More than 3.5 million refugee children aged five to 17 did not have the chance to attend school in the last academic year, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, says in a recently released report.
These include some 1.5 million refugee children missing out on primary school, the report found, while two million refugee adolescents are not in secondary school.
“Of the 17.2 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, half are children,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “The education of these young people is crucial to the peaceful and sustainable development of the countries that have welcomed them, and to their homes when they are able to return. Yet compared to other children and adolescents around the world, the gap in opportunity for refugees is growing ever wider.”
The report, “Left Behind: Refugee Education in Crisis”, compares UNHCR sources and statistics on refugee education with data from Unesco, the United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organisation, on school enrolment around the world. Globally, 91 per cent of children attend primary school. For refugees, that figure is far lower at only 61 per cent – and in low-income countries it is less than 50 per cent.
As refugee children get older, the obstacles increase: only 23 per cent of refugee adolescents are enrolled in secondary school, compared to 84 per cent globally. In low-income countries a mere nine per cent of refugees are able to go to secondary school.
For tertiary education the situation is critical. Across the world, enrolment in tertiary education stands at 36 per cent. For refugees, despite big improvements in overall numbers thanks to investment in scholarships and other programmes, the percentage remains stuck at one per cent.
The report calls for education to be considered fundamental to the response to refugee emergencies, and for it to be supported by long-term planning and reliable funding. It urges governments to include refugees in their national education systems as the most effective, equitable and sustainable response, and highlights some of the notable efforts made towards implementing such a policy – even in countries where resources are already stretched.
UNHCR’s report has found that the enrolment of primary-aged refugee children has risen over the past academic year, from 50 per cent to 61 per cent, thanks largely to improved policies and investment in education for Syrian refugees, as well as the arrival of refugee children in Europe, where education is compulsory. During the same time period, access to secondary education remained stagnant, with less than one in four refugee adolescents enrolling in school.
“The progress seen in the enrolment of Syrian refugee children shows clearly the potential to turn around this crisis in education for refugee children,” said Grandi. “But the abysmal level of school enrolment for refugee children living in low-income regions clearly points to a need to invest in these often forgotten host countries.”