Of the approximately 7.1 million children refugees worldwide, more than half are out of school. Only 63% of refugees attend primary education, compared to the average primary school enrollment at 91% globally. Percentages are even lower when we take into account further levels of education: 24% of refugees attend secondary school and just 3% manage to access higher education. This issue is particularly significant in countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where children who have been forcibly displaced across borders are likely to remain in situations 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 prioritise their education.
There are several concurring challenges facing MENA countries’ education systems, each impacting refugee and displaced communities acutely. 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 are left out of certified or formal education. Even when they do attend school, they might not receive access to adequate education. Being enrolled but not being given quality education does not mean having full access to it. It is important not only that students attend school, but also that they receive quality education and instruction. Furthermore, conflict affected households often experience marginalisation 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 (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. Going up in education, the pressure to quit school is higher: the rising cost of life 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 having left the education system.
"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."
Investing in refugees’ education is key in protecting their human rights, but also their chance to build a better future for themselves. There is a positive correlation between education, income opportunities and better health. Education is a protective factor for refugee youth: formal and vocational education offers stability, a sense of purpose and opportunity of employment. In turn, this increases the overall wellbeing of society. Conversely, the insufficiency of education programs slows down the social development of the country. 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 for society as a whole.
Investing in refugee education is a multi-pronged task: it entails providing sustainable access to quality education that will open doors for students in terms of higher education and employment.
At Paper Airplanes, we understand that access to education is a critical issue and strive to create unique opportunities for success for conflict affected youth, by strengthening and innovating in the world of informal learning. Our education programs are based on distance learning - which is a more accessible option for our students especially in terms of costs, time, and transportation. In fact, there is a need for such free and remote learning opportunities due to the fact that many refugee youth also seek employment, in order to make ends meet, which means that they are unable to access full-time learning programs in person.
We focus on language learning, especially English, as these are necessary skills 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 support them to join higher education or the job market, by offering language courses for English and Turkish, as well as web development and business analytics courses for women interested in tech.
Partnership 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 funding shortfalls. In order to reach the most marginalised communities, we need to take action both individually and collectively. Paper Airplanes is 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 access 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.
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 collect interviews, write for the blog and help with social media posts. When I'm not doing that, I love practising 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.