Global Education & Skills Forum

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12 - 13 March 2016

Atlantis The Palm,
Dubai, U.A.E.

Education and the refugee crisis: the problems and the solutions

The unprecedented crisis in Syria is increasingly spilling over to affect the Middle East, Europe and the rest of the world.

As the international community grapples with the humanitarian and migratory implications, one vital and under-reported aspect of the mass displacement is a lack of access to education for millions of Syrian children.

Without schooling, an entire generation will lose out on education – with serious consequences for continued mass migration, the growth of extremism and Syria’s chances of recovery once peace returns to the country.

How big is the problem?

The numbers are staggering. At least 4.6 million Syrians are refugees and 6.6 million are displaced within Syria itself. Over half of those, around 51%, are children.

syria map

The United Nations says between 2 and 3 million Syrian children are not attending school, reversing 10 years of progress in education for Syrian children.

What’s the long-term impact on Syria?

Save the Children has estimated that the cost of Syrian children not returning to school could be 5.4% of Syria’s future GDP, blighting the country for years to come, even after it emerges from conflict.

And as more and more girls and boys arrive from Syria on the streets of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, new statistics show rates of child marriage among refugee girls have doubled from 12% to 26%.

One recent survey estimates that a third of boys and girls displaced from their home country have become labourers, often working illegally in unsafe conditions.

What’s the wider impact?

The cost to Syrians is clear. The financial impact on other nations is also significant as they grapple with this massive influx of people.

There are 1.7 million Syrians registered in neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon.

Turkey said last year it has spent more than $6 billion taking in 2 million refugees.

And so far those countries have not been able to provide education for all who need it.

European nations who are accepting large number of refugees are having to expand education provision to cater for the new arrivals. In Germany the cost of housing, educating and feeding Syrian refugees has been put at $23 billion this year alone.

Is any progress being made?

The good news is that in terms of education, there are significant signs of progress.

The Lebanese government has declared that it has given 207,000 Syrian refugee children places in the country’s public schools.

An innovative “double-shift” school system sees local Lebanese children educated in the morning, as usual, in their neighbourhood schools but the same classrooms are then being thrown open to refugee children in the afternoon and early evenings.

By using existing infrastructure the cost is kept to just $10 per school place per week. There are plans to offer 400,000 more places by doubling the number of schools being used in this way.

What about the future?

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education, has made refugee access to schools one of his top priorities.

Recently Mr Brown set out a plan to extend education to 1 million refugee boys and girls across Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey during the course of 2016 with the ambition that by next year every refugee child will be offered a place at school.

And at the recent donor conference in London British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed that Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon had all pledged to ensure every child refugee would have access to education.

There is a growing awareness of the urgency of the situation and the fact that every week this generation misses out on education has profound implications for Syria and the wider world.

The will to address the problem is there. The challenge now is to ensure that the many pledges of help are turned into reality.

This will be a key topic at the Global Education and Skills Forum 2016, taking place in Dubai on 12th and 13th March 2016. For more take a look at the programme. Follow us on Twitter @GESForum and on Facebook.


Blog post by:

Harsha Sharma
Harsha Sharma
Digital Communications Manager, Varkey Foundation