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Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

UN General Assembly Debate

UN General Assembly Thematic Debate on Education in Emergencies

UN Headquarters New York, Wednesday 18 March 2009


The recent UNGA Debate on Education in Emergencies succeeded in raising awareness among Member States that safe, quality education in emergencies is a crucial life-saving and life-sustaining intervention that has implications for the peace and prosperity of societies; must be integrated within humanitarian response (and that tools such as the INEE Minimum Standards and coordination mechanisms such as the Education Cluster can aid this); must be safe from attacks against schools, teachers and other education personnel and learners; and needs increased and sustained funding, collaboration and political will.

The debate raised awareness among Member States -- and helped grow/identify new partners and advocates -- around the following:


  • Integrating education into humanitarian responses while laying a solid foundation for quality education beyond emergency response on which to rebuild sustainable education systems. The INEE Minimum Standards and the IASC education cluster were highlighted as tools/mechanisms to aid in this process
  • Peace agreements should include provision for equitable education
  • The need for a long term perspective of quality education with a curriculum that enhances understanding and a culture of peace
  • The need to reach out to the vulnerable and marginalized populations
  • The need to monitor attacks on schools at local, national and global level; there is a growing consensus to strengthen international mechanisms to protect education institutions, teachers and learners; prohibit attacks on the right to education; and hold all perpetrators accountable
  • Ensure the participation of parents and community in school governance to enable local ownership of the education process and protection
  • Increase and sustain financing and political will for education in situations of emergency


Quote Highlights


"Let us find ways to assure that we are feeding young minds, as well as bodies; creating safe havens for learners, as well as their larger communities. Let us give these girls and boys, youth and women the opportunity to contribute in the recovery and the future of their societies. Let us give them hope by learning to overcome what, in the midst of chaos, must seem to be insurmountable challenges. This is a real opportunity to transform poverty and oppression into opportunity and integration." - President of the General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann

“Afghanistan is hit hard by conflict,” said Afghan youth activist Maiwand Rahyab. “Education can be very crucial to bringing back normality and peace…. Education can create the kind of environment for children so that they can cope with the traumas associated with conflicts. Education is a fundamental right of every child in the world. (Donors and Member States) need to support the education of children in emergencies now. They can’t wait. They can’t postpone it.”

“Because we believe in the value of life and appreciate the culture of peace, we shall not let our children give into despair or frustration. That is why we must make sure that through accountability (we) combat anyone who has no respect for life and humankind and anyone who does not treasure the right to education.” -H H Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned calling for bolstering of international efforts to safeguard the right to education and to use sanctions and other forms of punishment against those responsible for damaging schools.

“Education, in a way, is not only a right but it can be seen as infrastructure – a basic infrastructure – in the society,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde F. Johnson. This is a way of building nations and re-building nations. This is a fundamentally important issue for every country.”

"Education is a peace dividend, and yet it is still one of the least funded sectors in a humanitarian response. Only six donors -– Canada, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden –- currently include education in their humanitarian policy and response.” -Nicholas Burnett, UNESCO Assistant Director-General, advocating for the inclusion of education in humanitarian packages.

"Education shapes the future. This is even more true in countries up-ended by fighting or disaster, where all sense of normalcy has been lost. Education is the first step towards restoring security and hope. Where children have been thrown into chaos, schools can provide some measure of stability. Protecting children and teachers is a moral imperative, as well as a matter of international law.” -United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro



The event was widely covered in the press and by participating member states and humanitarian agencies.

  • Click here to read statements from Member States following the event.
  • Click here to hear interviews with UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde F. Johnson, SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy, and Afghan youth activist Maiwand Rahyaba.
  • View photos from the thematic debate and the press conference, as well as official photographs of H.H. Sheikha Mozah with the Secretary-General here.


Links to related articles




  • Click here for a complete transcript of the day’s proceedings outlined in a UN General Assembly article on Reliefweb.
  • Click here for webcast coverage of the thematic debate.


Panel 1: The first panel discussion on the topic of "Education in Emergencies -- Why We Need to Act Now" comprised three panellists: Pierre Nkurunziza, President of Burundi; Vernor Munoz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education; and Wildenes Etienne, a teacher from a Haitian school run by the non-governmental organization Catholic Relief Services. The discussion was moderated by Kevin Cahill, Chief Adviser for Humanitarian Affairs, Office of the President of the General Assembly.

Panel 2: Dedicated to the theme "How to Make Education Work -- Investing in Learners, Investing in Success", the second panel of the day was moderated by HILDE F. JOHNSON, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.


  • Panelist Dr. Brenda Haiplik, INEE Representative: Download her speech here


Panel 3: The third panel discussion focused on "Shared Accountability: Ways to Move Forward", and involved four panellists: Claude Heller, Mexico's Permanent Representative and Chair of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict; Lothar Krappmann, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; Brendan O'Malley, author of the UNESCO study Education Under Attack; and Sradda Thapa, youth representative from Nepal. The discussion was moderated by Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.