WASHINGTON – The Prioritizing Education in Conflict Zones Act will amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Its goal is to provide U.S. foreign aid to improve and expand education for children in areas of conflict. It will support primary and secondary school for displaced children and will ensure that women and girls are included in the instituted educational programs.
Education in Conflict Zones: Current Conditions and Statistics
International and intra-national conflicts force young children out of their homes at an alarming rate. UNICEF reports that more than 27 million children of primary and secondary school age are out of school in conflict zones. They have been forced to leave their homes, their nations and sometimes their families, and became refugees.
UNICEF states that in 2015, almost 50 million children were involuntarily removed from their homes, either to escape a war zone or because they were evicted by opposing military forces. A total of 24 major conflict-affected areas see children forced to become migrants and refugees as a result of their uprooting.
Adolescent refugee or migrant girls face the highest risk, as they are extremely likely to become victims of sexual or gender-based violence. This increases the rate of uneducated girls to 2.5 times that of uneducated boys.
Additionally, refugee children are at higher risk of being unable to attend school than any other demographic of children in the world, at five times the likelihood. UNICEF reports that “only 50 percent of refugee children are enrolled in primary school” and “less than 25 percent of refugee youth are enrolled in secondary school.”
Refugee children’s health issues can also prevent them from being able to attend schools once they arrive in a new permanent residence, in addition to social and cultural obstacles.
What Is the U.S. Congress Doing to Solve This Problem?
On July 28, 2017, Representative Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-NJ-10) introduced H.R.3612: The Prioritizing Education in Conflict Zones Act. This bill aims to “expand, improve, support and promote primary and secondary education for displaced children, including girls, from areas designated by the Department of State as areas of conflict.”
Assistance provided under this act will be used to “(1) build the capacity for private sector and civil society organizations with a stated purpose of educating children, including girls, in the areas of — (A) development and strengthening of primary and secondary curricula; (B) coordination with educational facilities of host countries; and (C) technical capacities and expertise, including strategies for cost-effective procurement of science and technology equipment.”
These intentions are vital to improving children’s education in conflict zones even after they find a new permanent residence. According to UNICEF, children who have moved to a foreign nation as refugees and migrants have difficulty excelling in their new schools. This is due to issues of language and cultural barriers, the upheaval and instability of transferring nations as a result of conflict, issues of xenophobia from other students or even staff members and sometimes transfer and legal issues.
The Prioritizing Education in Conflict Zones Act continues to address this issue when it states that given aid will also be used to “establish, expand and promote linkages and partnerships between host countries’ educational facilities, private sector and civil organizations, and United States colleges and universities education programs.”
This is especially important, as not only does it give refugee students protection and support in their host nations’ schools, but also gives them a standing in U.S. colleges and universities, should they choose to receive a higher education in the U.S.
How Will the Act’s Goals Be Implemented?
On a governmental level, the Prioritizing Education in Conflict Zones Act outlines what steps must be taken in order to initiate and perpetuate refugee educational assistance: “Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this section, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development shall designate a Director of Refugee Educational Assistance, who shall report directly to the Administrator, and who shall carry out the responsibilities described.”
These responsibilities include consultations with host countries and their governmental educational commissions, regional organizations and educational institutions in order to coordinate and administer long-term assistance. Additionally, they will also coordinate with other USAID bureaus, U.S. agencies and international private sectors in order to bring primary and secondary education to children in or from conflict zones based on relevant research to maximize impact.
As far as Congress’ actions on the Prioritizing Education in Conflict Zones Act so far, this bill has, as of yet, only been introduced in Congress, and referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.