By NICHOLAS KEUNG
Education “crisis” comes at a time when the number of displaced children is exploding by 600,000 a year, refugee agency says in report.
In the Kashojwa village school in Uganda, a total of 2,800 local Ugandans, and Somali, Congolese, Burundian and other refugees attend school together. Classrooms are over-crowded and under resourced, placing significant stress on the pupils and teachers. (FREDERIC NOY/ UNHCR)
More than half of the 6 million refugee children under the mandate of the United Nations have no access to school just as the refugee school-age population is exploding by 600,000 a year, a new report says.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report, only 50 per cent of refugee children around the world have access to primary school education, compared with a global average of more than 90 per cent.
As these unschooled children grow older, the gap becomes even more startling: only 22 per cent of refugee teens go to high school compared to 84 per cent globally and just 1 per cent attend university, compared to 34 per cent around the world.
“By educating tomorrow’s leaders, be they engineers, poets, doctors, scientists, philosophers or computer programmers, we are giving refugees the intellectual tools to shape the future,” says the 48-page report to be released in Geneva Thursday.
“If we neglect this task, we will be failing to nurture peace and prosperity. Education provides the keys to a future in which refugees can find solutions for themselves and their communities.”
The report comes in advance of world leaders gathering next week at the UN General Assembly’s Summit for Refugees and Migrants and U.S. President Barack Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis.
The report will serve as the backdrop to the summits’ discussions to set targets and secure aid funding to ensure every school-age refugee receives a quality education.
“This represents a crisis for millions of refugee children,” Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement. “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.”
Grandi said the refugee school-age population grew by 30 per cent in 2014 alone, which means an average of at least 12,000 additional classrooms and 20,000 extra teachers are needed each year.
There are now 65 million displaced people around the world, including 21 million outside of their native countries. Eighty-five per cent of these refugees are hosted in poor developing countries.
Before the conflicts in Syria, 94 per cent of the country’s children attended primary and lower secondary schools. However, by 2016, only 60 per cent of children had access to school there, leaving 2.1 million children and teenagers without an education, said the report.
In neighbouring countries, only 39 per cent of school-age refugee children and adolescents were enrolled in primary and secondary schools in Turkey, 40 per cent in Lebanon, and 70 per cent in Jordan. It means nearly 900,000 Syrian refugee kids in the region are not in school.
Although both Jordan and Lebanon introduced a double-shift system at schools in September, funding is still not fully committed by the international community, threatening to undermine the progress.
Given 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 education planning and programming for refugee kids and youth.
“As the international community considers how best to deal with the refugee crisis, it is essential that we think beyond basic survival,” said Grandi. “Education enables refugees to positively shape the future of both their countries of asylum and their home countries when they one day return.”