Bridging the Gaps: Lessons Learned from an NGO-University Partnership

Article excerpt

Education is a basic human right and a bedrock of human development. Nevertheless, approximately 28 million children living in countries or regions affected by conflict are not receiving an education. Millions more affected by humanitarian emergencies such as flooding, food shortages, earthquakes, and other disasters are also left out of education. Children and youth living in Sub-Saharan Africa figure greatly in the out-of-school statistics as both civil conflict and natural disasters disproportionately affect this region of the world. According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, half of out-of-school children globally live in Sub-Saharan Africa, with another 10 million dropping out of primary school annually.

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Even when governments prioritize and support education, school systems, administrators, and teachers are often ill-equipped to prepare for and respond to crises that affect the education sector. A teacher working in Kenya during the post-election violence in 2007-08 shared that she sensed the tension and emerging divisions among students in the classroom leading up to the election, but was unsure how to manage those interactions before, during, and after the violence wreaked havoc on schools and communities. She wished that she had been better prepared at the time and has since taken steps to gain skills in peace education, disaster risk reduction, and inclusive education by earning her degree in a new graduate program for Education in Emergencies offered by the University of Nairobi, with support from the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian NGO.

In order to understand the critical importance of providing education in emergencies, this article discusses the ways in which education can be life-saving and life-sustaining. It highlights a capacity gap, particularly amongst national practitioners, in the education in emergency arena and the corresponding capacity-building needs for practitioners working in this growing field. To illustrate the type and scale of change that is required, the article then presents a case study of a partnership between an African University and a US NGO that is working to fill this gap and build sustainable local, national and regional capacity through a graduate study program. The partnership between these two institutions is the rare collaboration that allows for the critical time and space for the University of Nairobi and the IRC to ensure that teaching, learning, and research among graduate students and University faculty are relevant to the needs of children and youth affected by crisis.

Importance of Education in Emergencies

Education is critical for the tens of millions of children and youth affected by conflict and disasters. It provides physical, psychosocial, and cognitive protection that can save and sustain lives. Quality education saves lives by providing physical protection from the dangers and exploitation of a crisis environment. Education in emergencies sustains lives by offering safe spaces for learning, where children and youth who need other assistance can be identified and supported. Educational opportunities also mitigate the psychosocial impact of conflict and disasters by providing a sense of routine, stability, structure, and hope for the future. Education provides children with the opportunity to learn new skills and values and helps them to become responsible adults, able to contribute to longer-term peace-building efforts, social stability, and economic growth.

Moreover, emergencies may even offer an opportunity for national authorities, communities, and international stakeholders to work together for social transformation by creating more equitable educational systems, building better structures, and implementing stronger educational policies. Groups that are often excluded, such as young children, girls, adolescents, disabled children, refugees, and internally displaced persons, can benefit from new educational opportunities. …