Humanitarian policy-makers have endorsed internationally-agreed standards on rebuilding education sectors shattered by crises, in a move experts say shows that education is increasingly being regarded as life-saving.
The Sphere Project has endorsed emergency education standards created by the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), a network of 3,000 members representing UN agencies, NGOs, donors, teachers and students who promote education in emergencies.
“We believe education having been embraced within the Sphere family is a demonstration of 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.
The Sphere Project which sets minimum standards for food aid, shelter and other core humanitarian sectors, endorsed the INEE standards in October 2008, marking a change of approach. Prior to this Sphere had remained quiet about education because not all of its members saw it as life-saving and thus part of the classic humanitarian repertoire, according to Joyner.
Do standards work?
“Minimum standards are about boosting quality,” said Allison Anderson, INEE director. “The most powerful thing they can do is give people a goal to work towards, to help them build their [emergency] response strategy.”
The INEE standards outline how to recruit teachers, undertake an education assessment, write up codes of conduct for educators and work with communities to develop an education programme. “The more practical they are, the more useful they are," Anderson said.
Measuring the standards' impact is difficult with so many other variables, such as security and funding, Sphere's Joyner told IRIN. But despite this, she said, "There is mounting anecdotal evidence that minimum standards have had a positive impact."
The INEE cites as an example the Norwegian Refugee Council, which used the standards to develop a code of conduct for teachers in Somaliland in 2005. This was eventually made mandatory by the authorities for all teachers in the country.
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The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) applied the INEE standards in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 2007 to get communities to help design teaching tools. According to UNICEF using the standards gave the agency a stronger negotiating position with the Ministry of Education.
Standards not a panacea
But in some cases, even when organisations have good intentions to apply the standards, they may still be ineffective, Sphere's Joyner said.
“People need to remember the standards are a goal to aspire to, but, as with Sphere, not every benchmark can always be met," said Deborah Haines, emergency education adviser at Save the Children. “They are the ideal to work towards.”
For Haines, one of the challenges in implementing the INEE standards is that many governments and agencies may be aware of them but have not built up a full understanding of how to apply them.
Following the post-election violence in Kenya in January 2008, education NGOs and UNICEF used the standards to plan an emergency education response alongside the Ministry of Education. “The ministry was very keen to use [the standards], but didn’t have a clear idea of how to put them into practice,” Haines said.
“They asked for immediate training in the standards, which we went on to do, along with helping them use INEE tools to prepare for future emergencies.”
But raising this awareness costs. “Funding enables organisations to apply the standards, creating good results, which in turn attracts more funding,” Haines said. “But kick-starting that funding process for emergency education is not easy."
Emergency education still under-funded
Emergency education received just 1.9 percent of the global 2007 humanitarian aid budget according to Save the Children research, and only 27 percent of the global education cluster funding requirements were met in 2007, with contributions from just four donors.
And only five donors include education as part of their humanitarian financing policy.
“The provision of quality education in emergencies is still viewed as secondary when compared to the provision of food, water, medical assistance and shelter,” Save the Children says in its report ‘Delivering education for children in emergencies’ -- part of its global campaign to improve emergency education response.
Having agreed standards can help agencies advocate for more money, Janice Dolan, head of education for Save the Children, said. “Standards are useful to hold up to governments and agencies to identify that education, too, needs to be a priority. And to make that a reality, more funding is needed."
Funding for emergency education should be 4.2 percent of the overall aid budget, Dolan said, in line with education needs.
While seen as low, donor funding to emergency education has increased in recent years. It made up 1.5 percent of the 2006 international humanitarian aid budget, 1.9 percent in 2007 and is expected to rise to 2.3 percent in 2008.
And an education cluster was formed in November 2006 alongside other core humanitarian sectors such as water and sanitation and health, as part of the humanitarian reform process initiated to enhance predictability, accountability and coordination in humanitarian aid.