All over the world there has been an increase in the number of people displaced per day. It has gone from 11,000 a day in 2010 to 34,560 in 2015. Children made up 51% of the displaced population according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The impact of conflict and displacement is harsh for everyone involved but even harsher on children. For them, schools offer a sense of normalcy, a safe haven from the chaos and an opportunity to learn. Education provides a sense stability and hope. Education solutions and reforms are needed in this space to improve the current situation.
Education is the building block of a peaceful society, long term stability, and economic growth. Quality education equips people with knowledge and skills. It enables them to increase their income and expand opportunities for employment. In post-conflict reconstruction, education builds peace, social cohesion and facilitates economic recovery and sustainable development. Educating refugee and displaced children is the most cost-effective way to achieve stability and long-term development in a conflict zone. Currently, the largest humanitarian crisis is in Syria where over 13.5 million people risk a future of exile and alienation while suffering discrimination and exploitation. This needs to be prevented to the best of the humanitarian community’s ability. 4.9 million Syrians have fled the country since 2011, this number increases on the daily.
Challenges to Displaced Children and Refugees
In the face of conflict, it is easy for youngsters to lose hope. They simply can’t visualize a better future. They constantly doubt if they will ever get fair opportunities and be able to change their outcomes. This leaves them at an increased risk for recruitment as child soldiers, criminal activity, forced labor, and exploitation. It’s not just poverty and unemployment that turn them towards a life of crime; it’s also the sense of injustice and exclusion. Creation of new kinds of partnerships between governments focused on empowering children and youth while opening up access to education and employment are the need of the hour. Such partnerships will benefit young refugees as well as the communities hosting them, which are often in already fragile regions.
Being displaced or becoming refugees makes children face tremendous challenges in completing their education. Youth refugees that were displaced while pursuing higher education have little to no opportunities to complete their education. For primary and secondary education, there are multiple schools run by organizations like United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the UNHCR or Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE). These schools do their very best to provide good education, but their resources are stretched to a breaking point.
Refugee schools may have one educator per 100-150 students. It’s impossible to focus on that many people at once. The teachers may not even be fully trained to be teaching in a refugee school. Due to the pressure on capacity, the schools run double or sometimes even triple shifts to accommodate more people. The pressure on capacity pushes schools for refugees to place age-based barriers too. This means if a child’s education is temporarily disrupted, it may not be possible for them to go back and complete it. If these children are able to find a vocational training course, they still have hope otherwise, their options become limited to odd jobs. Digitized education solutions can enable children to find vocational training of their liking if they’re made aware of such an option.
Mainstream schools are unable to accommodate children from another country’s learning system immediately as they possess different languages and abilities. Shifting to a new curriculum, in particular, is very stressful for these young minds. Refugees may even have to move from country to country, making getting educated an even bigger challenge. Also, there is often a lack of clarity around certification when birth certificates and written records of previous enrollment are required by schools, and whether their past education will be recognized by resettling governments. There are no digital educational solutions in place to systematically share information and track enrollment, progress, and certification between countries and communities, such an educational solution needs to be implemented.
Displaced families often do not have money for school fees or other costs including clothes and shoes. Since most displaced people and refugees do not have the permission to work legally, they find odd, low-paid jobs to help make ends meet for their family. This leads to children struggling to juggle school with work.
Improving Education for Displaced Children and Refugees
Education solutions help promote high quality and protective education for refugee and displaced children. Education at all levels such as early childhood care and education, primary and secondary education and even adult education, which includes vocational courses, should ideally be available to refugees and displaced children.
New standards to measure learning outcomes and competency need to be developed as an alternative to transcripts. A single test that universities would recognize as demonstrating that a student deserves a chance to continue their studies can be considered. If they’ve outgrown the age they where they could go back to school, vocational training may be the best option. More education solutions like these are already being conducted by CARE to support refugees to become certified in trades.
It is important to use a conflict-sensitive lens when assessing the content and structure of education for refugees. If schools for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and elsewhere could teach the same Syrian curriculum the kids were learning at home, it would give them some stability to their otherwise distraught lives and minimize the disruption caused by changing countries. A blended education model, with quality online content supporting local teaching can be the solution moving forward also. The other alternative is a strategic plan to integrate them into national education systems since most refugees are displaced for two decades. However, all of these efforts require funding.
Schools and universities need adequate funding to be able to provide classrooms and teachers necessary for all refugee children to have a quality education. Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education and ex British Prime Minister, has described funding education in the world’s poorest countries as “the civil rights struggle of our generation”. Lack of education funding is a ticking time bomb that could trigger new protests among a generation frustrated by a lack of life chances.
Schools for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon: A Success Story
In Lebanon, the World Bank is working with the government to expand schooling for Syrian refugee children. From providing textbooks, funds for school furniture and repairs to financing school field trips and sports equipment, the coordination in Lebanon is a clear success story. Along with other initiatives, this collaboration has enabled the Lebanese Ministry of Education to increase the number of Syrian refugees enrolled in public education from 14,000 in 2011 to 123,000 in 2015.
The Lebanese government is aiming to give schooling to 500,000 children who have fled the civil war in Syria. They’re currently attempting to raise funds to make this aspiration a reality. The humanitarian community must commit to tackling the root causes of conflict head-on and empowering the children and youth. First and foremost, we need investment in teacher training to ensure that children receive quality education since children can prepare for a better future only through education.