PlanED Episode 4: Managing risks to protect education

In the next two decades, the world stands at a critical crossroads. With an estimated 200,000 lives at risk, the power of education to avert climate-related disasters becomes clear. Welcome to this edition of PlanED, the IIEP-UNESCO podcast, where we explore the crucial link between risk management, education, and the future of our planet.

In this episode, Alexandra Waldhorn is in conversation with Martín Benavides, Director of IIEP-UNESCO, drawing on his experiences as the former Minister of Education in Peru during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, Yasmine Sherif, the Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises discusses the urgency to fund this work, and Leonora MacEwen from IIEP shares insights on why risk management is an integral part of the planning cycle. His Excellency Dr. Azmi Mahafzha, Minister of Education, Higher Education and Scientific Research in Jordan and Chairperson of Jordan National Commission for Education, Culture, and Science talks about why and how Jordan has worked to develop crisis-sensitive planning. Together, they share how we can transform the challenges of today into opportunities for tomorrow. Stay with us as we unravel what it means to integrate risk management into educational planning and management.

Full transcript

Alexandra Waldhorn: 224 million learners have their education disrupted because of crises around the world. And climate change poses an even greater risk - impacting nearly half of the world’s children. Risk management, therefore, is part of the foundation of quality education.

Yasmine Sherif: The moment you work in climate risk areas, with countries that have huge refugee populations, that are already in extreme poverty, or an active armed conflict, you have to embed risk management in every single activity, selection process, and also in your response.

Alexandra Waldhorn: Yasmine Sherif is the Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises.

In this episode of PlanED, we will talk about how to integrate risk management into educational planning.

PlanED is a podcast from UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning, which takes you inside education systems to learn about the policies and strategies helping to create a more equitable and sustainable future in and through education.

I’m Alexandra Waldhorn.

IIEP’s mission is to strengthen the capacities of ministries of education to plan and manage their systems – and risk management is a large part of this.

It’s about making sure that there are measures in place to help countries anticipate a variety of risks and hazards to mitigate their impact - and ultimately to protect the education and learning of all, including the most vulnerable.

Martín Benavides, the Director of IIEP-UNESCO, was Minister of Education in Peru at the onset of COVID-19, which appeared about a month after he took the position.

COVID was a shock, and he told me it shone a spotlight on the necessity of risk management.

Martín Benavides: We at that time were forced to make decisions that were never taken before. At that time, we learned very directly that systems, need to be prepared for emergencies. We were not prepared. Also in that context, there is always the opportunity for innovation, which is good, and we innovate a lot, in a very reduced time. But in general, with better preparation, the impact on children will be lower. We were not prepared, so the impact on children was high. And in spite of all the efforts we made, and all the innovations that were developed, closing the schools is something that we need to avoid in the future. And at that time, because we didn't know the impact of the pandemic, the only solution that we had at the beginning was to close the schools. And to change completely the system and do a lot of innovation that are good to have, now. But, the impact on children was very high. I think that for the future, and to avoid the risk for children, the system needs to be very well prepared for the management of risk.

Alexandra Waldhorn: Leonora MacEwen leads IIEP-UNESCO’s work on crisis-sensitive educational planning, and she explains the need to reduce risks in the face of crises not only with the recent pandemic but with the increasing reality of climate change.

Leonora MacEwen: So rehabilitating school buildings damaged by climate change-induced natural disasters is very costly. It's not a cost-effective way to use already-scarce resources. We also know that the more educated people are, the more they are able to prepare for and recover from crises. This is particularly true for girls who are educated. Over the next two decades, an estimated 200,000 climate disaster–related deaths could be prevented if every child received a full secondary school education by 2030. So really, children and youth must have access to education so they can learn to mitigate global warming, but also keeping learners learning and teachers teaching is essential for their well-being, and for the well-being of the planet.

Alexandra Waldhorn: IIEP-UNESCO supports member states to respond to risks, but also to anticipate, prepare, and quickly react to them.

Martín Benavides: Some countries like South Sudan embed risk management into their educational sector plan. This involves identifying and analyzing the risk to education and using data and information from the humanitarian and environmental sectors to demonstrate and understand the impacts that risk has on education. Based on this risk analysis ministries can define programmatic measures to mitigate those impacts and protect education and its communities. And other countries like Jordan develop a specific risk management strategy for the educational sector.

Alexandra Waldhorn: The Jordanian Minister of Education and Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research H.E Dr. Azmi Mahafzah talks about why and how Jordan has worked to develop crisis-sensitive planning.

H.E Dr. Azmi Mahafzah: Jordan faces a range of natural and human hazards that can have a direct impact on education. These risks include biological, weather, border, and cyber risks, as well as food security risks resulting from incidents such as floods and drought. All of these risks are of course exacerbated by climate change and can lead to disruption of the educational process, lower educational attainment, and cause negative psychological and social impacts on our students, as was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our goal as the Ministry of Education is to raise the level of safety and increase resilience in the education sector. For this reason, in cooperation with the National Center for Security and Crisis Management (NCSCM), and with the support of UNESCO and the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), we have launched a new crisis and risk management strategy for the period from 2023 to 2027.

Alexandra Waldhorn: He spoke to Rania Barakat, from the UNESCO Office in Amman, Jordan about how the strategy is being implemented.

