New UN report reveals millions of refugee children ‘missing out’ on education

15 September 2016 – In a new report, the United Nations refugee agency said that more than some six million school-age children under its mandate have no school go to and that refugees are five times more likely to be out of school than the global average.
“This represents a crisis for millions of refugee children,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a news release issued by his Office (UNHCR).
“Refugee education is sorely neglected, when it is one of the few opportunities we have to transform and build the next generation so they can change the fortunes of the tens of millions of forcibly displaced people globally,” he added.
According to the agency’s new report, Missing Out: Refugee Education in Crisis, only half of refugee children have access to primary education, compared with a global average of more than 90 per cent. And as these children become older, the gap further widens: only 22 per cent of refugee adolescents attend secondary school compared to a global average of 84 per cent.
At the higher education level, just one per cent of refugees attend university, compared to a global average of 34 per cent.
These findings are particularly pertinent as next week, global leaders will be gathering in new York for two major relevant meetings: the UN General Assembly’s Summit for Refugees and Migrants on 19 September, and, the very next day, a Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis, hosted by United States President Barack Obama.
In the release today, UNCHR said that at both summits, it will call on governments, donors, humanitarian agencies and development partners, as well as private-sector partners, to strengthen their commitment to ensuring that every child receives a quality education.
“Underlining the discussions will be the target of Sustainable Development Goal 4, [to] ‘ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning,’ an aim that will not be realized by 2030 without meeting the education needs of vulnerable populations, including refugees and other forcibly displaced people,” the UN agency stressed.
Sheer gravity of the challenges
The report also revealed that the global school-age refugee population remained relatively stable at 3.5 million between 2001 and 2010, but since then, it has grown on average by 600,000 children and adolescents annually. In 2014 alone, this population grew by 30 per cent.
While noting that governments, UNHCR and its partners have made progress in enrolling more numbers of refugees in school, the agency said that the sheer increase in the number new refugees makes actual progress a daunting task.
Given the recent numbers, UNHCR estimates that an average of at least 12,000 additional classrooms and 20,000 additional teachers are needed on an annual basis.
Furthermore, the agency highlighted that refugees often live in regions where governments are already struggling to educate their own children. They face the additional task of finding places for schools, trained teachers and learning materials for tens or even hundreds of thousands of newcomers, who often do not speak the language of instruction and have frequently missed out on three to four years of schooling.
According to the report, more than half of the world’s out-of-school refugee children and adolescents are located in just seven countries: Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey.
The Syrian crisis – the face of the dire situation
Exemplified by the crisis in Syria, the report further shows how conflict has the potential to reverse positive education trends. Presenting the figures, the UN agency notes that while in 2009, 94 per cent of Syrian children attended primary and lower secondary school, by June 2016, only 60 per cent are in school, leaving 2.1 million children and adolescents without access to education in the country.
In neighbouring countries, more than 4.8 million Syrian refugees are registered with the agency, amongst them around 35 per cent are of school-age. In Turkey, only 39 per cent of school-age refugee children and adolescents are enrolled in primary and secondary education, 40 per cent in Lebanon, and 70 per cent in Jordan.
“This means that nearly 900,000 Syrian school-age refugee children and adolescents are not in school,” noted UNHCR.
Shedding light on refugee situations receiving less attention
The UNCHR report also looks at some of the more protracted refugee situations that receive less attention.
For instance, in Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, the report profiles the remarkable story of a young South Sudanese girl, Esther, who has caught up on multiple years of missed education to reach the last year of secondary school. Only three per cent of children in Kakuma camp are enrolled in secondary school, and less than one per cent make it to higher education.
Given the fact that the average length of displacement for a refugee in a protracted situation currently stands at 20 years, the report calls for donors to transition from a system of emergency to multi-year and predictable funding that allows for sustainable planning, quality programming and sound monitoring of education for refugees and national children and adolescents.
Story of a young refugee who is now a volunteer teacher
The report concludes with the inspiring story of Nawa, a Somali refugee who only started her education aged 16 at a community learning centre in Malaysia. Under four years later, she is due to start a foundation course at university while giving back to her school as a volunteer teacher.
“Nawa’s story proves it is never too late to invest in refugee education, and investment in one refugee’s education means the entire community benefits,” said High Commissioner Grandi.