Noon Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Guests: Mr. Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and Mr. Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)

Can Gordon Brown Save a Generation of Syrian Children?

Gordon Brown’s impact on British politics was fairly limited. He served as UK Prime Minister for just three years, from 2007 to 2010, and between two giants of contemporary British politics: Tony Blair and David Cameron. But while his term as Prime Minister was brief, his true legacy may well be found in the job he took after leaving British politics.

In 2012, Ban Ki Moon appointed Brown as the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, a newly created position from which he’s advocated for greater and more meaningful educational opportunities for some of the world’s most vulnerable children.

His latest and largest project involves Syrian refugees.

At the United Nations yesterday, Brown announced that $250 million had been pledged by the EU and Gulf countries to help some 1.3 million refugee children in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon gain access to a quality education.  The announcement comes just weeks before a humanitarian financing conference in London in which Brown is seeking to raise  at least $750 million to scale up education access as the numbers of refugee children continue to increase.

Despite the sheer scale of the challenge of securing access to education for approximately 2 million Syrian refugee children, at the UN yesterday Brown outlined four important points why the international community–and more importantly the parents of children displaced by the Syrian war –can have some hope in the thick of the conflict.

It’s not that Expensive

UN Dispatch has confirmed with Brown that even if the $750 million goal is reached by next month, that would only cover educating about a million children — the goal for the UN by the end of 2016. There will be another plea for funds in 2017 to get the rest of the children back in schools. Currently, the costs for educating a Syrian refugee child are actually shockingly low. He says the UN is setting financing goals on an average cost of $500 USD per child per year in Lebanon and Jordan. Due to assistance provided by Turkey, the cost is even lower there.

There’s a diverse pool of donors

What is smart about Brown’s plea, and ultimately what may actually get these children back in school, is that parties involved are open to receiving private financing as well. Foundations, NGOs, and even individuals are encouraged to contribute. Unlike other areas of development financing, there is not a huge opposition to accepting funding from non-public sources, within reason. Often this funding comes with political conditions or private sector interests, but Brown made it clear that regardless of the funding source the type of education given to these children will come with a “curriculum that emphasizes peaceful co-existence.”

Lebanon’s new approach

Lebanon is home to over one million refugees, in a country of only four million people. The Syrian conflict has put a massive strain on their resources but a new schooling plan shows promise. Brown told UN Dispatch that with a glut of teachers, Lebanon was a perfect place to try the “double-shift” program, which allows refugee children to attend and use Lebanese schools after local children have gone through their school day. The mid-afternoon and evening sessions are being taught by local teachers. The funding will be used to not only expand the program to more schools in Lebanon, but also Turkey and Jordan. Teachers in those two countries will actually be hired from within refugee communities.

Low-capital investment

Educating children does not require intensive capital usage, according to Brown. For the “double-shift” system, existing buildings and resources are being used. Of course, books and supplies are a cost but massive construction is not necessarily needed in most areas. The estimate is that about 1100 buildings and facilities will need to be renovated or rehabilitated but they are likely not in dire condition.

The largest costs are in training about 100,000 teaching and staff personnel but if teachers are being hired from within refugee communities, there is the added benefit of combating the growing unemployment problems within these countries – further incentive for neighboring countries to kick in more funding.

Brown and others argue that “schools should never become instruments of war,” and that many of the children living in refugee camps or settlements have not attending school regularly for the entire period of the Syrian conflict. UNICEF warns that an entire generation of Syrian children may be denied access to a quality education. It is shuddering to think of the implications of a generation of kids without the kind of economic opportunities that a quality education affords. Given the stakes, $750 million seems like a small amount of money to ensure healthy environments for these children.

Gordon Brown has a daunting challenge ahead, but there is reason for some hope.