Fighting Education Inequity: Young People are Critical to Transforming Education
Child Rights Education
The following is a Guest Post by:
Anny Lin (Youth & Student Fellow at Global Campaign for Education-US. email@example.com), Emily Davis (Research Associate for the Children’s Policy & Funding Initiative at Tides, Research Fellow at Strategy for Humanity, firstname.lastname@example.org), and Meghana Srikrishna (Youth, Peace, & Security Fellow at Search For Common Ground, email@example.com)
Currently, 2.22 million girls in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan have been out of school for over 300 days. For Nasiba (a pseudonym), a 16-year-old Afghan girl from Kabul, the Taliban’s decision to ban girls’ education past primary school has had a catastrophic impact on her life and future. Like millions of adolescent girls around the world, Nasiba dreams of having the independence and choice to pave her own path: “I want to go to school and become an independent woman who chooses and decides for her life…If I am educated, men wouldn’t dare to interfere but if I am not, they will decide my whole life for me” (2021).
In recent years, the ever-evolving conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate disasters, ongoing humanitarian emergencies, and protracted crises in Ukraine, Myanmar, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen, and many other regions around the world have exacerbated the global education crisis and existing structural inequities for the 1.8 billion children and youth. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1.5 billion children have been affected by school closures and at least 1 in 3 of the world’s schoolchildren (463 million children) were unable to access remote learning while schools were shuttered. The ongoing impacts of COVID-19, compounded with other interrelated emergencies, have placed 222 million children and youth living in conflict-affected regions in critical need of access to education.
To prevent further backsliding and to create quality inclusive education, Heads of States, policymakers, civil society, children and youth advocates, and other key stakeholders in the humanitarian-development nexus must make commitments and prioritize investments in gender-transformative education ahead of the Transforming Education Summit and ensure that youth voices are meaningfully included in key decision-making during and after the summit.
Transforming Education Through Gender-Transformative Education
For girl-children and adolescents, the effects of these emergencies on their access to education are uniquely gendered. In crisis settings, girls are disproportionately at risk of experiencing poverty, gender-based violence, and forced marriage, which further amplify barriers to safe, quality, inclusive education. At least 1 in 5 primary-aged girls living in conflict-affected regions are unable to access quality education. It is estimated that, as a result of COVID 19 and other shadow pandemics, an additional 20 million secondary school aged-girls may never return to school. In spite of these somber statistics, children and youth around the world have had no choice but to remain resilient against rising attacks on their education, wellbeing, and lives.
Gender-transformative education improves understanding of gender identities and dynamics within curriculum and challenges harmful gender norms and stereotypes that perpetuate violence. In communities where girls, non-binary, and LGBTQ+ youth are marginalized, gender-transformative education has the potential to create systematic change by addressing intergenerational gender-based violence and inequities. This type of education advances more inclusive peacebuilding in the face of conflict, climate change, and COVID-19. Children with lower levels of educational attainment are more vulnerable to environmental shocks and stresses. Children, especially girls, are more likely to be removed from school in order to work when disaster strikes.
Youth Leadership and Intergenerational Partnerships: the Path Towards Transforming Education
The Transforming Education Summit provides a critical opportunity for young people around the world to collectively contribute recommendations to UN Secretary-General, António Guterres through the Youth Declaration, youth-led consultations, and national consultations. From Salta, Argentina to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, youth advocates – including Doris Mwikali, Cynthia Nyongesa, Nhial Deng, and Sofía Bermúdez – have led grassroots youth consultations to ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable and underrepresented populations of children and youth are recognized and meaningfully integrated into the Transforming Education process.
Meaningful, active, and inclusive youth participation, engagement, and partnership must be prioritized as a core pillar of effective policy and programming in education. When young people are empowered through resources and opportunities for equitable partnerships, they gain a greater capacity to remain resilient for themselves and their communities. As advocates of the Children’s Foreign Policy and Funding Initiative’s Youth Alliance Working Group, we urgently call on Heads of States, Ministries of Education, participants and organizers of the Transforming Education Summit, and all education stakeholders to actively and meaningfully listen to children and youth voices, include children and youth as equal partners in critical discussions and actions on commitments during and after the Summit, and prioritize children and youth first. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, war, and other humanitarian emergencies, we believe that change must start with open and meaningful intergenerational accountability and partnerships between youth, policymakers, and advocates.