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Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here

Child Rights’ Experts Warn that Displaced Children and Young People Risk Being Wiped Out of the Education System

Jean Marie Ishimwe (Kenya), a Refugee Youth Representative addresses a high-level roundtable convened by UNHCR and ECW, the UK and Canada. Credit: Joyce Chimbi

NAIROBI, KENYA , Jul 27 2021 (IPS) - The difficulties in accessing education faced by children and young people forcibly displaced from their homes were today laid bare in a virtual high-level roundtable convened by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the UK and Canada.

The roundtable was a key moment planned within a two-day Global Education Summit framework that will kick off in London tomorrow, July 28, 2021. The summit is a critical global financial campaign co-hosted by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to improve the availability and accessibility of quality education for all children.

It is against this backdrop that the UN Special Envoy on Global Education, Gordon Brown, opened discussions into the specific vulnerabilities facing refugees as well as internally displaced children and young people, as they are the world’s most vulnerable population and at even greater risk of falling out of the education system.

“Instead of some children developing some of their potential in some of the world’s countries, all children can develop all their potential in every country,” he emphasised.

The world’s most vulnerable children are deprived of an education and the long term socio-economic opportunities education affords. Photo Joyce Chimbi

UNHCR research shows that even when displaced children access education, they are hardly integrated into ongoing education systems in their host communities because they are offered alternative education platforms through parallel systems. These are often characterised by a lack of qualified systems or certified examinations and face a looming risk that funding could be withdrawn.

These are the issues that the high-level roundtable discussed in detail to ensure that displaced children do not fall out of the education system. The panel included leaders and child education and development experts with a wide range of expertise, including Minister Wendy Morton – UK Parliament; Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, Canada; Yasmine Sherif, the director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW); Raouf Mazou, Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, UNHCR; Stanislas Ouaro, Minister of Education and Literacy, Burkina Faso; Shafqat Mahmood, Minister of Education and Professional Training, Pakistan; David Miliband, President and CEO, International Rescue Committee (IRC); J Lawrence Aber, Willner, Professor of Psychology and Public Policy at NYU Steinhardt; and Jean Marie Ishimwe (Kenya), a Refugee Youth Representative.

Morton and Miliband spoke of fears and concerns the number of the world’s most vulnerable children was growing in an unprecedented way with the spread of COVID-19.

With 1,400 global participants having registered for the high-level education roundtable, Miliband said that this was a reflection of growing concerns that holistic education, a lifeline for children, is still out of reach for most displaced children.

Miliband, however, cautioned that even as the global community agitating for appropriate education provisions for all children continues to grow, there is, at the same time, an even greater gap between educational needs and provision.

Sherif, the director of ECW, decried the fact that children are dramatically over-represented among the world’s refugees today.

UN estimates show that despite children making up less than one-third of the global population, she noted that out of 82 million people forcibly displaced by the end of 2020, 33 million were under 18 years, and an additional five million are young 18 to 24 years.

“Conflict is not resolved in time for displaced children and young people to return to school in their home countries. This lack of safety and security leads to lifelong severe chronic stress and difficulties in learning and development in displaced children,” she cautioned.

Brown, who is also the chair of ECW’s high-level steering group, said that ECW was “the global education fund for meeting the needs of children impacted by forced displacement as part of the response to refugees everywhere, and this approach kickstarts a better way to design emergency approaches for sustainability and equity.”

Gould explained the need for every country to ensure that all children within their borders access an education. She referenced the recently launched ‘Canada together for learning campaign’ that seeks to reach all refugee children with education.

“It is on all of us to provide quality education and opportunities for all refugee children. Finding safety should not limit their potential because refugee children have so much to offer the global community,” she emphasised.

Ishimwe, a Rwandese Refugee Youth Representative living in Kenya, said that while it might seem impossible to offer displaced children a holistic education tailored to their needs through global concerted efforts and opportunities provided by the ECW platform, it can be done.
He lauded Kenya’s efforts to absorb refugee children into the education system and applauded teachers in Kenya for their efforts to address the unique needs of refugee children.

“Refugee children in Kenya, especially those in urban areas, have access to basic education through the free and compulsory primary school education. However, refugee children find it difficult to access secondary and tertiary education because it is not free, and they cannot afford it,” Ishimwe explained.

“But even in instances where a refugee child accesses tertiary education through the limited scholarships available, refugees can still not access employment opportunities,” he added.

UN estimates show that despite children making up less than one-third of the global population, she noted that out of 82 million people forcibly displaced by the end of 2020, 33 million were under 18 years, and an additional five million are young 18 to 24 years.

Learners with disabilities are particularly at risk of dropping out of school, never to return. Photo Joyce Chimbi

“Overall, at least 48 percent of school-age refugee learners are out of school. Additionally, an estimated 38 percent of refugee learners do not attend primary school, and 78 percent do not attend secondary school. We cannot achieve sustainable development if we have a population that has not gone to school,” said Sherif.

Sherif also cautioned that girls and learners with disabilities are the most marginalised and farthest left behind, particularly at risk of dropping out of school, never to return.

She, therefore, said that the needs of children and young people whose education has been disrupted by armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate change-induced disasters and protracted crises need to be addressed urgently, efficiently and effectively.

Sherif called for linkages with governments, humanitarian, and development actors to deliver a more collaborative and rapid response to the educational needs of children and youth affected by crises.

Summit participants heard that the world’s most vulnerable children are deprived of an education and the long-term socioeconomic opportunities education affords.

Overall, the roundtable provided a critical opportunity to reflect on challenges facing displaced young people but promising practices to help overcome barriers children affected by displacement face. This, experts said, is a critical step towards a comprehensive and effective global response to the needs of displaced children and youths.


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