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UN report leads to rallying cry from Dr Williams

07 September 2012


Education brief: the Archbishop of Canterbury listens to the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, at Lambeth Palace on Monday, as he speaks on education for children in conflict-ridden states

Education brief: the Archbishop of Canterbury listens to the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, at Lambeth Palace on Monday, as he speaks on educa...

ATTACKS on education are one of the most "disturbing and shocking elements in international life", the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Monday.

At a conference at Lambeth Palace on "Education for Children Affected by Armed Conflict", Dr Williams said that the Church must play a part in tackling an "absolutely toxic" culture in conflict-ridden states where it "seems easy and obvious to make your living through conflict rather than in resistance to it".

Faith-based organisations must help in the formation of teachers, and the setting and monitoring of child-protection standards, he said. They must also advocate to ensure that education is located "at the very heart of the humanitarian agenda".

It is estimated that, around the world, 42 per cent of the children who have no access to education - numbering 28 million - are found in conflict-affected states. The annual report of the UN secretary-general on Children and Armed Conflict, published in April, documents attacks on, and closure of, schools; military use of schools; and use of schools as recruiting grounds in 14 countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Syria.

The conference heard from speakers from agencies including World Vision UK, the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, and the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attacks, and produced a number of recommendations. Faith communities, they said, should support the UN in monitoring and reporting attacks and military use of schools; and, in areas where they provide education, could influence the curriculum "so that it is a force for peace rather than conflict".

Funding was a recurrent theme. Between 2001 and 2010, education accounted for 4.1 per cent of humanitarian funding requirements, but received only 2.4 per cent of the funding provided, the conference heard. Dr Williams was critical of a situation in which "we are constantly caught between funding regimes that are unrealistically tight and short-term, and the needs of communities."

The conference also heard from Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, and UN special envoy on global education. He told of visits to countries where the chief desire of people was for education for themselves or their children. In South Sudan, about one third of primary-school-aged children are not attending school.

Mr Brown also spoke of a madrasah in Nigeria run by "an extreme organisation" offering free education and far better facilities than those of the school that the Nigerian government and international community had failed to fund. He warned that, in some parts of Africa, there is "competition between those organisations offering free education, but bad dogma, as opposed to us not being prepared to fund them." He called for "drastic action" to ensure that the Millennium Development Goals for education could be achieved.

Dr Williams also shared the stage with the founder of the Sierra Leone Children's Forum Network, Messeh Kamara, who described his experience of hiding in the bush after rebels occupied his school: "It was a lost decade". He is now studying international law in London.

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