Humanitarian-development coherence in education: Working together in crisis contexts [EN/AR/PT]


Executive Summary

The education sector is charged with a responsibility to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, per Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4). The current trend of complex and longer-term crises, whether caused by the climate emergency, violent conflict, or a pandemic, threatens progress toward SDG4 targets. As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, no country or education system is immune from crisis; therefore, building resilience is the key not only to avoiding losses but to sustaining and progressing toward our shared goals in the education sector. Collective action is needed across the humanitarian-development spectrum to build inclusive and adaptable education systems that are prepared for and have the capacity to respond to crises, so that every child and young person has a chance to go to school, stay in school, and complete a full cycle of primary and secondary education.

This report is aimed at members of the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), which includes a broad range of humanitarian, development, government, and civil society actors who are working to ensure that all individuals have the right to a quality, safe, relevant, and equitable education. The purpose of the report is to demystify the concept of humanitarian-development coherence and to propose a set of actions and recommendations to strengthen such coherence in the education sector. The report also provides guidelines for INEE members and education stakeholders to take collective action, and to advocate for improved coherence within their own agencies and across the education sector’s full spectrum of policy and programming.

This report recapitulates the concept of humanitarian-development coherence and why it is critical, provides an overview of barriers to coherence in the education sector, identifies illustrative examples of coherent action, and offers concrete recommendations for improved coherence, as summed up through a “Learn-Convene-Adapt” framework.

To explain the concept of humanitarian-development coherence, this paper adopts the New Ways of Working definition, which describes humanitarian-development coherence as working over multiple years toward collective outcomes, based on the comparative advantage of a diverse range of actors (see definitions, p. 6). The paper argues that humanitarian-development coherence is critical to ensuring that all children have access to uninterrupted quality education, which promotes their increased resilience and overall development. While education can provide significant benefits for individuals, communities, and countries, establishing resilient education systems requires multi-year planning, coordination, and investment in the education sector.

To unpack the bottlenecks to coherence in education, the paper uses the conceptual framework proposed in the USAID white paper, Education and Humanitarian-Development Coherence (Nicolai et al., 2019). This framework outlines three levels of action that influence conditions for coherence: Norms, Capacities, and Operations. The barriers identified and explored in the paper are the following:


  • Balancing humanitarian and development mandates is challenging, particularly in conflict contexts.


  • Coordination is siloed and without structural links to bring humanitarian and development coordination bodies together.

  • Local capacity to support education in crises is mixed and requires further support.

  • Specialization has led to a lack of cross-over capacity between humanitarian and development systems and programming.


  • Different response timeframes separate humanitarian and development planning and action.

  • Many layers of education planning, and therefore programming, occur independently.

The paper outlines six recommendations for addressing these barriers to coherence and three ways of working that are required to deliver on the recommendations, which are as follows:

  1. Use common frameworks and standards to balance the prioritization of humanitarian and development commitments.

  2. Join-up humanitarian and development education coordination systems.

  3. Strengthen local education actors’ capacity to respond to crisis.

  4. Build cross-over capacity so that more education actors have a comprehensive understanding of the sector, including key humanitarian and development processes.

  5. Ensure that national education-sector plans address the needs of children and youth in crisis contexts and that humanitarian plans align with national priorities and processes.

  6. Incorporate disaster risk reduction and education in emergencies approaches into national education systems so they are ready to respond to the needs of children and youth in crisis situations.

To deliver on these recommendations, the paper proposes a Learn-Convene-Adapt framework. These three ways of working are common to promising practices in coherence, as they create the conditions necessary for partners to identify and work together toward collective outcomes for children and youth affected by crisis.


Education-sector government, humanitarian, and development agencies need to learn more about the wider education system and about each other, including understanding each other’s mandates and approaches. This learning includes documenting coherence approaches and interventions to inform future practice at the operational level.


Convening diverse stakeholders to conduct joint analyses and seek opportunities to work toward collective outcomes is critical, starting with open dialogue and finding common ground for meaningful collaboration. In multi-mandate organizations and ministries of education, systematic internal channels for dialogue and linkage between humanitarian and development divisions are also needed.


Coherence also requires actors across the spectrum to consider how they can adapt and lean a little toward the other side, while still maintaining their essential mandates and accountability. Such adaptation requires consideration of what new or different human and financial resources are needed to support coherence most effectively.