AMMAN — Displacement crises, on average, unfold over a 20-year period. This means that entire generations will grow up facing an increased risk of harm, including exposure to violence, child marriage and human trafficking. Education is a direct opponent of these threats as it counters many root causes of conflict through providing a safe, stable environment for children, equipping them with basic skills and introducing them to matters of diversity.
Of the five million people displaced by the conflict in Syria, 1.5 million are school-aged children. Of registered refugees in five major host countries, 1.5 million are children of school age. In Jordan, which is home to one of the largest populations of Syrian refugees, 232,000 Syrian refugee children have been unable to pursue an education, depriving them of tools needed to overcome the unimaginable adversity they have faced in childhood to become active members of adult society.
In 2014, less than 2 percent of humanitarian funding around the world was focused on improving refugee education opportunities. However, over the past two years the global community of donors, aid agencies and refugee host countries has begun to recognize education as an important asset for healing today’s conflicts and preventing those that may come in the future.
Early in 2016, the Jordanian government introduced provisions to provide school placement for 75,000 refugees and pledged to have all out-of-school refugees return to educational institutions before September 2017. These efforts have come years after the creation of the Za’atari camp in the north of the country, where children attend makeshift schools. Charity organizations warn that there is a severe lack of trained teaching personnel and that improved safety measures are required to ensure the wellbeing of the students.
Despite challenges, persistent efforts by the international community have had a notable impact: between 2012 and 2016, the proportion of Syrian refugee children enrolled in formal education rose from 12 to 64 percent. And this number has only grown with the introduction of Jordan’s 2016 initiatives and a May 2016 pledge by the U.S. and several European countries to donate $81.5 million specifically to increasing access to refugee education in Jordan.
This effort demonstrates commitment to the fourth U.N. Sustainable Development Goal, which is to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.” At this time, the need to pursue this goal is particularly important among vulnerable populations, namely refugees and other forcibly displaced people. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi maintains that providing refugees with access to education affords them the opportunity to shape the future of their home countries and their countries of asylum, a statement that reinforces the importance of allocating sufficient funding to refugee education in host countries.
In April 2017, the European Union, along with several other nations, chaired the Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region. Conference co-chairs, including the United Nations, adopted a joint declaration which included specific provisions for supporting the resilience of host countries Jordan and Lebanon. Participants pledged to give a total of $6 billion for 2017, a signal of the international community’s understanding of the importance of resiliency efforts in Syria and neighboring host countries.
As the crisis in Syria continues, the international community will approach issues of refugee education with a strong track record of support, indicating a continued will to provide resources and the tools for refugees to build a stronger future.
– Alena Zafonte