Of the approximately 7.1 million children refugees worldwide, more than half are out of school. Only 63% of refugees attend primary school, compared to the average primary school enrollment at 91% globally. Percentages are even lower when we take higher levels of education into account. 24% of refugees attend secondary school, but just 3% manage to access higher education. This issue is particularly significant in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where children who have been forcibly displaced across borders are likely to remain in areas of conflict for a large part of their childhood and/or adolescence. This means that more and more children face inconsistent and insufficient learning unless solutions are implemented to prioritize their education.
There are several concurring challenges facing MENA’s education systems that seriously impact refugees and other displaced communities. Governments that host refugees are put under strain and often lack the resources to invest in public education. For example, in Jordan, 73,000 Syrian students do not have full access to formal education. Even when they do attend school, they might not be given quality education. It is important not only that students attend school, but also that they receive the best education and instruction.
Furthermore, households in areas of conflict often experience marginalization in their communities, which makes it harder to face the high costs of schooling, as well as the bureaucratic procedures and legal papers for school registration in the first place. Challenges often extend to transportation (which is lacking, especially in rural areas) and the language of instruction. Finally, the protracted nature of recent conflicts has a major impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of refugee children, undermining their educational progress. The pressure to quit school is higher, and the rising cost of living pushes many to seek illegal employment to financially support their families. Usually, that implies working in unacceptable working conditions without the protection of basic human rights. Refugees not only struggle to access education, but they also have difficulties finding legal and stable employment after leaving the education system.
"Failure to provide education to refugees means depriving an entire generation of the tools and skills they need to thrive and to be active participants in the development of their own areas."
Investing in refugees’ education is key in protecting their human rights and their chance to build a better future for themselves. There is a positive correlation between education, income opportunities and better health. Education is a protection for refugee youth; formal and vocational education offers stability, a sense of purpose, and employment opportunities. Thus, education increases the overall wellbeing of society. Conversely, the insufficiency of education programs slows down a country’s social development. Failing to provide education to refugees means depriving an entire generation of the tools and skills they need to thrive and to be active participants in the development of their own areas. Refusing to find durable solutions for refugees is detrimental to society as a whole.
Investing in refugee education is a multipronged task; it entails providing sustainable access to quality education that will open doors to higher education and employment.
At Paper Airplanes, we understand that access to education is a critical issue. Therefore, we strive to create unique opportunities for conflict-affected youths to succeed through online educational programs, which are more accessible options for our students, especially in terms of cost, time, and transportation. In fact, there is a need for such free and remote learning opportunities because many refugee youths also seek employment, in order to make ends meet, which means that they are unable to attend full-time, in-person classes.
We focus on teaching English, as speaking English is a necessary skill for our students to enroll in higher education or apply for jobs. Research by the British Council proves that language learning is “essential for increasing the resilience of refugees and providing them with opportunities for education, social engagement and access to services.” Paper Airplanes provides conflict-affected students with the education that will enable them to access higher education or employment. We offer English courses, as well as courses on web development, business analytics, and other technical skills for women.
Partnering to support refugee education is crucial now more than ever: the Global Education Cluster estimates that in 2012, only 1.3 million of those targeted by education in emergency responses in Palestine, Sudan, Syria and Yemen received support, while nearly 2.2 million were not reached due to limited funding shortfalls. In order to reach the most marginalized communities, we need to take action, both individually and collectively. Paper Airplanes is just one of the NGOS involved in this effort. However, providing accessible education for refugees is a complicated task to accomplish.
We work with partners to allow students to easily access a wide variety of courses and resources. We work with our partners to identify at-risk students who are struggling to access education, and provide them with the language lessons they may need. We also support our students by linking them with universities and partner NGOs to help them secure scholarships and financial aid to pursue university degrees and advanced technical programs for free.
It is clear that more needs to be done to support refugee education. Many refugees are young and their potential is often overlooked. Empowering refugees through education is a prerequisite to allow them to create the future they want for themselves and their countries.
“Language Learning Essential for Refugee Resilience.” Language learning essential for refugee resilience | British Council, n.d. https://www.britishcouncil.org/contact/press/language-learning-essential-refugee-resilience.
About the author: Giada Santana
I am an Italian–Dominican student majoring in philosophy, international studies, and economics. However, I spent my final year abroad focusing on international development at the University of Sussex. Here at Paper Airplanes, I conduct interviews, write for the blog and help with social media posts. When I'm not volunteering with Paper Airplanes, I love practicing yoga, reading and creating playlists on Spotify.
The views and opinions represented in this post belong solely to the author of the blog post, and are not representative of the views and policies of Paper Airplanes and its staff members.