Gordon Brown: A little learning could provide an awful lot of help

We need a coordinated response to this unprecedented crisis

Gordon Brown
Monday 23 September 2013 10:36 BST
Syrian children attend a class at a school in the Kadi Askar area in the Syria's northern city of Aleppo
Syrian children attend a class at a school in the Kadi Askar area in the Syria's northern city of Aleppo

It is an established principle that in times of war, thanks to the work of organisations such as the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières, those displaced receive the essentials for survival – with children always the first priority.

But in observing the crisis engulfing the people of Syria I am struck by a persistent omission in our humanitarian response to such situations: the failure to deliver the schooling that will prevent a generation of children losing their future.

Today in New York, an emergency coalition of young people, backed by global education campaigner Malala Yousafzai, will demand for the first time that refugee children not only have the right to food, shelter and healthcare but the right to continue their learning - and thus recover a childhood that risks being lost.

Already a million dollars has been raised by the public, via the brilliant Avaaz.org, in just a few days. Western Union too is helping the public to donate. But today our special coalition will challenge world leaders to act as well – and to establish a parallel principle that, from now on, education is, alongside healthcare, taken as an inviolable right that must be delivered, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

The disarmingly simple plan, developed by Kevin Watkins for the education campaign A World at School, could see schooling provided for 300,000 Syrian children exiled in Lebanon – within a matter of weeks.

To achieve this, we need the international community to show a coordinated response to this unprecedented crisis, and following the rallying call of our coalition, key donors and delivery agencies will meet today to discuss the way forward.

As well as the skills and knowledge essential for becoming a happy, healthy and productive citizen, schooling brings a sense of normality and routine to an otherwise disrupted life. And what’s more – as in our plan for Syrian refugees in Lebanon – it also provides the structures through which hot, nutritious meals can be delivered.

If we are successful, we will never again be able to stand aside as children affected by conflict lose out on the education they need, as 28 million currently do. We will have shown that, much like Doctors Without Borders, Education Without Borders can ensure that generations don’t lose out, and that when the fighting begins, learning doesn’t have to stop.

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