Build bridges, not walls: new UNESCO report on the international crisis in refugee education published

The number of migrant and refugee school-age children around the world today has grown by 26% since 2000 and could fill half a million classrooms.

UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report 2018, Migration, displacement and education, highlights countries’ achievements and shortcomings in ensuring the right of migrant and refugee children to benefit from quality education, a right that serves the interests of both learners and the communities they live in.

The right of these children to quality education, even if increasingly recognised on paper, is challenged in classrooms and schoolyards and denied outright by a few governments. In the past two years since the landmark New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in 2016, refugees have missed 1.5 billion days of school.

Nevertheless, there has been progress in the inclusion of refugees in national education systems, as seen in eight of the top ten refugee-hosting countries. Champions include low-income countries such as Chad and Ethiopia, while Canada and Ireland are among the global leaders in implementing inclusive education policies for immigrants.

The 2018 report has been put together by an independent team comprising international migrants and the children of refugees. Supported by UK Aid, the report also draws on data provided by the UK’s Department for Education to examine and assess progress on UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The report draws on data provided by the UK’s Department for Education to examine and assess progress on SDG4. It seeks to highlight the might and value of education in particular for migrants and refugees. As the UN Secretary-General says in his endorsement: ‘People on the move, whether for work or education, and whether voluntarily or forced, do not leave their right to education behind.’ The Report was welcomed by various UN Organisations including the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, whose Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk said that ‘With more than half the world’s 7.4 million refugee children denied schooling the report was a timely reminder that that commitment of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to leaving no one behind had to apply to families and children fleeing persecution and conflict too.’

Education is inextricably linked with all of the SDGs outside of SDG 4 – Quality Education. Education permeates issues of poverty, health and well-being, gender equality, access to sustainable resources, access to employment, innovation and research, climate actions, water and earth sciences, cities and communities, inequalities and peace and justice. The GEM Report addresses and provides specific examples of the long-term effects and bigger picture surrounding access to quality education for all. It calls on governments to address the education needs of migrant and displaced populations, and those of their children, with the same attention they give to host populations.

UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts, Professor Alison Phipps said:

“The GEM is a timely and important intervention by UNESCO in the present worldwide concern for the education of those displaced and seeking sanctuary. It offers a robust and humane approach to the questions and problems which beset those whose education is interrupted or whose desire to learn is thwarted by war, persecution or oppression. In particular, the report strongly emphasises the needs for multilingual learning opportunities in first languages, in indigenous languages and in language maintenance through the education cycles. This is vital. With this comes the joy and psychosocial healing associated with the arts and play in learning, for all who are involved in the journeys into wholeness, healing and integration.”

An independent team comprising international migrants including children of refugees produced the GEM Report. This unique positioning allowed the team to accentuate the differing viewpoints towards migrants. The research they carried out indicates how education can broaden and revise previously held viewpoints and public attitudes towards migrants and refugees.

The Right Honourable Helen Clark, Chair of the GEM Report Advisory Board, said:

For those denied education, marginalization and frustration may be the result. When taught wrongly, education may distort history and lead to misunderstanding. Education can also be a bridge. It can bring out the best in people, and lead to stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination being discarded for critical thinking, solidarity and openness. It can offer a helping hand to those who have suffered and a springboard to those who desperately need opportunity.”

The Report provides the following recommendations:

  • Protect the right to education of migrants and displaced people
  • Include migrants and displaced people in national education systems
  • Understand and plan for the education needs of migrants and displaced people
  • Represent migration and displacement histories in education accurately to challenge prejudices
  • Prepare teachers of migrants and refugees to address diversity and hardship
  • Harness the potential of migrants and displaced people
  • Support education needs of migrants and displaced people in humanitarian and development aid

In addition to these recommendations, the report raises questions and encourages further discussion on how to effectively and valuably measure progress towards SDG 4. Despite extensive advancements in data collection, analysis and outcomes it is clear that hurdles regarding monitoring and gaps still exist.

UK Data and Research Contribution

The Department for Education provided detailed statistics relevant to the GEM Report. Research in the United Kingdom showed that recognition by native peers motivated refugee and asylum-seeking adolescents to study harder. A peaceful society is characterized not only by freedom from violence but also by tolerance of diversity, a dimension in which education has played a key role for centuries. In the United Kingdom, universities have had spill over effects, increasing support for women’s and minorities’ rights among those who live in proximity to a university, regardless of their education level. Education in the UK is clearly contributing in relation to various SDGs to the building of peace in the minds of men and women.

UK Aid Contribution

At the 73rd UN General Assembly in September 2018, the UK Secretary of State for International Development announced an additional £7.8 million of UKAID to continue our support to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics and GEM Report. This builds on previous funding over 2014-2017.

Sarah Hennell, Department for International Development (DFID) said: This funding will generate data to help understand who is missing out on a quality education, where they are and who is making progress.  It will help UIS and its partners to develop more robust data on learning, which can provide comparisons across countries and over time. […]It will enable UIS and GEMR to improve data and analysis on those most at risk of missing out, such as children with disabilities or affected by conflict. Finally, [DFID] support will help establish the new flagship measure for education (the proportion of all children not learning the minimum) as a global advocacy measure to help galvanise commitment and sustain progress.”

High-level Member State Officials, Ministers and representatives reevaluated progress of the educational objectives of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda alongside this report during the Global Education Conference, 3 to 5 December, in Brussels, Belgium.

In praise of the GEM Report and education work being carried out by UNESCO and Member States, Audrey Azoulay Director-General of UNESCO said:

People have always moved from one place to another, some seeking better opportunities, some fleeing danger. These movements can have a great impact on education systems. The 2019 edition of the Global Education Monitoring Report is the first of its kind to explore these issues in-depth across all parts of the world. Currently, laws and policies are failing migrant and refugee children by negating their rights and ignoring their needs. Migrants, refugees and internally displaced people are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and include those living in slums, those moving with the seasons to eke out a living and children in detention. Yet they are often outright denied entry into the schools that provide them with a safe haven and the promise of a better future. The message of this Report is clear: Investing in the education of those on the move is the difference between laying a path to frustration and unrest, and laying a path to cohesion and peace.