Foreign Minister Børge Brende has been among members of the Norwegian government promoting education around the world, and was busy welcoming dignitaries to Oslo this week for an education summit. The goal is to find new ways of financing public schools, improving their quality and making sure that girls and victims of crises and conflict can stay in school.
Brende and Prime Minister Erna Solberg were hosting this week’s summit, which attracted UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Nobel Peace Prize winner and education advocate Malala Yousafzai, the UN’s special envoy on global education issues Gordon Brown and government ministers from 40 countries.
They were confronted by critics including Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who claimed that aid to education in emergencies “must be doubled to ensure that also children affected by conflict and crises can get an education.”
Egeland commended the Norwegian government’s effort to get children’s rights to education on the international agenda. “But what the 28.5 million out-of-school children living in conflict areas need, is an increase in funding for education,” Egeland said. “The conference must be followed by a doubling of humanitarian aid to education in emergencies.”
The UN already has “encouraged” members states to make available the necessary resources and money for schools to reopen as quickly as possible following a national emergency. The refugee council noted, however, that the share of humanitarian funds allocated to education has decreased in recent years.
“There is broad consensus that we should prioritize education for children in war and conflict zones,” said Egeland, a career diplomat with roots in the opposition Labour party. “It is incomprehensible that the development is still going in the wrong direction.”
Norway to boost its own aid
Brende announced Monday that Norway will be more than doubling its aid to Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, for example, by NOK 75 million to NOK 120 million, to secure education for the children of refugee families. The education minister from Lebanon, Elias Bour Saab, is also taking part in this week’s meeting in Oslo.
“The needs are far from being covered, and the majority of refugee children don’t go to school,” Brende conceded. “Norway will provide a boost along with other donor countries to ensure that school starts in September.”
The UN secretary general said that Norway was “one of the UN’s most important partners and we’re grateful for the leadership the Norwegian prime minister and foreign minister are showing here.” Participants at the education summit, who including the prime ministers of Pakistan and Rwanda, will also try to find ways of reaching children and providing secure schools that have been targets of extremist groups like the Taliban, Al Shabaab and Boko Haram.
After attending the summit in Oslo, Ban Ki-Moon will also travel to Svalbard to bring attention to climate issues. He said “we need to make the world aware” that there’s no time time to waste on finally securing an agreement at the UN climate summit in Paris in December.