Reaching for the Stars

Photo taken by Giulia McPherson in Lebanon
“Students Reaching for the Stars.”

As we celebrate the beginning of a new year and reflect on 2017, we should pay particular attention to the passage of the Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (READ) Act. It was a significant moment for global education advocates and practitioners.

Signed into law on September 8, 2017, this new READ Act legislation will improve educational opportunities and address key barriers that keep millions of children worldwide from accessing quality education. Formerly known as the Education for All Act, passage of this important piece of legislation was the culmination of years of hard work by Congress and education advocates.

Championed by Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), the READ Act was developed to help address the need for access to education for school children around the world, including those affected by crisis and conflict.

Indeed, of the 6.4 million school-age refugees, more than half of them—3.5 million—are not in school. As an organization focused on the needs of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, we at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA are concerned about this significant gap and appreciate the impact the READ Act will have on addressing these needs.

By creating mechanisms to better coordinate the development and execution of global education programs across U.S. government agencies, the READ Act allows the U.S. to take a bold step forward in prioritizing education as a critical intervention in its foreign assistance efforts.

Key components of the legislation include:

  • ensuring that the U.S. has a comprehensive, integrated strategy that improves global educational opportunities for vulnerable children, including those affected by conflict and other emergencies;
  • creating a position of “senior coordinator” within USAID, responsible for the efficient development, implementation, and coordination of U.S. basic education programs;
  • committing to work with countries to strengthen systems in order to build long-term sustainability and country ownership;
  • improving the transparency and accountability of basic education programs funded by the U.S. government, ensuring valuable taxpayer dollars have the most impact for children worldwide; and
  • directing U.S. agencies to engage with key partners, including other donors, civil society and multilateral global education initiatives, to leverage U.S. contributions to achieve greater overall impact.

The legislation works toward reaching the 264 million children and youth around the world who are still not in school as well as the 75 million children who live in countries facing war and violence and who need educational support.

Children in fragile, conflict-affected countries are more than twice as likely to be out of school compared with those in countries not affected by conflict. Similarly, adolescents are 66% more likely to be out of school. Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children, as the obstacles to full access to education are considerable. Yet, during emergencies and in protracted crises, schools are essential for healing and health and provide opportunities and hope for the future. For more information, see also the Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

The READ Act places a focus on populations affected by conflict or crisis, a critical element of the legislation. The legislation calls for:

  • ensuring a continuum of education services for children affected by conflict and other emergencies; and
  • identifying and replicating successful interventions to improve access to, and quality of, basic education in conflict settings.

Since passage of the READ Act, USAID has begun work to implement the legislation, which includes seeking to fill the senior coordinator position and forming an internal working group to advance development of a new integrated strategy. Due one year after enactment of the law, September 8, 2018, the strategy will be carried out during the following five fiscal years and will guide U.S.-funded global education programs, including those in conflict and crisis settings.

Development of the strategy must include consultations with local and international nongovernmental organizations, including faith-based organizations and organizations representing students, teachers, and parents, and other development partners engaged in basic education assistance programs in developing countries. The law also requires an opportunity for public comment on the strategy.

This public consultation requirement provides the EiCC community with an excellent opportunity to offer USAID the fruit of our hard-won experience about effective strategies for providing accessible and high quality education programming in some of the world’s most challenging contexts. ECCN is currently finalizing its work plan for activities in 2018 that will include the fostering of member information about, and contributions to, READ Act strategy development. While no timeline is yet in place for external consultations and soliciting public comment, ECCN will keep its members updated on continued opportunities to engage in this important process.

In the meantime, we would like to provide you with an opportunity to contribute your thoughts in the comment box below. Please share any questions or feedback you might have on what a Global Education Strategy means to you and your work.

  • What should the strategy include, specifically related to education in conflict and crisis settings?
  • How can the U.S. government work best across agencies to develop comprehensive, effective programming?
  • What are some best practices you would offer up?

We at ECCN will collect your feedback and share it on behalf of the network once the consultative process begins.

Your input is critical, so please take a moment to write and send your comments by January 31, 2018.

Over the past several years, nongovernmental organizations have mobilized thousands of people across the U.S. to express their support for the READ Act and continued U.S. engagement, ensuring that the most vulnerable have access to a quality education. With enactment of this legislation, we can begin to fully realize the benefits of the READ Act, which will move us one step closer to ensuring that no one is denied the right to an education.

We are looking forward to your thoughts and support of this effort.

Giulia McPherson is Director of Advocacy & Operations at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and a member of the ECCN Steering Committee. She can be reached at gmcpherson@jesuits.org or @GiuliaMcPherson.

 

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