Every two seconds, somewhere on the planet, someone is forced to flee… What about the right to education in these situations?


From the 18th to the 25th September, the 73th General Assembly occurred at the UN in New York, where the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Ms. Koumbou Boly Barry, presented her new report, where she focused on the right to education for refugees.

Nowadays, exile lasts longer, therefore, children, youths, and even adults need to have access to quality education. Indeed, the right to education for refugees is crucial for peaceful and sustainable development in their country of origin and in their host country. The absence of this right goes against the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Sustainable Development Goal 4, which is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning”. Moreover, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also emphasized the fact that refugee education is one of the principal priorities for these people. Education gives them a certain kind of security and stability, especially for young children, in this particular situation that they are living in.

The Special Rapporteur highlighted the fact that in 2016, 6.4 million refugees under the mandate of the UNHCR were between 5 and 17 years old, and were in the age bracket to be in school. However, despite the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which has been adopted in the same year, more than half of them, 3.5 million, did not access education.

If we look at the statistics found in the right to education report, 91% of the world’s children attend primary school, while only 61% of refugee children have access to this level. Concerning secondary school, only 23% of refugee adolescents attend it against 84% of the world’s adolescents. The access to this level is thus more restrained than to primary education, also because of some budgetary issues. Indeed, the majority of funds are allocated to primary education, and not to secondary education. Furthermore, if we look at tertiary education, only 1% of refugee youth attend this level, against 36% of the world’s youth. These statistics show that the older the refugees get, the more it is difficult to have access to education. Thereby, despite the support of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and the SDG 4, the right to education for refugees remains in danger.

Nevertheless, for the refugees who have access to education, the curriculum choice remains a controversial issue. Should the children follow their own national curriculum, or the one of their host country? There are thus two categories of curriculum, according to the Special Rapporteur: the traditional model of the parallel system; and the mainstreaming system. There are positive and negative aspects of these two proposals. The first one is good for the refugees’ identity, culture, and ties to their country of origin, while the other gives safe and sustainable access to education.

Moreover, it is important to emphasize that some refugees lose many school years during their displacement, it is therefore crucial to catch up the lost time. Alternative or innovative forms of education may be proposed, as accelerated education or bridging programs. Furthermore, with the technological advancements, the information and communications technology (ICT) allowed many refugees to access to quality education. For example, the Varkey Foundation set up an interactive distance learning program, so that children living in refugee camps can access to education.

Giving access to education to refugees remains complicated, both at the budget and at the curriculum choice level, to offer them the best quality of education. There is still work to do, but with perseverance, it is possible to provide a better and complete access for these children, youth and adults. To achieve this goal, it is essential to be patient and determined, and use other teaching practices, to take advantage of technological advancement.

If you want to read the full report, here is the link: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N18/241/71/PDF/N1824171.pdf?OpenElement

Julie Mendola


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