Policy 101

75 million children live in countries affected by crisis and conflict. Schools help them recover from trauma and develop the skills and perspectives to rebuild peaceful communities. Yet, only 2.7% of humanitarian aid goes to education. With average displacement of 20 years, many kids miss out on school completely. BEC recommends that the U.S. provide multiyear investments to give them a chance for a brighter future.


Fast Facts

  • Approximately 75 million school-aged children live in countries affected by crisis and conflict;

  • With no schools to attend, children in crisis and conflict settings are extremely vulnerable to exploitation;

  • Schools offer children life-saving information, such as how to recognize land mines and remain healthy.




The following best-practices and policy recommendations were collaboratively written by BEC's 2016-2017 Education in Crisis & Conflict working group. Download here. 


According to the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world is experiencing the highest levels of displaced persons in recorded history. As a result, one in four, or approximately 75 million, school-aged children live in countries affected by crisis and conflict, and 50% of the children who are out of school worldwide are living in or fleeing these countries. For example, of the six million primary and secondary school-age refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, 3.7 million have no school to attend.

Children need more than food, water, and shelter to regain a sense of normalcy and of hope for the future. In times of crisis and conflict, good quality schools offer children and youth

  • shelter from harm;

  • a safe place to recover from trauma and build psycho-social skills;

  • life-saving information, such as how to recognize landmines and remain healthy;

  • an essential foundation that allows them to stay in school and thrive; and,

  • skills and perspectives necessary to support their families and rebuild or establish peaceful and democratic societies when they return home.

Alternatively, education equips children to make valuable contributions to new societies when resettlement is the only option. In contrast, out-of-school children in crisis and conflict settings are extremely vulnerable to exploitation as under-age laborers, child soldiers, and sex workers.

When asked what is most important to them, 99% of children in many different emergency settings all said, “our education." Yet schools continue to be among the most predictable casualties of war; in the past 10 years, armed forces and groups in at least 26 countries have used schools for military purposes. Even in less violent crises, schools that survive routinely become shelters for the displaced, and broken bridges and roads disrupt deliveries of textbooks and supplies.

With the average length of displacement approaching 20 years, most displaced children cannot wait to return to their homes or receive resettlement assignments to continue their education. Yet 86% percent of the world’s refugees are sheltered in developing countries that struggle to provide basic education to their own children and will need help from other countries to absorb more. In 2016 education in emergencies received only 2.7% of all humanitarian aid.

The Convention and Protocols on the Status of Refugees, ratified by the United States in 1980, recognizes education as an essential service to all children who are displaced from their homes for more than a few months. Nonetheless, of 25 UNHCR priority countries, only 16 of these countries allow refugees full access to their education systems at the primary and secondary school level, the remainder placing limits on their access. Furthermore, in countries where children are allowed to access the national education system, missing or unrecognized identity documents frequently prevent school entry, progression, and formal evaluation. To mitigate these challenges, funding for non-formal programs to provide education and certification to children who cannot access the formal system should be scaled up. Non-formal education options should have pathways that allow children to transition into the formal system as soon as possible.


The international community has begun to rise to the challenge. The recent World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 called for governments to commit to providing safe, quality, and inclusive access to primary and secondary education during and after crises. At the same time, it recognized the need for a collaborative and agile approach to fund that access. In September 2016, the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union, Norway, and the Netherlands pledged $87.5 million, or about half of the funds needed to launch the first year of Education Cannot Wait, a global fundraising campaign to provide 75 million out-of-school children and youth with the education they—and the world—needs.

Since the end of World War II, every USG administration has led the world in responding to humanitarian crises and in creating new and more effective responses to communities living in crisis and conflict. Likewise, USAID’S 2011-2017 Global Education Strategy featured “equitable access to education in conflict and crisis environment for 15 million learners” as one of its three goals.

USAID’s emphasis on equity reflects a growing appreciation in the international community for the role inequity—including inequitable access to education—plays in conflicts. In the United States, compulsory education for all has provided a way up the economic “ladder” and has prepared historically disadvantaged groups to participate more fully both in the free market and in the democratic process. In the same way, in countries now wracked by conflict, a fair and inclusive education can help transform the attitudes and social norms that perpetuated economic and political inequality and provoked conflicts in the past.

As stated earlier, we are committed to quality education for all as a basic and an enabling right, and we are convinced that education plays a unique and vital role in the economic and social development of all countries. By extension, speedy access to quality education following disruption and displacement is critical for the peace and well-being of all countries. In such contexts, access to education plays a critical role in supporting stability, reconciliation, and peacebuilding, as well as in strengthening children’s resilience to future shocks.


Photo credit: Erick Gibson, for Creative Associates International