Promoting quality education for all.

School’s out for Good? Refugee Children and the Right to Education

by Bethany Ellis, 

by Bethany Ellis, A World at School


As children all around the United States are in their last days of school, counting down to summer vacation, there are refugee children across the world who are desperately hoping to get back to school and learning.

Most of our children are leaving schools feeling great! They’ve made it through a whole school year! They’ve learned so much! Next year, they get to be in fourth grade – and everyone knows fourth grade is so much cooler than third grade. A big long summer break is the most exciting thing ever!

They should feel this way. They should leave school for the summer with excitement and a sense of accomplishment. They should feel happy and secure that next fall they get to go back to school and continue learning with hope that they will grow up to whatever they want to be.

Sadly, this is not the situation for the 75 million children and adolescents around the world whose education was interrupted, of poor quality, or ended completely this year because of circumstances beyond their control – because of wars, natural disasters, epidemics, and prolonged crises. More than half of the 21.3 million refugees (just one part of over 65 million people who have been forcibly displaced) in the world today are under the age of 18. Their hopes and dreams of having full lives, completing their education and growing up to be what they want to be have been suspended, thrown into uncertainty, or even ended completely.

As the children around us leave for their summer breaks feeling happy and hopeful, let us remember the children who are trapped in refugee camps, or embarking on a deadly sea crossing in a desperate attempt to find stability and a future, or alone and terrified and easy prey to those who would exploit them and their little bodies in the worst ways imaginable.

Across the world, these millions of children – not only those fleeing the Syrian war but also those in northern Nigeria, in Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan (the list goes on and on) – are deprived of their right to education. Their futures have been hijacked and their right to learn and to achieve their full potential has fallen prey to political circumstances, violence, or a collective national and international failure to protect them at their most vulnerable.

Education is the right of every child. In these extremely uncertain circumstances, education is lifesaving and education is hope.

It is a way to start rebuilding lives that have been torn apart by upheaval and uncertainty. Through education, children and adolescents can have access to psychosocial support to help them process their trauma, they can receive vital lifesaving information that can then be shared with their families on health, safety, and sanitation, and crucially, they can start to plan again for a future. In order for communities to have the best chance to rebuild after disaster and conflict, the upcoming generation must be educated and allowed to flourish and contribute to their host and home societies with their full potential.

No child should be deprived of their education in conflict, emergencies, and natural disasters. Across the globe political champions like UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, Global Partnership for Education Board Chair, Julia Gillard, UNICEF Executive Director, Tony Lake, and many many others have raised their voices and acted tirelessly to launch a new mechanism that would ensure these children, their dreams, and their potential are not lost.

Education Cannot Wait: A Fund for Education in Emergencies was launched at the recently held World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. Donors governments and aid agencies from the United Kingdom, United States, Norway, the Netherlands, and the European Union, along with private sector partner Dubai Cares, pledged just over $90 million to support the new fund. The Global Business Coalition for Education committed to mobilizing an additional $100 million in funding and in-kind donations from the private sector.

The launch of Education Cannot Wait is exciting. It is the result of countless hours of advocacy, research, consultation, and campaigning by thousands of education experts, organizations, policymakers, and individuals who refuse to stand by while these children are left out and let down. The fund’s launch is a moment for celebration, but it’s only the start of a long and continuing fight to ensure that all children – even stateless and displaced children – are able to go to school, that no child is left vulnerable to exploitation, recruited into armed groups, forced into harmful early marriages, working as laborers, and left in cycles of poverty that could last for generations to come.

Though $90 million may sound like a lot, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the $8.5 billion needed to reach all those in need with education aid, and it is only a little more than half of the $150 million year one funding ask for Education Cannot Wait to start its work. Governments, the private sector, and other international donors must agree to step up with ambitious levels of funding and a firm commitment to make Education Cannot Wait a success. As the world turns it attention to September for the upcoming UN General Assembly, the release of the International Commission on Financing Educational Opportunity’s final report, as well as President Obama’s Refugee Summit, global leaders have another chance to show their support and true commitment, demonstrated through concrete actions, to ensure that every child has an education and no one is left behind.

So as your children, little sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, and neighbors are celebrating the start of summer vacation, remember and call for concrete support for those refugee children whose break from school is in danger of lasting the rest of their lives, robbing them of their bright futures and the contributions they can make for a better world.

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