SEATTLE — Refugee children are missing out on education and the option to build a positive future.
There are 16.1 million refugees worldwide and half are children. Six million are primary and secondary school age. Only 50 percent of refugee children (3.7 million) have access to school, compared to 90 percent around the world.
A refugee is displaced for an average of 20 years which means the longer a child stays out of school, the wider the gap becomes with the rest of the world. This culminates with only one percent of refugees attending university compared to 34 percent worldwide.
Eighty-six percent of the world’s refugees are living in developing countries. A quarter are living in the least developed countries in the world. Half of refugee children are living in Turkey, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon and Kenya. Most of these countries struggle with educating the existing population, so refugees pose a potentially insurmountable challenge for countries with weak infrastructure.
Even when refugees do have access to education, teachers and schools are not always trained to address their needs, learning gaps or the potential language barrier. This can cause children to be placed in unnecessarily low grades or to eventually drop out.
Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than other children. This is especially disturbing since 2015 was a record year for the number of displaced people—the highest since World War II. If refugees formed their own country, they would be the 21st largest in the world. This increase is attributed to conflicts breaking out more frequently and lasting longer, as well as a sluggish global response.
· Fifty-four percent of all refugees come from three countries: Syria (4.9 million), Somalia (1.1 million) and Afghanistan (2.7 million).
· One percent of the total world population is displaced.
· Approximately 100,000 are unaccompanied children.
· Less than two percent of humanitarian aid goes to education.
These troubling statistics indicate that refugee children are more likely to end up in exploitative and dangerous situations such as a child marriage, child labor, abuse or neglect. This adds up to the potential for an entire generation of children to enter adulthood with no education, no community, no skills and no hope.
Part of the problem is that no strategic planning takes place to address the gaps in refugee education. In the past, refugee education has been funded from emergency funds with no long-term plan. Refugee education is not tracked so educational achievement remains unknown. Several countries are moving to correct this including Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Pakistan, and South Sudan.
Advocates for more funding for refugee education contend that education must be viewed as essential as food and water. The World Humanitarian Summit, held in May 2016, agrees with this assertion, labeling education as a humanitarian priority.
The “Education Cannot Wait” fund was established in 2016 to raise $3.85 billion for refugee education over five years. The fund already has $90 billion from Dubai Cares, the European Union, Norway, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and the United States. The goal is to reach 13.6 million children living in crisis over the next five years. The fund plans to reach 75 million children by 2030.
In addition to appropriate global and national funding for education, the World Economic Forum suggests allowing refugee teachers to teach in their host countries, developing curriculums for large refugee populations (such as Syria), developing tests to determine student levels when transcripts cannot be obtained and expanded vocational training for older kids.
Long-term planning is key to addressing refugee education and saving a lost generation.
Thinking Outside the Box
A 15-country study conducted by Creative Associates International suggests tech solutions for addressing the education needs of refugees without access to school due to proximity, overcrowding, language barriers or trauma. The idea is to mitigate learning loss and keep students on track as much as possible.
Crucial variables include the type of available technology, bandwidth and power sources to determine the best approach in a particular situation. Content must also be tailored to the needs and abilities of diverse age groups with sensitivity to possible trauma.
MIT’s Solve program suggests a uniform approach to education framework on a global scale in order to nurture consistency of quality regardless of where a refugee is settled. This would include giving a voice to all refugee children in curriculum improvement, access to quality resources for all, addressing mental health issues and providing an avenue for refugee children to have an academic record when leaving refugee camps.
The Executive Director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake, states the issue succinctly.
“Children don’t need education even in emergencies; they need education especially in emergencies.”
Providing education for six million refugees is critically important for a healthy, secure and safe world. Children who receive education are more likely to have confidence, self-esteem and knowledge that transfers into community participation, non-violence, problem-solving, peace and development. Failing to do so perpetuates conflict and does a grave disservice to an entire generation of children.
– Mandy Otis