Educate for Peace

The scale of the crisis is unprecedented. According to UNCHR, there were 65.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide in 2015 - including some 21.3 million refugees. Half of them are under the age of 18 years old. Some 54 percent come from three countries -- Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.

For every forcibly displaced person, there is a story to tell, often of tragedy, always of hardship. This massive human rights crisis is a blow to the humanity we all share and the dignity to which we all aspire. The future of millions of women and men is blighted. A shadow is being thrown over entire countries and regions.

This is why the UN Summit on 19 September -- Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants - is so important. This summit will tackle root causes, the role of international law and the need for stronger international action. In this picture, education must have a leading role.

I have heard the same message across the world, at the Protection of Civilians Site in Juba, South Sudan, and in the camps in Gaziantep, Turkey, where young Syrian girls and boys shared their thirst for education, their aspirations for a better future.

Ask any girl living in a camp what she wants, and she will say education. Ask any mother, and her reply will be the same. We all know why. Education is a human right--it is also a force for empowerment. It gives girls and boys tools to make the most of change and withstand its pressures. Learning provides peace to young minds. Going to school is source of safety and a normal life. Education is a source of hope when horizons are bleak. It is also a force for peace, the best long-term way to break cycles of violence and set communities on the path to peace.

Yet today, education is falling through the cracks. 1.5 billion people live in fragile or conflict-affected countries - 40 percent of them are young people. Refugees are hit hardest - half of primary age children are out of school and three quarters of secondary age do not have access to education.

Education is often the first budget line cut by governments facing conflict, and it accounts for only 2 percent of humanitarian aid. No sector has a smaller share of humanitarian appeals actually funded. There is a USD 2.3 billion funding gap for education in conflict and crisis situations -- this represents ten times what education receives from humanitarian aid at present.

This is dangerous. The world cannot afford to lose entire young generations to despair. Young people lacking an education face a future of poverty - and poverty has always been a recruiting sergeant for extremism and violence.

Education cannot remain sidelined in international efforts. We need to invest more in education as part of humanitarian and development assistance.

This is the goal of the Education Cannot Wait Fund for Education in Emergencies, launched at the World Humanitarian Summit, last May in Istanbul. This Fund will spotlight education, to build it into emergency responses and development aid.

Moving forward calls for investing smartly, to provide education that meets real needs - starting with formal primary education, and including non-formal education opportunities, secondary education, TVET and higher education.

We must target adolescents and young people, providing them with skills for jobs and social integration - girls and young women must be a special focus. We must tackle issues of accreditation, curriculum and language of instruction, which raise real challenges for displaced populations. We must focus on teacher salaries and qualifications, to ensure quality support for quality education. We must bolster the resilience of education systems, to ready all classrooms as places for diversity and living together. For all this, we need sharp data - this is the importance of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Only education can give young people the tools and confidence to build a new future for themselves and their communities. Education is the best way to give lasting peace a chance. Let's put it first.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the occasion of two critical conferences at the UN on the Refugee and Migrant crisis: the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants (Sept. 19th, a UN conference) and the Leaders Summit on Refugees (Sept. 20th, hosted by U.S. Pres. Barack Obama, at the UN). To see all the posts in the series, visit here. To follow the conversation on Twitter, see #UN4RefugeesMigrants.