Thirteen-year-old Raïnatou's life was forever changed when armed men threatened her school in Yamba, Burkina Faso. Recalling the fear she felt as the armed attackers warned of fatal consequences for anyone who returned, she said: “One day, they came to our school, told us to leave and said that if anyone came back, they would kill them.”

Forced to flee her home, family and school — the only life she knew — Raïnatou's story is all too familiar for girls in crisis-affected regions around the world.

Schools have increasingly found themselves on the front lines. In 2020 and 2021, 5,000 schools around the world were attacked or used for military purposes, 9,000 students and educators were killed, abducted or harmed, and 50 million children were forced to escape their homes.

The world is grappling with a catastrophic education crisis fuelled by chronic underfunding. A crisis that is costing children. A crisis on which Canada has an obligation to act.

Today, over 222 million children and adolescents are in urgent need of educational assistance, a number that has tripled in the last seven years.

As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned last year, “the impacts of [the education] crisis play out over time and often go unseen. But they are profound and will be felt for decades to come.”

This disruption to education shatters any sense of normalcy that can help foster resilience and mitigate the traumatic impacts of conflict and violence that many children carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Girls, who are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school in crisis-affected countries, have been hardest hit and are at a higher risk of being subjected to violence, exploitation and early marriage.

Even when schools are open, unprecedented global hunger means that millions of children go to school hungry, threatening their ability to learn and robbing them of a quality education.

The world is grappling with a catastrophic education crisis fuelled by chronic underfunding. Children are the victims. Canada has an obligation to act, write @nhialgdeng and @GlasscoLindsay. @PlanCanada #EducationCannotWait

At present, the global hunger crisis is severely impacting the ability of children — and girls in particular — to access education in East Africa, the Sahel, Haiti and other hunger hot spots around the world.

Violent attacks and bans on girls' education in countries such as Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan have made global headlines, but when the spotlight fades, the lack of attention and support can be devastating for children mired in crisis, who become lost generations denied the promise of better health, safety, prosperity and equality.

It is precisely why Canada must step up. The right to inclusive, quality, gender-transformative education does not end in times of emergencies and can be both life-saving and life-sustaining.

This week, the United Nations' Education Cannot Wait fund will convene its financing conference in Geneva, where leaders must take decisive action to fulfill the promise of inclusive, quality education for all.

Since the fund’s inception in 2016, it has been able to directly reach seven million children, and it plans to reach 20 million — including 12 million girls — in the next four years.

Humanitarian aid to education must be increased to 10 per cent of humanitarian financing — this must include increased multi-year investments of local and national organizations on the front lines responding to the educational needs of girls and other vulnerable children and youth affected by crises.

The federal government can demonstrate leadership by committing $150 million to support education in emergencies and call on other nations to step up to the plate.

This investment would nurture a new generation of leaders and innovators who will drive positive change and economic growth. It would also help the world achieve the UN's goal of inclusive, quality education for all by 2030.

Despite the danger, Raïnatou was determined to continue her education. With her father's support, she found refuge with her uncle and now excels in a safe school environment. She did not give up on her future.

Now, it’s our turn to show that same bold optimism, backed up by concrete action, and provide children with the support they need to succeed, just like Raïnatou.

We can ensure that every child, by birthright, has access to a quality education and a brighter future.

Lindsay Glassco is the president and CEO of Plan International Canada, an organization committed to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls around the world.

Nhial Deng is a student at Huron University and a South Sudanese refugee, writer and youth advocate focused on refugees’ right to education.