With hundreds of thousands of children being pulled from their classrooms to flee the conflict in Syria and crises elsewhere, there are new avenues to help continue their education. Australia, as part of MIKTA, can play an important role.
Earlier this month I was invited to participate in the MIKTA Development Seminar and Academic Network in Istanbul. Chaired by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the seminar is an annual gathering of development officials, academics, advocates and not-for-profit representatives from across the five countries that make up this unique partnership: Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia.
This particular seminar focused on the exchange of ideas, strategies and approaches taken by each country towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN’s 17-point plan aimed at ending extreme poverty, reducing the spread of inequality and mitigating climate change by 2030. The outcomes from the seminar were shared at the 11th high-level ministerial MIKTA meeting which took place in Istanbul earlier this month.
One issue that came up several times during the seminar was the critical need to provide education for children in humanitarian and conflict situations, including those who have fled Syria in recent years.
The education challenge
In Turkey alone there are 833,039 refugee children of school age, of which only half have access to education. Globally, 75 million school-aged children and youth have had their education disrupted by conflict or crisis and are in desperate need of educational support. And yet less than 2 per cent of all humanitarian assistance goes towards education.
The lack of support globally for displaced children and youth was reinforced during my time in Istanbul by an address at the Bosphorus Summit by the President of Jordan’s Senate, Faisal Al-Fayez. He highlighted the USD$35 billion (AUD$47 billion) budget deficit his country has accrued, in the absence of sufficient international support, to support the more than 650,000 Syrian refugees that Jordan is hosting. It’s worth noting that schools in Jordan are running in double shifts to accommodate evening classes for Syrian school-aged children, with teachers working around the clock and resources strained and shared where possible. The Jordanian government’s footing of the bill is a critical reminder of the urgent need for assistance from other donors who are not host countries themselves.
Recognised in the Australian government’s recently-released Foreign Policy White Paper as underlining “the potential of plurilateral cooperation”, MIKTA has already launched a limited number of joint development initiatives together.
An example is an Australian-led “innovation challenge focused on increasing access to education in emergencies, particularly for girls.” The challenge will make $2 million worth of grants available to the winning innovations. The winners were announced last week.
For my own part at this month’s seminar, I encouraged the MIKTA countries to be more ambitious in their ability to be a positive force for change in the world. Building on Australia’s education challenge initiative, I urged them to focus their efforts on mobilising the additional resources needed to provide education in emergency situations.
As a key grouping of the G20, MIKTA countries can play an important role in elevating education to the top of the global agenda. Specifically, in 2018 MIKTA members can use their combined diplomatic clout to commit to two concrete steps:
- Secure the remaining USD$360 million from public and private donors needed by the Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Fund for 2018-2019. This first-of-its-kind fund was established at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to mobilise new resources and allow rapid-response deployment for education in emergencies and protracted crises.
- Ensure a successful replenishment for the work of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which is seeking USD$3.1 billion to support its work over the next three years. The GPE supports quality basic education across 69 developing countries, 29 of which are classified as areas experiencing fragility or conflict. It works to strengthen local education ministries in such countries to ensure a robust system is rebuilt to promote long-term sustainability and learning outcomes after immediate crises subside.
MIKTA at the G20
To enlist the world’s most powerful states in this endeavour, MIKTA countries will find a useful ally in Argentina, which, as of the start of this month, now holds the presidency of the G20. Argentina has said education will be one of the critical themes of its presidency and at the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg, G20 leaders resolved to “examine in further detail under Argentina’s presidency” how it can support key initiatives including the GPE and ECW funds. As an aside, Australia in particular played a key role in ensuring education was on the G20’s agenda, announcing its inaugural support for ECW to the tune of $10 million in Hamburg.
Working in close collaboration with Argentina (which shares similar middle power characteristics), MIKTA countries can use the next 12 months to unite behind a focused campaign to lobby, galvanise and raise awareness among not just other governments but also the private sector, advocating for support for education in emergencies to be scaled-up.
A critical moment along this timeline will be the GPE’s replenishment conference on 2 February 2018, co-hosted by Senegalese President Macky Sall and French President Emmanuel Macron. As the ECW fund doesn’t yet have a similar dedicated pledging moment of its own, the G20 summit taking place late next year in Argentina will provide a more than suitable platform for this purpose. MIKTA countries should lobby to make this a reality.
A concerted effort to scale up support to ECW would not only address a much-needed funding shortfall, but also firmly establish MIKTA’s reputation as an effective force for good in responding to emerging challenges in an otherwise uncertain and parochial global environment. Recent events have shown we can no longer rely fully on the traditional powers alone to ensure the most vulnerable in society are not left behind. For its part, Global Citizen stands ready to support the MIKTA countries in this endeavour.
Michael Sheldrick is the global director of policy and advocacy with Global Citizen, an Australian-grown international advocacy group based in New York.
This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.