UNHCR calls on governments to include refugees in their national education systems as part of the response to the crisis
Refugee crisis deteriorating rapidly as 3.5 million children are left without education
More than half of the world's refugee children of school-going age did not have access to formal education in the last academic year, the UN refugee agency reported on Tuesday.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees currently has 6.4 million refugees between the ages of 5 and 17 under its mandate, of whom about 1.5 million were not in primary school and 2 million were missing secondary school.
“The world’s growing refugee crisis is not only about numbers. It is also about time,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “The fact that there are now 17.2 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate — half of them under the age of 18 — is dismaying.”
Mr Grandi said that schooling provided children and adolescents with a safe place amid the tumult of displacement.
“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,” he said.
The UNHCR report, Left Behind: Refugee Education in Crisis, compared the agency's sources and statistics on refugee education with data from the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) on school enrolment around the world.
It found that the gap in opportunity between refugee children and other children around the world was getting bigger.
On a global basis, "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," the report said.
The report also found that as refugee children get older, the obstacles to education increased, with only 23 per cent of refugee adolescents enrolled in secondary school compared to the global rate of 84 per cent.
In low-income countries, a mere 9 per cent of refugees are able to go to secondary school.
The report said providing education was a vital part of the emergency response to the refugee crisis, and called for a "sustained, predictable investment and a holistic approach to supporting education systems in refugee hosting countries" that benefited both the refugees and their host communities.
Governments should include refugees in their national education systems as the "most effective, equitable and sustainable response", it said.
To help refugees bridge the gap of many missed years of schooling, "more flexible forms of education are essential such as accelerated education, catch-up and bridging programmes".
If current trends are not reversed, the "international community will fail to attain its Sustainable Development Goals" — 17 goals aimed at transforming the world by 2030.
These goals will not be achieved without meeting the educational needs of vulnerable populations, including refugees and other forcibly displaced people, the report said.
The fourth goal is that “inclusive and quality education must be ensured for all to promote lifelong learning”.
If education is neglected then the development goals targeting health, prosperity, equality and peace will also be undermined, it said.
The UNHCR said its findings underlined the importance of quality teaching, and of national and international support networks needed to keep teachers trained, motivated and able to make a positive impact in the world’s toughest classrooms. It pointed out that there were far too few teachers, classrooms, text books and support mechanisms to meet such demands.
"Refugees remain in real danger of being left behind in terms of their education. We at UNHCR urge the international community to match their words with action," Mr Grandi said.
“Ensuring that refugees have equitable access to quality education is a shared responsibility. It is time for all of us to put words into action.”