One in four. That's how many children in 22 conflict zones around the world are currently out of school on a daily basis. That adds up to nearly 24 million of the 109.2 million children of primary and secondary school age (6-15) in those regions according to a new report from UNICEF.
"Children living in countries affected by conflict have lost their homes, family members, friends, safety, and routine. Now, unable to learn even the basic reading and writing skills, they are at risk of losing their futures and missing out on the opportunity to contribute to their economies and societies when they reach adulthood," UNICEF Chief of Education Jo Bourne said in a statement. The most dire numbers come from South Sudan, where over half (51%) of school-age children don't have access to education, with Niger (47%) and Sudan (41%) close behind.
While collecting concrete data on these children in conflict zones is difficult, experts at UNICEF are worried that unless governments and NGOs emphasize providing education to all a whole "generation of children living in conflict will grow up without the skills they need to contribute to their countries and economies, exacerbating the already desperate situation for millions of children and their families." In countries like Uganda, UNICEF is providing services to refugees from South Sudan, but education funding faces an 89% gap.
From Nigeria -- where near daily attacks from the terrorist group Boko Haram has impeded the education of more than one million children -- to the Syrian civil war, which has affected 2 million children over the past 4 years, the impact on a whole generation is only expanding as educators and governments struggle to find a solution to a crisis that has created the biggest number of refugees since the end of WWII.
Because refugee status can typically last anywhere from 12-14 years -- nearly a child's entire school lifetime -- UNICEF education in emergencies specialist Lisa Bender told MTV News that in addition to losing out on getting a proper eduction, children are also missing out on being in a protected space that gives them a sense of normalcy in the midst of chaos.
"Children who are not in school face a higher risk of sexual and gender violence, being drawn into dangerous child labor and recruitment into armed groups," Bender said. "And girls have less of a chance of going back to school if they start to take on responsibilities in the home and they lose their parents."
UNICEF has been working to provide temporary learning spaces where children get services, lessons and access to games and psychosocial support, but Bender said more funds are needed, now. "Of all the money raised over the past few years through humanitarian appeals, less than 2 percent has gone to education," she said, adding that school also gives children the skills needed to rebuild their communities once conflicts are over.
Bender said that when UNICEF workers ask children what they need the most they almost always say education, over food and water. "Children are desperate for education... they want to be with their friends, they want to learn and they want to have a childhood," she said.