Refugees: A worrying education gap
The refugee education gap brings incalculable losses for individuals and societies
Wars, conflict and persecution have in the past five years forced more people than at any other time since records began to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. The single biggest reason for the spike has been the catastrophic war in Syria, but the trend has also been driven by 15 conflicts that have ignited or reignited in the past five years, including those in South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen. As a result, there are now 17.2 million refugees under the mandate of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. Half of them are under 18.
A new report by the agency this week points to one of the most damaging yet often overlooked consequences of displacement for those children: a lack of access to education. Across the world, 91 per cent of children go to primary school. For refugees, the figure is 61 per cent, and in low-income countries it falls below 50 per cent. Some progress is being made. The proportion of refugees in primary school last year was up sharply on 2015, thanks largely to measures taken by Syria’s neighbours to enrol more refugee children in school, as well as the arrival of more families in Europe, where education is compulsory. But as children get older, the obstacles multiply. Just 23 per cent of refugee adolescents are enrolled in secondary school, compared to 84 per cent globally. In other words, millions of children are being robbed of the opportunity to learn to read and write, to inquire, to debate, to gain vital life skills and enjoy the same benefits as their peers. And the world is being robbed of the contribution they could make to their communities as a result.
The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, signed last year by 193 countries, emphasised education as a critical element of the international response. The UNHCR report argues that education must be considered a core part of the response to refugee emergencies, and that it should be supported by long-term planning and reliable funding. The refugee education gap brings incalculable losses for individuals and societies. Turning words into action would cost the international community a lot less.