UN Security Council calls for increased protection of the right to education in conflict affected zones

New York: On 2 October 2020, the UN Security Council members gathered for the High-level Arria Formula Meeting “Access to education in conflict and post conflict contexts: Role of digital technology and connectivity”, organized by the Permanent Mission of Niger in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and South Africa.


The meeting built up on the Security Council’s Presidential Statement (PRST/2020/8) focusing on attacks on schools, in which the UN Security Council emphasized the need for Member States to facilitate continuation of education during armed conflict, including through distance learning and digital technology. The discussion shed light on the best practices and lessons learnt in harnessing connectivity and digital technology for improving access to education in conflict and post-conflict, and post-disaster situations. Speakers highlighted the efforts of the Security Council members and the UN System in facilitating continuation of education during armed conflict, including through distance learning and digital technology.


The Security Council heard the briefings by Henrietta Fore (Executive Director of UNICEF), Doreen Bogdan-Martin (Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the ITU), H.E. Ibrahima Guimba-Saidou (Minister-Special Advisor of the President of the Republic and CEO of the National Agency for Information Society (ANSI)), and H.E. Paula Ingabire (Minister of Information and Communications Technology and Innovation of Rwanda). Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, joined the discussion highlighting UNESCO’s action on ensuring continuity of education in crisis.


Highlighting UNESCO’s action in addressing the global education disruption, UNESCO Assistant-Director-General of Education, Stefania Giannini, briefed on the efforts of the Global Education Coalition, that mobilized 150 partners, including all of the UN family, civil society, academia and the private sector. Noting that technology is not a luxury, rather a lifeline in times of crisis and conflict, Ms. Giannini stated that UNESCO’s next step in this regard will be the launch of the Lifelines to Learning initiative, in preparation for a Member States-led Declaration on Connectivity for Education.


Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, highlighted the largest disruption of education that has led to perpetuating inequalities and exposed the digital divide in strong terms, both in low and middle-income countries and especially in countries in conflict. She further stressed the need to provide education support in 35 conflict-affected situations. Calling for urgent measures to provide education for all and close the digital divide, Ms. Fore outlined the heavier risks faced by girls and the stark figures for refugees that may lead to the international community failing a generation of young people.


On behalf of ITU, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the ITU, stressed that digital connectivity offered a powerful way to reach the vulnerable children, to continue education even if traditional learning environments are no longer accessible. She highlighted ongoing efforts of the UN system in proving safe access to technology and education and outlined the growing need for stronger political will, better network infrastructure and expansion of digital skills to drive the process forward.


Sharing national perspective, H.E. Ibrahima Guimba Saidou, Minister-Special Advisor of the President of the Republic and CEO of the National Agency for Information Society, Niger, expressed his country’s commitment to accelerate ongoing projects with ITU and other UN Agencies by increasing financing over the following months. Mr. Saidou also outlined that Niger will leverage experiences gained from the pilot of a program to foster the acceleration of digital transformation in Niger, supported by the World Bank.


Paula Ingabire, Minister of Information and Communications Technology and Innovation of Rwanda, shared her county’s experiences in leveraging technology and productivity towards achieving access to quality education. Noting Rwanda is co-chair of the UN Broadband Commission as well as a country lead for the GIGA initiative, and fully supports this initiative to connect all schools by 2030. Referencing Rwanda’s concrete actions as part of their National Strategy for Transformation, Minister Ingabire stated that Rwanda integrated refugees into their national education policies and systems, granting them equal access without any differentiation.


In their interventions, the representatives also commended the GIGA initiative, launched by the UNICEF and ITU in 2019 with a goal to connect every school to Internet. They underscored that the initiative tackles the school connectivity agenda, not only looking at infrastructure but also addressing aspects around sufficient, reliable and affordable bandwidth, relevant content, digital skills and empowering communities. The discussion also accentuated the central role of teachers in improving learning outcomes, highlighting the need to prioritize them in this process by developing their skills.


Following the presentation by the briefers, UN Security Council members underscored the immense challenges faced by learners in conflict, including those related to connectivity, such as the lack digital infrastructure, weak technical capacity and high cost of digital equipment. Member states shared examples of programmes and projects implemented to support and promote access to education and ensure safety of schools in conflict and post-conflict countries and made a strong call for increased protection of the right to education in conflict-affected zones. The discussion highlighted further existing normative instruments such as the Security Council’s Resolution 1998, setting in place necessary standards and provisions for the protection of schools and hospitals. A number of speakers called for increased support to and endorsement of the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Right of the Child and the Safe School Declaration.