Globally, only half of the world’s child refugees are enrolled in primary school
Funding education is one of the biggest challenges in humanitarian aid work, with only 3.6 per cent of the aid budget currently allocated to putting children in schools, UN’s Chief of Humanitarian aid work, has said .
“Unicef estimates that in order to deliver education goals, the world will need to spend over three trillion dollars by 2030. Currently, the spending on education is at 1.2 trillion dollars. So, we are not even half way there,” said Mark Lowcock, UN Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency relief co-ordinator.
He was speaking at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi on Monday on the challenges of educating children in conflict zones, as the world marked the Universal Children’s Day. “Today, there are 260 million children who are out of school and the highest proportion are from countries affected by conflicts, wars and natural disasters,” said Lowcock.
Describing his nearly three months at the UN as the “longest eleven weeks of his professional life,” the UN official said, “Everywhere I have gone – in Nigeria, Bangladesh, Yemen – I have seen the challenges of children being deprived of education as a result of the conflicts.
“But there are two things I always hear in these humanitarian disaster zones. The first is, people want peace. The second thing is always, the chance for their children to go to school.”
Globally, only half of the world’s child refugees are enrolled in primary school, and only a quarter of those of relevant age are enrolled in secondary schools. Of the 65 million people displaced worldwide, 51 per cent of them are children. “Children who do not go to school are more likely to be trapped in poverty, they are more likely to take up a low paid job, and they will pass on their deprivation to their own children.
Lowcock said ensuring all children get quality education is one of the things at the heart of the 2030 agenda of sustainable development goals that all countries have signed up for. “The real challenge is how we finance education for children where governments cannot finance it. That is where the international aid organisations have to step in,” said Lowcock, stressing the need for legislation and policy changes to get refugee children into mainstream education.
Toby Harward, head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Abu Dhabi said one of the key challenges these days is that one cannot treat humanitarian work as a short term, quick fix relief. “It is a protracted conflict over a prolonged period. It is not enough to respond with a tent, camp or bedding. These days. you have to consider that they are going to be refugees for a long time.
“The average length of a person living as a refugee is 17 years. In some of the protracted conflict situations, they have been refugees for decades. So, you have to think in terms of development agenda, including the education of children, life skills and employment issues.”
So, what will happen to these children who have no access to schools? The biggest challenge is when children are deprived of education, they fall easy prey to extremist ideologies, pointed out Maqsoud Kruse, executive director of Hedayah, an organisation that works to counter violent extremism.
“Lack of education creates a vaccum. This vaccum, where there is no proper education, no proper interactions or social development, will be filled by something else. If they (refugee children) are angry, have no hope, have lost their loved ones, when there is so much negativity, it can be a fantastic opportunity for extremists groups to build on it.”
He said, Hedayah works on educational intervention that can provide the right social and survival skills for youngsters living in conflict zones.
Sophie Barbey, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dubai said that the reality is children in conflict areas have no access to education for years, and “we run the risk of bringing up a lost generation.”