As the dust settles on this year's A-level results debacle, campaigners have urged the world not to forget about the millions of refugees being denied their basic right to education.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered schools around the world – disrupting the education of almost 1.6 billion students according to Unicef – classrooms were already closed to millions of displaced and refugee children.
Less than half of school-aged refugee children were enrolled in programmes while only one in four were attending secondary school.
Never before have so many children been out of school at the same time, disrupting learning and upending lives, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised, says Kelly T. Clements, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations.
“Refugee kids are not learning. The closure of schools has impacted more than 5.6 million primary and secondary age refugee children worldwide,” she told a briefing co-hosted by Devex.
“Only half of those children are enrolled in school [in the first place], but school closures mean that they are losing more crucial time in terms of learning and in the classroom.”
Education is a lifeline for many refugee and displaced children and without it their future is uncertain, Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy for Global Education and chair of not-for-profit organization Education Cannot Wait, said.
“Hope dies when young people cannot plan and prepare for the future because there is no school to go to, there is no education that is within their grasp,” he told the same briefing.
“Education can bridge the gap between what people are and what they have it in themselves to become,” he said.
Displacement, conflict and the coronavirus pandemic make it all the more difficult for young children and young people to access schooling, and the wide ranging consequences of falling behind or out of education programmes all together cannot be underestimated, campaigners said.
Studies show that education enables upward socioeconomic mobility and is a key to escaping poverty.
Without it GDP suffers, children miss out on much needed psycho-social support, girls are at increased danger of experiencing gender-based violence and child marriage, and rates of malnutrition shoot up as disadvantaged children miss out on much needed access to clean water and school meals, says Ms Clements.
More displaced children are now likely to be out of school for a prolonged period thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and some might never return, warned Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“We have the youth groups between 15 and 24 are massively out of school, out of education, out of livelihoods creation, out of hope,” he said. “The pandemic is a massive, massive, massive set back for all of us. The crisis is profound.”
The only way forward, he argued was to invest in creative education solutions for all and make sure to deliver on the United Nations sustainable development goal.
“We need education as much as we need food. It is a question of survival,” he said.
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