As the just-released 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report: Migration, displacement and education: Building Bridges, Not Walls documents in rich, authoritative detail, children forced by conflict or humanitarian crisis to leave their homes face significant barriers to getting an education.
That’s especially true in low- and middle-income countries, where 90% of displaced people live and where governments strain to deliver quality schooling even to their own native-born children, let alone to the displaced. And it’s why the Global Partnership for Education has prioritized support for fragile countries hosting large numbers of displaced children.
That priority is more urgent than ever, as the number of children experiencing the trauma of displacement has grown to record levels. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has calculated that, by the end of 2017, there were 87.3 million displaced people worldwide – the most since the end of World War II. Of those, about 28.5 million were refugees or asylum seekers who crossed an international border fleeing conflict or persecution. An additional 58.8 million were internally displaced in their own countries due to conflict or humanitarian disaster.
More than half of all the world’s refugees are under the age of 18. Worldwide, only 61% of refugee children are enrolled in primary school and 23% are in secondary school. But in low-income countries, the picture is even more alarming: fewer than half of refugee children are in primary school and a mere 11% are in secondary school.
Reliable figures on the education status of internally displaced children are much harder to come by, but there’s every reason to believe their situation is also dim. As the GEM Report notes, “in many conflict-affected countries, internal displacement has strained already struggling [education] systems.”
Among its many recommendations, the GEM Report calls on fragile countries that host large numbers of displaced to carry out timely, data-driven “transitional education plans” that lay out concrete blueprints for educating children whose lives have been disrupted by crisis. Several countries are doing so with GPE funding and guidance.
The Report also strongly stresses a policy of “inclusion”—that is, integrating refugee and native-born children into common classrooms and school systems, expanding the teaching pool and providing alternative programs that help refugee children bridge the learning gaps. The recommendation reflects a widely accepted consensus that segregating refugees from mainstream national education systems deprives them of qualified teachers, quality learning materials, certifiable examinations and other factors that improve their personal learning progress.
Some countries are already setting an example in how to tackle these difficult challenges. The Report cites Chad, which has gone to great lengths to educate the hundreds of thousands of children who have flooded into the country in recent years fleeing neighboring conflicts. In response, the Government of Chad – drawing on accelerated funding support from GPE – has included refugees in its transitional education planning. Chad has addressed the language of instruction, recognition of diplomas and the threat of lost culture and national identity. It has also launched an emergency program to support school lunches, built new schools, distributed more and better pedagogical materials and, this year, converted 108 schools in 19 camps and refugee sites into regular public schools.
The GEM Report also calls on countries to protect migrants and displaced from violations of their rights, train teachers and adopt curricula that are sensitive to diverse backgrounds and expand early childhood education and care, a key area of GPE support, because it is the foundation for children’s development and success in school – and yet too often beyond the reach of displaced children.
These and other recommendations to educate more displaced children globally will depend upon sufficient financing. As the report discusses, there has been some progress in recent years to increase the historically low share of funding for education from humanitarian aid budgets. Even so, these efforts will likely fall short of what countries need to meet the most basic education needs of children in crises: a 10-fold increase in the share of humanitarian aid for education.
Another option for donors is to set aside larger portions of donor development aid budgets for refugee education, instead of relying more heavily on humanitarian aid. Since 2013, GPE has allowed countries affected by fragility and conflict to draw up to 20% of its previously allocated funding for emergency needs.
The 2019 GEM Report offers compelling evidence that educating displaced children is a complex and difficult problem, not just for those children or the countries hosting them, but for the entire world. And it clarifies that, hard as the problem is, there are multiple concrete steps – many of which GPE is already supporting – the world can and should take to solve it.