Kenya: Education increasingly regarded as life-saving
13 November 2008

These students at Salam United Methodist Primary School in Yei, Southern Sudan, are eager to go on to higher schooling. (Sophie Vodvarka/JRS)
“The provision of quality education is still viewed as secondary when compared to the provision of food, water, medical assistance and shelter.”
Nairobi, 13 November 2008 Humanitarian policy makers have endorsed internationally-agreed standards on rebuilding education in emergency situations following a “Companionship Agreement” between The Sphere Project and the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) in October this year. By this agreement, The Sphere Project, acknowledges the quality of education standards developed by INEE and demonstrates the consensus in the humanitarian community “that education must be considered as a sector within immediate emergency response” said Alyson Joyner, project manager of Sphere in an interview with IRIN on November 13.

According to Joyner, The Sphere Project did not mention education in its Minimum Standards for disaster response before the agreement because not all of its members regarded education as life-saving. By recommending the use of INEE standards, Sphere stresses that education in emergencies can be both life-sustaining and life-saving, providing physical, psychosocial and cognitive protection and offering a sense of normalcy. Before, the Minimum Standards provided guidance on Water and Sanitation, Shelter, Settlement and Non-Food Items, Camp management, Health and Hygiene, Protection, Food aid and Nutrition. Close collaboration between these sectors and education is essential for an effective education response that addresses children’s holistic needs.

The INEE standards are both a handbook and an expression of commitment that all individuals have a right to education during emergencies. Their use together with the Sphere Handbook is meant to improve the quality of assistance provided to people affected by crisis.

Education is basic human right

A recent Save the Children research shows that emergency education is still under-funded receiving only 1.9 percent of the annual global humanitarian aid budget in 2007. “The provision of quality education is still viewed as secondary when compared to the provision of food, water, medical assistance and shelter” according to Save the Children’s report “Delivering education for children in emergencies.”

JRS Eastern Africa (JRS EA) believes that education is a basic human right for all and should form an integral part of any humanitarian intervention. It not only attempts to restore normalcy, but it can also safeguard the most vulnerable, promote tolerance, unify divided communities and begin the process of reconstruction and peace building.  As such, JRS EA believes that the Companionship Agreement is an extremely important initiative that must be applauded.

However, it is important for all education stakeholders, including donors, host governments, local authorities, international and local NGOs, teachers and members of local communities to ensure that the right to quality education benefits all individuals,"  Karen Monteiro, Regional Advocacy and Policy Officer for JRS EA, points out. The continuing prevalence of educational inequality is a major infringement of the rights of many sectors within society, particularly women, girls and persons with disabilities. More than 98% of children with disabilities do not have access to education. Educational inequality is a major impediment to social and economic development,” she added. 

It is hoped that the Companionship Agreement will raise more awareness within the international community about the importance of the right to quality education for all members of society and the need for sustained funding towards this end.   

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