Students at Palorinya Secondary School in Ibakwe Baptist Church in the Moyo refugee camp in Uganda. (Photo provided by Edward Dima)
More than half (3.5 million) of all school-aged refugees (6.4 million) did not attend school in 2016, according to a U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) report released on Sept. 12.
The percentage of refugee children with access to primary schooling increased 11 points to 61 percent in 2016. Yet, this remains significantly lower than the global rate of attendance for all primary school-aged children, which stands at 91 percent.
The disparity widens with age, as only 23 percent of refugee adolescents currently attend secondary schools. The global rate for all adolescents is 84 percent.
Only 1 percent of refugees are enrolled in tertiary educational programs (university, technical school, community college and so on), compared to 36 percent of the global population.
"Education is not a luxury; it is a basic need," emphasized United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in the report's introduction. "The education of refugees is a shared responsibility."
With school-aged refugees increasing by an average of 600,000 children yearly, UNHCR estimates the need to add 12,000 classrooms and 20,000 teachers each year to keep up with the growing needs.
Edward Dima, pastor of First Baptist Church in Kajo-Keji and president of the Baptist Convention of South Sudan, has been ministering to South Sudanese refugees in Uganda where both schools and teachers are in short supply.
The few schools that exist have poor facilities, he told EthicsDaily.com. "For example, a school registration in a particular school stands at 4,000-6,000 pupils and student teacher-ratio over 200 pupils in one class. ... Many other self-supported schools have no blackboard or pieces of chalk and no textbooks and so forth."
While Baptist congregations have launched education programs in many of the refugee camps, resources to support these initiatives are insufficient.
"Teachers are few and ill-equipped, with low pay, which makes teaching very hard," Dima said. "The Baptist churches have started several schools in an effort to supplement the current education problems facing children in schools," but financial support is "too small" and "strained already" to address sufficiently all of the educational needs.
Lack of consistent funding for education is a widespread problem, the UNHCR report noted, urging that education "not be allowed to fall victim to the ebb and flow of funding when new conflicts blow up and fresh emergencies need addressing" or "become an afterthought that falls gradually into neglect."
The increase in the percentage of refugees receiving education, according to UNHCR, is due in large part to "measures taken by Syria's neighbors to enroll more refugee children in school and other educational programs."
Lebanon, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the west and Syria in the east, is host to an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees. With a national population of 6.2 million, Lebanon has the highest proportion of refugees per capita in the world.
The Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD) is among the faith-based groups working to provide education to refugees living in Lebanon through its relief and development arm, Middle East Revive and Thrive (MERATH).
"In Lebanon, over 250,000 Syrian refugee children do not have access to the public school system due to lack of space," LSESD/MERATH told EthicsDaily.com. "The non-formal education projects of LSESD/MERATH, implemented by local Lebanese churches, seek to fill that gap by providing quality education with psychosocial support in a safe, protective environment so that this generation of Syrian children will not be lost, but continue to have a hope and future."
Through nine learning centers across the nation, LSESD/MERATH provided educational programming to 1,200 refugee children during the 2016-17 school year. It anticipates reaching 1,500 in 2017-18.
"Education is vital to help refugee children recover from the trauma of war and displacement ... [providing] routine and stability that helps children regain a sense of normalcy and promotes resiliency," LSESD/MERATH stated. "It provides a safe place for children to learn, play and develop friendships and important social skills ... [and] decreases the risks vulnerable refugee children experience, such as child labor, early marriage, trafficking, exploitation and radicalization."
The full UNHCR report is available here.
Zach Dawes is the managing editor for EthicsDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZachDawes_Jr.