Call for action: Switzerland supports education in emergencies

Bern, 18.06.2020 - Over 90 percent of schoolchildren and students have been unable to attend school due to COVID-19. This is a particular problem in developing countries and conflict regions, where schools, in addition to providing education, also offer a safe environment that fosters their physical and mental development. Switzerland is setting an example: Together with partner organizations, it is calling on the international community to strengthen education in emergencies.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a global health and socio-economic crisis, it is also an education crisis with potential long-term ramifications, particularly for children affected by conflict and displacement. Education must continue, even when schools are closed in the interests of public health. This applies as much to Switzerland as to the rest of the world. Over 90 percent of schoolchildren and students have been unable to attend school during the COVID-19 crisis. That equates to 1.6 billion young people in more than 190 countries throughout the world, many of whom live in developing countries or crisis-hit regions. For them, attending school is about more than the opportunity to learn to read, write and count. School also means protection and the prospect of a brighter future.

If schools are closed, the protective function of education is undermined and children are exposed to human rights violations and such risks as forced recruitment, gender-based violence, malnutrition and child marriage. In addition, the UN fears that child labour will increase for the first time in 20 years as a result of COVID-19, while progress in education may be undone. The interruption to schooling caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may result in many poorer children being permanently left behind and not obtaining any qualifications when they leave school. This has long-term effects on children’s development and health, on their life chances and future employment prospects, and on the social fabric and economy in fragile states. 

The right to education is a human right that allows children to develop their potential in a safe environment and gives them prospects for the future. This right must not be abandoned in emergency situations, even when things become more challenging. Because at stake is the progress made in fragile, conflict-hit regions in recent years and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4) in the area of education. This also affects the millions of children who have had to flee their homes – over half of the approximately 26 million refugees and 50 million internally displaced people worldwide are minors. 

Faced with the additional COVID-related educational challenges and the expected humanitarian, social and economic consequences, Switzerland has joined forces with its partner organisations to launch a call for action on education in emergency situations. It is urging the international community to promote education in emergencies and to provide children with safety, security and opportunities for development even in exceptional circumstances. 

Education – part of Switzerland’s international cooperation strategy

Switzerland has been advocating for the right to education for many years and has enshrined the SDGs on education in its international cooperation strategy. It works in Africa, the Middle East and Asia to protect children affected by conflict, migration and displacement and to provide them with access to quality education. Furthermore, since late 2019 it has been a member of the Executive Committee of Education Cannot Wait, the new fund for education in emergencies that champions the right to education for children affected by humanitarian crises and displacement Since 2009, it has also been a Board member of the Global Partnership for Education, which helps education ministries in developing countries make sustainable improvements to their education systems. On the occasion of the Global Refugee Forum in December 2019, Switzerland also made an appeal to promote Geneva as a "Global Hub for Education in Emergencies". The following institutions are supporting the appeal: Education Cannot Wait, Global Education Cluster, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, ICRC, Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, UNICEF and the University of Geneva. The current Call for Action Education in Emergencies has been prepared by this group, in collaboration with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNESCO and the International Organization for Migration.

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