How we can ensure that no displaced child is left behind

A cohesive approach is required to re-integrated displaced communities as a result of forced mass migration

Children of Afghan refugees living on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan, in June. AFP
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Every child has a right to an education. But this right is violated as children around the world are forced to flee their homes as a result of natural disasters, conflicts and emergencies. It could be years before these children have any access to learning. Many find themselves simply excluded from education for the long term.

According to the UN, only 34 per cent of refugee children enrol in secondary school. This figure is a startling reminder of how children continue to bear the brunt of ongoing crises. The war in Ukraine has meant that nearly 7.5 million children are facing unprecedented disruption in their lessons. Save the Children reports that an average of 22 schools come under attack every day and, as Unicef has found, 55 children flee the country every minute.

Only 63 per cent of refugee children go to primary school. And studies have shown that as refugee children get older, access to education becomes harder. Reports suggest that more than 75 per cent of Syrian refugee children drop out of school before reaching the secondary level.

Language barriers, unfamiliar subject material, lack of access to resources, poor funding and general declines in well-being threaten vulnerable children’s schooling. Despite calls for aid and a global commitment to give these children a second chance, they continue to struggle with basic access to the necessary building blocks for a quality education.

If we don’t address this crisis early, we miss a series of inter-connected opportunities. Education is directly linked to social development and economic growth. Empowering even a single child with an education means that they have the means to build their skills, live independently, be financially self-reliant and contribute to their communities.

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It could be years before these children have any access to learning

Education and literacy can unlock hope for thousands of displaced refugees around the world. Refugee children, like all other children their age, want to go to school. They have dreams to become doctors and journalists, engineers and actors. Unfortunately, too many are disappointed by systemic failures.

Nations must come together urgently and strategically to give them hope for the future. Some of the most obvious needs to address include access to quality materials, including textbooks, online resources and examinations that allow for progression.

Each of these areas should be dealt with thoughtfully. For example, learners living through conflict need access to well-constructed, edited and sensitively designed textbooks. Textbooks can be an opportunity to introduce peace-building capabilities. For a generation that has known extreme violence, displacement and conflict, well-designed learning materials could help plant seeds of hope for a better future.

An underestimated and pressing concern today is a smooth transition into other education systems. Displaced children need to be able to continue their learning journey – building on what they have learned already and opening opportunities for further education in the future. In Bangladesh, Cambridge Partnership for Education and Unicef have adopted a holistic approach to develop an education programme for Rohingya refugee children, to help them re-integrate into the education system.

In the UAE, the Dubai Government announced an initiative to provide education to 1 million refugees over the next five years. This will bring digital learning to displaced and underprivileged children via tie-ups with leading universities. The programme aims to reduce the number of children out of school using the training and online learning methodologies. It is important that the initiative is considering accreditation so the pupil’s diploma is recognised, and they can continue their learning journey.

Unicef's goodwill ambassador Muzoon Almellehan takes part in a mathematics accelerated learning class with 10-year-old Shahed in Amman, Jordan, in August. Unicef

Digital learning has rapidly scaled up post-pandemic but is still making its way into refugee communities. Displaced learners – who were already suffering from lack of access to conventional learning resources – struggled during the pandemic without any access to digital infrastructure and devices.

There is an urgent need for a focused approach to learning among refugee children. More investments are needed to bridge the digital divide, close critical gaps in refugee education and integrate these children into the national infrastructure.

Over the past two years, something called the Learning Passport has reached 2.2 million people in 23 countries. It is a special platform to enable access to continuous quality education online and offline. Born from a partnership between Unicef, Microsoft and Cambridge, it specifically targets children and young people who are out of school. It provides a record of learning for each pupil, so it can be taken across physical and digital borders.

It’s not an easy journey as refugee children still struggle for access to basic learning resources. However, initiatives such as Dubai’s Digital School for refugee children and the Learning Passport could be catalysts for further investments and a shift to new approaches.

The international community is turning to face what is set to become one of the biggest challenges of the century – re-integrating displaced communities as a result of forced mass migration. There is no simple solution to the problem, but a cohesive and sensitive approach to people who have suffered unimaginable loss is a good start.

Published: October 12, 2022, 9:00 AM
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