News & Reports

Refugee Education Efforts Not Keeping Up With Need

A new report published by UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, says that enrollment of refugee children in school in 2017 failed to keep up with the growing worldwide refugee population. A million more children now need to go to school than did a year ago, the report says.

Globally, four million refugee children are not attending school. This number represents more than half of the 7.4 million school-age children under the UNHCR’s mandate, according to the report, titled Turn the Tide: Refugee Education in Crisis, released this week.

In the Arab region, according to Lisa Abou Khaled, the UNHCR spokesman in Beirut, “out of 630,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon of elementary school age, only 213,000 are going to school. Over half of the refugee children in Lebanon are not attending school.”

However, the report shows an overall increase in the numbers of Syrian refugee children attending school in neighboring host countries. “At the end of 2017, enrollment in formal primary and secondary education in the five biggest host countries—Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt—stood at 56 percent. This is a 10-percent increase compared to the end of 2015, when 46 percent were enrolled across these five host countries.”

In the past year, Abou Khaled said, UNHCR in Lebanon has been developing measures to provide refugee children with stable education.

In the academic year that has just ended, she said, 351 schools in Lebanon offered classes in the afternoon for refugee children. “That’s an increase of 37 schools in the past year,” she said. The UNHCR report says that afternoon shifts have allowed more than 150,000 refugee children to enroll in school in Lebanon.

Abou Khaled said that the participation of Lebanese schools in providing afternoon shifts for refugee students is welcome, “but the situation is worse for students in secondary and tertiary education. Very small numbers of adolescent or teenage members of refugee families are in education. They have to work to support their families, or else they have difficulty adjusting to school.”

The UNHCR in Lebanon has “provided a lot of community intervention to help refugee students stay in school,” Abou Khaled said. The agency offers counseling to students, arranges homework support groups, and helps parents organize to escort groups to help students get to school. In the past year, she said, “we have been increasing our efforts at community-based solutions.”

Globally, the UNHCR report said that 61 percent of refugee children were enrolled in primary school in 2017, compared to 92 percent of all children globally. “At secondary level the figure was 23 percent, compared with a global rate of 84 percent. This means nearly two-thirds of refugee children who go to primary school do not make it to secondary school,” the report said.

“An obvious result of lack of access to secondary education is that refugee enrollment in higher education is devastatingly low,” the report added. “Globally, only 1 percent of refugees are able to gain access to higher education.”

The report noted that in the main host countries, enrollment of Syrian refugee students in universities reached 5 percent in 2017—better than the global average of 1 percent, but still a huge gap from the global rate of access to higher education, which is 37 percent.

Describing the obstacles faced by refugee students, the report said, “Schools and universities often insist on certificates proving that examinations have been passed or courses completed, documents that refugees often leave behind in the sudden dash for safety. Even when these documents are readily available, qualifications may not be recognized in the new country or may not be regarded as equivalent to the local system. Yet not recognizing refugees’ unique situations and barring them from the next level of their education because of bureaucracy is callous and counterproductive.”

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