H.E Dr. Azmi Mahafzah: The strategy was developed in a participatory manner (consulting stakeholders from all regions in the Kingdom) and based on scientific evidence. Its main pillars are enabling systems and management, safe learning facilities, school safety and educational continuity management, and risk reduction and resilience education. There are three steps to ensure the implementation of the strategy.

First, institutionalizing crisis and risk management at the levels of the educational system in Jordan. A risk management department has been established to implement and follow up on the crisis and risk management strategy, in line with executive plans, budgets, and procedures; and to define responsibilities and coordinate with partners for implementation.

Second, the Ministry is currently working on developing an operational plan and communication plan for crisis and risk management; in addition to developing guidelines for the directorates of education on how to deal with risks. The operational plan outlines the roles and responsibilities per activity, in addition to the expected financial costs. The communication strategy will determine the channels and materials that can be used to reach different target groups for comprehensive awareness of crisis and risk management and to coordinate with education partners so that they can provide support and resources within the broad network of key stakeholders.

Third, develop a framework for monitoring and evaluating the strategy, identifying indicators and data collection tools, in order to be able to track progress and identify obstacles to implementation.

Rania Barakat: How do you hope to see the education sector develop in the coming years due to all these outstanding risk management efforts?

H.E Dr. Azmi Mahafzah: Prevention and crisis response remains fresh in our minds, as we realize the extent of the impact of the crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, especially on children’s well-being and the scale of learning loss. We have a lot of lessons learned too.

Through the Crisis and Risk Management strategy and the Risk Management section, we aim to institutionalize crisis and risk management in a sustainable framework at all levels of the Ministry of Education in Jordan. We also aim to ensure that the education sector provides safe and inclusive school environments that ensure educational continuity with the flexibility to respond to risks. In the future, we hope that the implementation of the risk management strategy will foster a culture of crisis and risk management across all educational levels. This includes creating a safe learning environment and facilities for students, educational and administrative staff, and the school community. It also means that students, educational and administrative staff, and school communities are resilient and have the ability to face and withstand risks.

Martín Benevides: We believe that consultation is critical for risk management.

Alexandra Waldhorn: Again, IIEP-UNESCO Director, Martin Benavides.

Martín Benavides: This includes consulting actors across different sectors, including the disaster management sector, environmental authorities or health authorities, to name a few. We also cannot forget to include creative thinkers and innovators. And we must seek input from children and youth, who are concerned for their futures.

Yasmine Sherif: Our approach is to build first resilience among the children, the youth, local civil society organizations, schools, and educators. And that's very, very key.

Alexandra Waldhorn: Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, recently launched ECW’s FiveXFive Campaign to call on 5 donors to commit $5 million each to fully fund ECW’s Multi-Year Resilience Programme in South Sudan, which responds to the climate crisis, influx of refugees and other protracted crises, and provides children with the protection, hope and opportunity of a quality education.

Yasmine Sherif: Through our partnership with UNESCO in South Sudan, we also support the minister to strengthen its EIE data management system, because this will allow the ministry to make evidence-based and risk-informed decisions on how to manage education with the risk management approach across the country.

Alexandra Waldhorn: Can you share some of the other inspiring initiatives and best practices that your fund has supported to help education systems cope with emergencies?

Yasmine Sherif: Well, let me take that more on the policy level. Education Cannot Wait has endorsed a comprehensive school safety - CSS framework. It has been developed by the Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction, and Resilience in the Education sector, which is currently led by UNESCO. And we have also welcomed the new updated version of the CSS framework because it pushes us all to take on all hazards, risks, and risk management that we see in our work. And be used as a tool, a key tool for all partners to ensure safe spaces for children in school. And here also, I would say the Safe Schools Declaration is another tool for managing risks. We have invested in anticipatory action so that we can ensure early-warning alerts and emergency triggers. And that's a key approach to managing risk. I also would like to stress, since we are a global fund managing billions of donors, that we have a very strong risk management approach to fiduciary risks. Because these are taxpayers’ money and therefore, we undertake an extremely hard due diligence process as part of risk management, towards the funding that we receive. Also, from the private sector.

Alexandra Waldhorn: So failing to act to protect education for all comes with an extremely high price. We're faced with many challenges today in our world. Yasmine- how can we turn today's challenges into opportunities?

Yasmine Sherif: Well, I think, you see, everything requires funding. It requires funding, creativity, and a strong sense of empathy toward the context where risks are overwhelming. But to be able to ensure prevention, mitigation, and address of the risks, it requires funding. These things are not just done organically, naturally, without any need for tools, for human resources, for material… I mean, everything costs. So, I would say that the opportunity we have with the wealth that exists in the wealthier parts of the world, in comparison to those countries in which we invest, if that could be better used, more efficiently, we could improve risk management in reality and in practice on the ground.

Alexandra Waldhorn: Managing risks requires resources - but it also requires data. Having - and using - the right data and information is key, but in many places, data is only used for responding once a disaster hits.

What’s missing is the use of data and information that helps guide education systems away from the epicenter – and towards preventing, preparing, and minimizing the impact of crises on education.

Using data on where schools are located, where students live, where there are early warning systems, and whether there are essential first aid materials in schools… are all puzzle pieces we need to systematically use to safeguard education.

This is Plan-Ed – a podcast from IIEP-UNESCO. You can find more information on how to integrate risk management in educational planning on our website:

Join us next time for more insight into the policies and strategies helping to create a more equitable and sustainable future, in and through education.


Edited slightly for clarity.