Planning for crisis – what can education systems do to prevent and prepare?

Hazards, either natural or human-made, do not necessarily lead to crisis. While education systems are often impacted by crises, there are measures that can be put in place to mitigate risks and increase efficiency and equity.

Ministries of education (MoE) are increasingly aware of this and countries including South Sudan, Uganda, Mali, Burkina Faso and others have started planning for crises before they occur.

What does crisis-sensitive planning entail?

Crisis-sensitive planning begins with a risk analysis, or as some would call it, a conflict and disaster risk analysis. There are many tools out there to support the development of such an analysis, including the Rapid Education and Risk Analysis (RERA), UNESCO-IIEP’s and PEIC’s guidance and more. These analyses then feed into policy and plan development and implementation. And in order for risk reduction strategies to be effectively implemented, they need to be costed and funded.

What’s important to remember is that if the ultimate goal is to develop national education systems that are crisis-sensitive and contribute to social cohesion and peacebuilding, crisis-sensitive planning needs to be linked with government systems and processes. How can we do this?

  1. By ensuring government ownership when developing a specific conflict and disaster risk reduction analysis. Ideally such an analysis should be done around the time when the education sector analysis, or ESA, is in development. The central idea is that government officials in a given country lead the process of developing the methodology, implementing the data collection and preparing the analysis. Ministries in countries including Burkina Faso, Mali, and currently in South Sudan have been pioneers in this area with support from partners such as UNESCO-IIEP, UNICEF, USAID, PEIC, Search for Common Ground, and others.
  1. By using data and data collection tools that belong to governments In Mali, for example, the Ministry of Education, together with partners including USAID, UNICEF and UNESCO-IIEP, developed a questionnaire to look at the effects of various risks on the system that was used for a sampling survey. In South Sudan, official data from the Education Management Information System (EMIS) was merged with OCHA’s vulnerability index, to highlight how the vulnerabilities related to conflict, displacement, food insecurity and epidemics affect the education system.
  1. By bringing together government officials and humanitarian partners (or those who have conducted the analysis) during the planning process. Ideally, as mentioned earlier, risk analyses should take place as part and parcel of the broader education sector analysis, in order to identify risk reduction strategies. These strategies should be seen as an opportunity for partners –whether humanitarian or development partners –to work together and invest in long-term systems’ building.

This may be a challenge in terms of timing, for example, if a country is in the middle of implementing a five-year plan. However, there are opportunities to integrate risk analyses during mid-term or annual reviews. In South Sudan, the education cluster, UNHCR, and local humanitarian NGOs were all involved in the crisis-sensitive ESA that has recently been finalized. The expectation is that they will now all be involved in developing the next education sector plan and that innovative decisions to further align humanitarian and development programmes will be made.

Paint the whole picture

When planning for crises it is critical to look at both natural hazards and conflicts. Simply put, there is a need to paint the whole picture.

There are certainly challenges to addressing both intrinsic (underlying societal tensions, gender inequities) and extrinsic (natural hazards) phenomena at the same time, but based on UNESCO-IIEP’s experience, it is not effective to “silo the analysis” as these risks are often interrelated. All too often, the lack of natural resources such as water or arable land can exacerbate tensions and lead to conflict. Likewise, disasters that force migration can fuel conflict over these limited resources, and can also lead to epidemics. For example, in South Sudan, conflict in the Greater Upper Nile states has resulted in 1.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), further exacerbating food security and malnutrition. In this case, and in similar situations it is imperative to have the whole picture, so that each of the vulnerabilities can be addressed through innovative programming.

In the experience of UNESCO-IIEP, the process used to analyze the more intrinsic risks and the more extrinsic risks may be different, but you really can’t have one without the other. Intrinsic risks like violent conflict may necessitate focus group discussions, or more qualitative methodologies, whereas risks like flooding lend themselves a bit more to quantitative methodologies such as sampling.

Another thing to think about are the vulnerabilities that may be latent, such as drought and food insecurity. However, crisis-sensitive planning can identify strategies such as water harvesting in school communities or school feeding programmes to help mitigate the effects of drought and other latent risks.

Institutional failure and structural difficulties are also risks in and of themselves— such as lack of qualified teachers, largely illiterate populations, or low demand for education. In many of the countries affected by violent conflict and natural hazards, these structural difficulties make it even more difficult for the education system to rebound, and pose a great threat to fostering systemic resilience. They also make the vulnerable even more vulnerable. Conflict and disaster risk needs to be examined as part of a more comprehensive education sector diagnosis.

A comprehensive approach

It is therefore important to use an all-risk approach in crisis-sensitive planning. Sometimes there may indeed be tradeoffs between the depth and the coverage of a risk analysis, but the greater risk is to not examine all risks, and not get the complete picture of what affects households and communities and their resilience.

To conclude, it’s important to stress that education professionals working in this field are at an exciting point. We are seeing both education actors working with disaster management authorities and development partners collaborating with humanitarian stakeholders. Understanding the linkages and the bi-directional relationships between education and crisis, and bridging the gap between development and humanitarian worlds is essential for risk reduction strategies to work. As indicated in the recently released UN Secretary-General’s Report, One Humanity: Shared Responsibility, “Success must now be measured by how people’s vulnerability and risk are reduced, not by how needs are met year after year”. Crisis-sensitive educational planning aims to do just that.

For more resources on crisis-sensitive planning, please have a look at IIEP’s online document repository.

Do you have experience working in crisis-sensitive planning? We’d love to hear about your experiences and lessons learned in the comment section below.

Leonora MacEwen is an Education Programme Specialist with UNESCO-IIEP. Leonora was a part of USAID ECCN activities at CIES 2016. Please head over to our CIES Event page for details on USAID ECCN presentations and an interview with Leonora.

Posted in Design, Implement, Research and Evaluate for Better EiCC Programs

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