This textbook could save your life

Why education is a vital and urgent response to conflict-fuelled crises.

Textbooks and teachers. Uniforms and enrolment forms.

These probably aren't the things that spring to mind when you think about how to respond to humanitarian crises.

When conflict ravages a country or region - food, blankets and medicine are all vital interventions that undoubtedly save lives. But their impact is a short-term one.

One thing that can make an immediate and long-term impact is education. It is so important that we think it should be considered as a humanitarian imperative, not as part of long-term ‘development’ aid which usually kicks in years after the crisis has ended, if at all.

Here's why:

Education is a means of survival

Education saves lives. In many countries, having a mother with a secondary or higher education more than halves the risk of child mortality (i.e. the chance of a child dying before their fifth birthday) compared to having a mother with no education.

That’s a staggering statistic but it makes perfect sense. An educated mother is much more likely to get her children immunised and is more likely to be able to meet all their nutrition needs.

The more likely your children are to survive, the fewer you have. The fewer you have, the more likely you are to send them to school.

having a mother with a secondary or higher education more than halves the risk of child mortality.

Education is a means of protection

Schools are (or at least should be) safe places for children. They keep kids off the streets and out of dangerous or exploitative working environments.

They also help to protect children from abduction and sexual violence.

In conflict-affected-countries where social services, family and school networks have been torn apart, schools play a vital child protection role - especially for girls who can be particularly vulnerable.

Educated children are much better protected against HIV/AIDS and girls are likely to have fewer children and at a later age.

Education is a means of addressing poverty

In many conflict-affected countries, more than half of the population is under 18. Investing in schools and education is therefore a great way of directly benefitting millions of people at once.

Education increases wage levels and creates a more skilled workforce.

Basic literacy is a foundation upon which a country's development can be built. No country has ever achieved a single Millennium Development Goal without achieving at least a 40% literacy rate.

Education can help prevent conflict

A good quality education can teach tolerance and empathy. It's a weapon against bigotry and racial hatred that underpins many conflicts.

It can bring communities together across tribal and religious divides and teach kids vital conflict resolution skills.

Education also gives kids the hope and expectation of a good job and a better life.

It can also encourage transparency and democracy as it creates a better jobs and a stronger economy. The more revenue a government earns from its people via tax (as opposed to making money from its natural resources), the more accountable it becomes to those people.

photo: Katherine Sidelnik