Innovative planning to protect learning for all in a changing climate

27 November 2023


In Gayo village, Ethiopia, women and children collect water from a rainwater pool.

Applying a climate lens to educational planning and innovative training such as how to localize flood and drought-prone areas is making a difference in education in countries such as Ethiopia and South Sudan. IIEP’s experts on crisis-sensitive educational planning explain how integrating climate-sensitive approaches can safeguard learning for current and future generations.

From conflicts, and extreme weather, to widespread inequalities, the world faces a variety of complex challenges. However, the tools and resources to address these challenges are also available. As said by Secretary-General António Guterres, “All we need is the will.” This holds true for education, where proactive measures can protect and unlock education’s transformative potential, even in the face of disruptions like those experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Climate change is one of today’s greatest challenges. This is partially because it acts as a risk multiplier, which can exacerbate existing issues. Typically, educational planners can easily recognize and assess the direct impacts of climate change, such as school destruction. However, the broader consequences—linked to migration, child labour, child marriage, food insecurity, and more— can also have profound effects on education if they are not considered in the planning cycle.

To protect education even in the most difficult circumstances, it is important to implement a holistic and cross-sectoral planning approach. To do this, IIEP-UNESCO is collaborating with ministries of education, alongside relevant ministries such as ministries of environment or natural disasters, to enhance their capacities for climate-sensitive educational planning. 

Taking action in South Sudan

South Sudan is among the five most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. A recent risk analysis - conducted alongside the 2023 education sector analysis – revealed a number of climate-related challenges. For example, education is in full swing in July and September, during a period of severe rainfall, while the lowest rainfall occurs during school holidays in December and January.

During the flood season, school infrastructure is often affected, forcing schools to close for days or, in some cases, even months. Extreme events have also destroyed crops and killed thousands of livestock, pushing South Sudanese households to adopt negative coping mechanisms such as child labor, child marriage, and recruitment into armed groups, thus affecting school enrollment and attendance.

Faced with this reality, the Ministry of General Education and Instruction’s (MOGEI) forthcoming education sector plan is integrating climate adaptation and environmental sustainability measures. For example, contingency plans will be developed at national and sub-national levels based on local hazards to ensure learning continuity. The ESP will also call for a feasibility study on realigning the school calendar to the flooding season.

With help from IIEP, stronger coordination and information sharing among relevant ministries is also underway. Officials from MOGEI have joined forces with representatives from the Ministries of Environment and Forestry (MEF) and Humanitarian Affairs (MoHA) to make sure that the education system can tackle problems before they happen.

Pinpointing vulnerable schools in Ethiopia

To reinforce local efforts, IIEP provided training on QGIS, a free and open Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software. In Ethiopia, for example, a dozen officials from the Ministry of Education participated in this training. Aziza Abrar, one of the participants from the EMIS department, said that this training has enabled the Ministry of Education to merge and analyze educational data with geospatial data, helping to make more informed decisions.

Knowing, for example, which schools are located in flood or drought-prone areas allows the Ministry of Education to implement more effective and targeted prevention measures to ensure that learning never stops and to avoid the risk of school dropout. With the knowledge gained, participants from the national EMIS department plan are now gearing up to deliver their QGIS training at the regional level in 2024, to share with their colleagues the power of geospatial data in educational planning.

Leveraging the power of planning

Globally, the momentum is also accelerating with COP28. This is an important moment to leverage the power of educational planning to accelerate climate action, empower youth voices, learn from experiences, and plan actions that can be taken to adapt education systems to a changing climate.