The number of migrant and refugee children in the world today could fill more than half a million classrooms. Their parents are perhaps seeking new opportunities in the city, or even in another country. Others are forced to flee conflict or natural disaster. In all, there has been a 26% increase in children on the move since 2000.
These children have the right to education, no matter where they are from and what they have been through. This is the focus of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco’s) Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report.
Migrants, refugees and internally displaced people are some of the most vulnerable in the world. Sometimes simply being in school means being safe. Eight-year-old Jana, a Syrian refugee at the Unesco-run school in the Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan, says she felt happy just to escape the sound of gunfire. School has also given her hope; she wants to be a teacher when she grows up.
When possible, these children should be placed in the same schools as host populations to help them to thrive. Teachers are on the front line supporting children who face discrimination or who suffer from trauma. They also need support to manage multilingual, multicultural classes and the psychological consequences of what they have endured.
A well-designed curriculum that challenges prejudices is also vital and can have a positive ripple effect beyond the classroom walls, enhancing social cohesion. Unfortunately, some textbooks include outdated depictions of migration and undermine efforts towards inclusion.
Adults also need educational support. Many have qualifications, but in Europe and North America only about one in 10 of those who have gained a higher education degree work in a job that matches their skills. The Unesco Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications, due to be adopted next year, aims to resolve this problem.
The cost of educating immigrants is often exaggerated. Financing for refugee education, however, is woefully inadequate — only a third of the funding gap for refugee education has been filled. It is a collective responsibility to ensure that development aid plugs the holes, providing predictable and long-term funding so the burden does not fall on those countries least able to cope.
The world is poised to adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees, both of which highlight the crucial role of education and reaffirm the importance of “leaving no one behind”. This year’s GEM Report offers a blueprint for countries to deliver on their promises. We hope all governments will use it to turn despair into hope for a brighter future for all.
Audrey Azoulay is the director general of Unesco