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The future for education in Syria, the region and beyond by Minister of State Ciaran Cannon

Commissioner, Minister, fellow Champions and colleagues

 I am delighted to be with you today for this Launch of the Political Champions for Education in Conflict. It is heartening to see that the spark lit by Malala Yousafzai in New York last September has become a flame, shining light on the devastating impact conflict has on education for millions of children and young people.

Today we have heard, and will continue to hear, many first-hand accounts of how the crisis in Syria is affecting children and denying their right to education. This leaves them, and their parents, fearful for their future.

 It is shocking to see today that almost 2.8 million school-age Syria children remain outside any form of organised learning. Many of these children are among the most vulnerable, including those with disabilities. This is a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges facing children and their families.

On the positive side, it is heartening to see that two thirds of Syrian children are going to school, most of which are in formal systems.  We commend the efforts of all involved, in particular Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

 I must also commend the great efforts of UNICEF, Save the Children, and all of the other organisations involved in the No Lost Generation initiative to ensure every child gets an education.

 However, this also means that one third of Syrian children are still out of school.  Every child has a right to education, regardless of their situation or circumstances.

 We now need to work together more than ever to find solutions.

 Under Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals the world re-committed to education for all, and agreed that no one should be left behind.  Equity, inclusiveness and equality are guiding principles for Ireland’s development cooperation.  We aim to reach the most vulnerable and neglected, and positively affect their lives.

 Globally, more than 75 million children and young people in conflict situations need educational support.   Girls are particularly disadvantaged, being at least two and a half times more likely to be out of school than boys and also more vulnerable to early marriage, pregnancy, violence, trafficking and exploitation. 

 There are also many forgotten or neglected crises in the world where children are also being denied education. In Yemen,  nearly half a million children have dropped out of school since 2015, while in the Central African Republic one in three children are out of school because of fighting between armed groups.

 We need to prioritise education in our humanitarian responses, and take the valuable lessons that we are learning from the Syria response and apply them in these other situations.

 There are also too many regions in the world where education itself has become the target of conflict.  Sadly Malala can personally attest to this.  Attacks on education have occurred in at least 28 countries since 2013. And Syria is no exception in this regard.  We need to do more to protect schools and universities and the people within.    It is important that all countries sign up to the Safe Schools Declaration, and follow through with its commitments. 

We are all familiar with the fate of the Chibok girls in Nigeria and more recently the kidnapping of another 110 girls from a boarding school in Dapchi, north-eastern Nigeria.  The “Safe Schools Initiative” established in 2014 with support from Sarah [Brown] and the Global Business Coalition has made a difference but needs backing and support from the Nigerian government.

 Investing in education is a smart response not just from a social or economic perspective, but also if we want to build peace. There is clear evidence that fulfilling children’s right to be in school and get an education can help break the cycle of crises. Each year of education has been shown to reduce the risk of conflict by about 20% and secondary education has an even stronger impact.

 Good quality education provided during conflict can counter the underlying causes of violence.  It can foster inclusion, tolerance, human rights awareness, and conflict resolution thus supporting the long-term processes of peace and state -building.

 Ireland is fully committed to ensuring that children and young people who have endured so much are not further denied the hope for a brighter future, a future based on receiving a sound education.  I recently announced a doubling of our funding to the Global Partnership for Education, which is increasingly targeting countries affected by fragility and conflict.  In addition through our partnerships with NGOs the UN, we are supporting improved availability and access to quality education for thousands of internally displaced children and adolescents.

We can of course do more.

As political champion for this important initiative, I am personally committed to doing more. Equally, from a broader Irish perspective, the review of our Policy on International Development, which we are currently undertaking, provides us with the opportunity to consider where we can do more.  In particular, given the severity and protracted nature of so many humanitarian crises worldwide, we need to consider how best we respond to young people’s immediate educational needs across the globe.

 I look forward to working with you all as we drive forward this important initiative over the period ahead.


Thank you

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