Words over Weapons: Education Builds Hope for Children in Conflict

“Absolutely, I am scared that my children might get caught up in conflict, but I am more concerned about them missing out on their crucial years of education”

– Um Osama, parent, Yemen

Many families across the country will gather for Thanksgiving this month, pausing to reflect on the things they’re grateful for. This year, let’s focus on turning gratitude into action. Canada must use our abundant resources to ensure that even the most vulnerable people in the world can fulfill their potential as humans. Education fosters peace and strengthens resilience. It opens doors that have been slammed shut by conflict and fragility.

Across the globe, 75 million children and youth are living in regions affected by conflict and instability. By funding education in these countries, Canada can help ensure no child is excluded from the many benefits education provides.


We know what a difference education makes in a person’s life. In May, we learned that educating girls transforms their lives and their communities. In June, we took action on filling the gap in global financing for education. Last month, we looked at how inclusive education can build gender equality and fulfill the vision of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.

But when a country experiences conflict and instability, education suffers.

Children in these countries are more than twice as likely to miss out on school as children in peaceful countries. Nearly 24 million children living in crisis zones are out of school. When conflict forces people from their homes, the impact on education is even worse: Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than others. On average, people who have to flee conflict are displaced for 17 years. This means millions of children can never access quality education, and girls are always the most likely to be excluded from learning.

Supporting quality education in fragile countries is crucial.

Access to quality education in conflict zones reduces the risk of youth exploitation and sexual abuse by providing a protective environment and teaching children about their rights. In fact, every year of education decreases the risk of youth involvement in violent conflict by 20%. Education fosters peace by building opportunity and hope. It builds resilient communities by providing people with knowledge and skills to withstand instability.

Canada has already demonstrated strong leadership on this issue. In 2016, the government pledged $15.3 million USD to Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – a global fund prioritising education in humanitarian crises.

But education remains a key challenge in countries affected by conflict. While ECW is an important piece of the solution, tackling this issue requires enormous and sustained effort through a variety of mechanisms. By investing in diverse initiatives designed to protect education in times of crisis, Canada can position itself as a global leader – not only in education but also in building peace, prosperity, and resilience throughout the world.


The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is a global fund that works exclusively on strengthening education systems in countries with the greatest need for support. GPE aims to provide 60% of its funding to countries affected by conflict to maintain and rebuild their education systems both during and after a crisis.

GPE’s support has contributed to extraordinary progress in countries affected by conflict and fragility:

  • The rate of completion for primary school increased from 55% in 2000 to 68.5% in 2015
  • The number of children supported by a year of basic education nearly doubled between 2015 and 2016

We are asking the Canadian Government to double its commitment to GPE to CAD $260 million over three years (2018-2020), in line with the Education Commission’s recommendation that GPE be scaled up to USD $2 billion a year by 2020.  This provides quality education to millions of children who go to school in countries where conflict currently robs them of that.


Canada cannot lead in global education with our stagnant Official Development Assistance (ODA) envelope. ODA is the pot of money Canada uses to make crucial investments in global prosperity. Insufficient ODA forces decision makers to choose between life-changing global initiatives, taking money from one to support another.

Canada’s ODA in 2016 accounted for 0.26% of its gross national income (GNI), a share barely half of what it was three decades ago. Many of our global peers, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the UK have met or surpassed the 0.7% target set by the Pearson Commission nearly four decades ago.

In order to give meaningful support to the millions of children excluded from quality education, Canada must increase its Official Development Assistance envelope in Budget 2018.

Strong support for education in conflict, especially drawing from new money in the ODA envelope, will go a long way in strengthening Canada’s position as a global leader. Using the resources and opportunities we’re thankful for this month to support education in conflict zones, Canada must invest in opportunity, peace, and prosperity. Sustained support for quality education for the world’s most vulnerable people will have a ripple effect throughout the globe.

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