to school. Even though only 20% of school-aged children live in countries affected by conflict, they represent 50% of the world’s out-of-school children. We know that conflict and displacement do not end quickly; consider that conflicts in low income countries from 1999 to 2008 lasted 12 years, while displaced populations will be in exile for an average of 10 years and sometimes much longer.

We can’t wait for a crisis to end before considering the education needs of children. For every week, month or year they are out of school, their chances of returning reduce significantly. So humanitarian responders, who have access to affected population during and immediately after a crisis, must include education needs in their responses. This way we can get children back into education as quickly as possible, into safe spaces which can address child protection needs and help them return to learning  and to a better future.

3) What has been the extent of the EU's commitment? And what have has been accomplished?

Since 2012, EU Humanitarian Aid support for education in emergencies has reached 4.7 million girls and boys. Over €201 million has been allocated to partners, who use the funding to reach the most vulnerable children affected by humanitarian crises. Our support has reached children in 52 countries, setting up temporary learning spaces, re-opening schools, training teachers to cope with the needs of children who have gone through traumatic experiences, providing textbooks and school materials, and much more. 

Education in emergencies projects supported by EU Humanitarian Aid include activities to address the child protection needs that arise in humanitarian contexts, which can range from psycho-social support activities through play, to specialised support for children who were recruited as child soldiers and need to return to the classroom again.

4) Where do you see the EU's actions in education in emergencies going in 2018?

From 2018 EU Humanitarian Aid will continue to support primary education, and we will increase the level of our support to secondary school levels to address the funding gaps there. EU Humanitarian Aid will focus on formal, accredited education, so that children can access the right exams and documentation needed to continue their education, no matter where they find themselves.

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With EU funding, children in India can continue with their schooling and develop essential skills. © European Union/ECHO/Mallika Panorat.

However, many children have missed out on years of their education due to humanitarian disasters, so they need flexible, tailored support to re-enter the formal system. To support those children we will support non-formal education (NFE) projects, such as accelerated education programmes, language courses, catch-up programmes and other innovative solutions.

EU Humanitarian Aid will continue to embed child protection in all of our education in emergencies responses, which can include life-saving skills and messages. For example, children living in some countries require training on how to respond in case of an earthquake, or mine risk education. Another important area of support will be the protection of education spaces from attack – ensuring that schools are zones of peace and not occupied or used by armed forces. We will also support initiatives that plan for disaster risk reduction, and that build strong linkages to development responses so that children experience continued support.

5) Tell us one thing that motivates you every day while doing your job.

It’s not difficult for me to stay motivated, Whenever the scale of a humanitarian crisis starts to overwhelm me I remember the many discussions with parents in refugee camps, or in conflict zones, who say very clearly that getting their children educated is a top priority for them.

It doesn’t seem to matter how much the family has lost, I think that’s because people who have experienced the chaos of humanitarian crises recognise that education is often the only portable asset a person can take with them.


Last updated
20/11/2017