Not only do refugees lack a stable place to call home, many also lack access to education. For 4.1 million refugees, their exile has lasted for more than 20 years, longer than a standard school career. Refugee education thus should not be overlooked when considering the long length of time refugees are displaced, limiting their lives and preventing them from achieving their fullest potentials.
With 6.4 million refugees of school age among the 17.2 million refugees under the mandate of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, education should play a major role in alleviating the refugee crisis. If implemented effectively, refugee education could expose young people to the knowledge they need to end the vicious cycle and help other refugees overcome their current obstacles.
Globally, 91 percent of children attend primary school, according to UNHCR. For refugees, that figure is only 61 percent, less than 50 percent in low-income countries. As refugee children get older, the obstacles only increase. A mere 23 percent of refugee adolescents are enrolled in secondary school, compared to 84 percent globally. In low-income countries, which host 28 percent of the world’s refugees, the number in secondary education is disturbingly low, at only 9 percent. These very low numbers of refugee children in school demonstrate the need to take action at all levels of education.
To support refugee education, 193 countries have signed the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, emphasizing education as a critical element of the international response. Furthermore, the ambition of Sustainable Development Goal 4, one of the 17 Global Goals aimed at ending poverty, protecting the planet and promoting prosperity, is to deliver “inclusive and quality education for all and to promote lifelong learning.”
However, planning for current emergency response and long-term needs is no easy feat. Refugee children must be included in national education systems. Refugees, like all young people around the world, deserve an education of value, so creating inclusive classroom environments that keep refugees’ backgrounds and experiences in mind is crucial. Also, educators working with refugees are often in overcrowded, under-resourced schools, working day after day in some of the toughest classrooms in the world. Teachers of refugees deserve support through suitable pay, the right materials in sufficient quantities and expert assistance. Keeping these priorities in mind, the New York Declaration and Sustainable Development Goal 4 can each fulfill their missions for improving refugee education.
Education gives refugee children a place of safety amid the tumult of displacement. It amounts to an investment in the future, creating knowledgeable people crucial to sustainable development in both countries that have welcomed refugees as well as in refugees’ home countries. Refugee education is a shared responsibility, and, while intimidating, is a goal worth working toward.
– Allie Knofczynski