Nepali Times
"Conflict children are doubly disadvantaged"

Tove R Wang is the head of Save the Children Norway and the chair of the Rewrite the Future campaign that is working with the 40 million children who are out of school in conflict-affected countries around the world. She was in Nepal last week and spoke to Nepali Times about why children in conflict areas need special attention.


Nepali Times: What is the reason for your special focus on children in conflict areas?
Tove R Wang:
Major donors are reluctant to invest in countries that are in conflict and in a fragile state. They expect good strategies and firm plans and a system that works, and obviously conflict affected areas are usually poorly governed. Children in these countries have an even greater need for education and the support that education brings to restore social stability. So they are doubly disadvantaged in a way: they don't get education and they are affected by conflict.

Do you think we are on track to meet the MDGs?
The Millenium Development Goal wants all children to have access to education by 2015. There is no way we can reach that goal unless we invest in and concentrate on children in conflict-affected areas. The trend of the past years is that the number of children not having access to education is going down, but the portion of the children not having access to education in conflict-affected areas is at the same level. So what will happen is that the number of children who don't go to school will keep going down but we will reach a barrier when we count the children in conflict areas. So we are challenging international donors through a campaign to invest more on children in conflict and fragile states. We are working in 20 countries and Nepal is one of the five countries in Asia.

How does the status of children here compare to, say, Aceh?
One of the things that strikes us about Nepal is that through the conflict years we had some access to the war zones and we could conduct programs. Still, the needs for education are not being met, the ministry (of education) thinks the percentage of children not going to school is 13 percent, we think the figure is much higher than that-maybe about 30 percent.

Nepal has got a lot of attention in the past year because the country is coming out of conflict and there is a peace process. But what is not so well-known is that there are new conflicts arising for instance in the tarai. So it's not that there is peace and everything is now going to be all right. We believe that if the government and NGOs and local communities work together it is possible to significantly increase the number of children going to school.

But are there classrooms to accommodate all the new children?
The only way to solve that is by paying attention to training teachers. A key factor for quality education is a good teacher. It's nice to have a nice building as well, but if I had to choose, I'd rather have a good teacher. And it is more costly to upgrade a school than to upgrade teacher training. The ministry of education estimates 62,000 additional teachers are required. But the higher the quantity, the more challenging maintaining the quality will be.

What are you focusing on in Nepal?
We work in 14 districts with government schools with a comprehensive program that includes teacher training, mobilizing the community and encouraging children's participation in education. After all, children are smart; we should learn to listen to them more. I have heard that some children have actually helped mediate between teachers and the Maoists to reopen their schools.

If you involve the community from the beginning of the process then they will participate and we get immense support. Essentially, its not poverty that people are fighting but lack of knowledge. We are also involved in ensuring that children are a zone of peace.

The government's response?
It's not very helpful only to criticize but to see what is working and move from there. Giving education to children is not rocket science, it is about political will. And for us it is being able to demonstrate that we can do it in difficult parts of the world.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)