More work needed on refugee access to education – UNESCO
Migrant and refugee children have missed 1.5 billion days of school over the past two years as progress slows on including migrant and refugee youth in the national education systems of host countries, according to a new UNESCO report.
UNESCO’s 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report, ‘Migration, displacement and education’, says the right of these children to quality education, even if increasingly recognised on paper, is challenged daily in classrooms and schoolyards and denied outright by some governments.
In the two years since the landmark New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in 2016, refugees have missed 1.5 billion days of school, the report says.
It says that the number of migrant and refugee school-age children around the world today has grown by 26 per cent since 2000 and could fill half a million classrooms.
The report highlights countries’ achievements and shortcomings in ensuring the right of migrant and refugee children to benefit from quality education – a right, the report says, serves the interests of both learners and the communities they live in.
It says there has been some progress in the inclusion of refugees in national education systems, as seen in eight of the top ten refugee hosting countries. Champions include low income countries such as Chad, Ethiopia and Uganda. Canada and Ireland are among the global leaders in implementing inclusive education policies for immigrants.
Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay said giving migrants and refugee access to education was good policy on several levels.
“Everyone loses when the education of migrants and refugees is ignored. Education is the key to inclusion and cohesion. Increased classroom diversity, while challenging for teachers, can also enhance respect for diversity and an opportunity to learn from others. It is the best way to make communities stronger and more resilient,” Ms Azoulay said, launching the report.
The report says half of the world’s forcibly displaced people are under the age of 18.
“Yet, many countries exclude them from their national education systems. Asylum-seeking children in detention in countries such as Australia, Hungary, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico, are given limited access to education, if any,” the report says.
“Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Burundian refugees in the United Republic of Tanzania, Karen refugees in Thailand and many Afghan refugees in Pakistan can only get an education in separate, non-formal, community-based or private schools, some of which are not certified,” it says.
“Some of these host countries, do not provide refugee learners with the language tuition they will need to achieve social integration and acquire good employment prospects,” it says.
Kenya, for example, allows refugees to benefit from its national educational curriculum but does not achieve full inclusion because its refugee learners are living in camps where they are unable to interact with their Kenyan peers, the report says.
Lebanon and Jordan, hosts to the largest number of refugees per capita, do not have the resources necessary to build more schools. They have therefore established separate morning and afternoon school shifts for citizen and refugee children, which limits interaction between the two groups, it says.
The report recognises the considerable investments made by countries such as Rwanda and the Islamic Republic of Iran to ensure that refugees attend school side by side with nationals.
Turkey has committed to include all refugees in its national education system by 2020, as have seven countries in East Africa. Uganda has already fulfilled this promise, the report says.
Efforts for inclusion may come to nothing in the absence of enough trained teachers. In Lebanon, only 55 per cent of teachers and staff received specialised training to meet the needs of displaced learners in the past two years.
To provide quality education to all refugees, Germany would need 42,000 new teachers, Turkey 80,000 and Uganda 7,000.
Low and middle income countries host 89 per cent of refugees but lack the funds to cope. Donors need to multiply their expenditure on refugee education by three and ensure long term support, the report said.
The report found the share of students with immigrant backgrounds in high income countries has increased from 15 per cent to 18 per cent between 2005 and 2017. They now number 36 million, equivalent to the entire school-aged population in Europe.
At current rates, it could rise to 22 per cent by 2030. But immigrant children are not given a fair chance to succeed. In 2017, in the European Union, twice as many young people born abroad left school early compared to natives, it said.
First-generation immigrant students in the countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) were 32 per cent less likely than natives to achieve basic skills in reading, mathematics and science in 2015, the report said.
Canada, with the largest percentage of immigrants among the seven richest industrialized countries, makes sure children learn about migration starting in second grade and has enshrined multi-culturalism in its constitution.
Ireland, with the highest percentage of first generation immigrants in the European Union, succeeded in funding an intercultural education strategy while in the midst of a deep financial crisis.
The report made seven recommendations aimed at improving migrant and refugee access to education:
- Protect the right to education of migrants and displaced people
- Include migrants and displaced people in the national education system
- Understand and plan to meet the education needs of migrants and displaced people
- Represent migration and displacement histories in education accurately to challenge prejudices
- Prepare teachers of migrants and refugees to address diversity and hardship
- Harness the potential of migrants and displaced people
- Support education needs of migrants and displaced people in humanitarian and development aid.