14-20th June marked Refugee Week, which this year had the theme of “We Cannot Walk Alone”.
The imagery of “We Cannot Walk Alone” reminds me of 2015, when refugees walked across Europe, unable to find safety and security in their first host countries. Many of the refugees arriving in Europe at this time arrived as doctors, academics, scientists, teachers. They had arrived with little apart from their education. This is because education is the only thing that you can easily take with you at a time of crisis.
Save the Children produced a report detailing their survey that found that children in crisis prioritise their education over food, shelter and money. Yet the same report found that education allocated just 2% of funding in humanitarian emergencies.
Refugee Education in Crisis
The serious funding gap has resulted in a crisis in provision and quality of education for refugees at all levels. According to the UNHCR, only 77% of refugees attend primary school. Only 31% of refugees enrol in secondary school. Just 3% are able to access higher education.
This situation has been further exacerbated by COVID-19. Whilst the world has shifted to remote learning, unequal access to technology such as laptops and desktops has left many refugee children behind. A report by the UNHCR found that the education opportunities for refugee children were set to worsen, due to the added burdens placed on household carers by COVID-19. With savings already exhausted when the economic shock of COVID-19 hit the world, refugee children and youth have had to make desperate choices between their education and supporting their families. And, according to the Malala Fund, ‘In a crisis like COVID-19, girls and young women are the first to be removed from school and the last to return’ (Malala Yousafzai).
Another fact that COVID-19 has made apparent is that all of us, everyone on the planet, is connected, bringing resonance to this year’s “We Cannot Walk Alone” theme – and this is particularly true of refugee education. We cannot allow a situation to continue where just 3% of refugees are able to access training and higher education that would allow them to be the scientists, professors and engineers that create solutions to global pandemics. Some of the most innovative and influential people of history have been refugees:
- Albert Einstein– Responsible for one of some of the most important advances in science.
- Madeleine Albright– The first ever female US Secretary of State
- Steve Jobs– Founder of Apple, who was the son of a migrant from Syria
- Sergey Brin– Co-Founder of Google, whose family emigrated from Russia
This is just the beginning of the list of artists, entrepreneurs, athletes and politicians who have changed societies, and were also refugees.
Reaching 15% by 2030
Despite COVID-19 I am glad to say that the momentum is shifting. In 2019, the UN set a target to increase the proportion of refugees reaching university from the current 3% to 15% by 2030. This is a hugely ambitious target: it will mean an additional 500,000 refugees reaching university within 10 years.
As such, there is an urgent need to increase scholarship opportunities to support refugees and finance their higher education – local universities, third country/ international and online opportunities.
There is also a need to provide refugees with the foundations to successful transition to higher education – and at massive scale. This is where the work of the organisations I work for, Mosaik Education, is so relevant.
We develop and deliver education programmes that address key barriers refugees face in reaching university; and key parts of the puzzle in achieving the 15% target. We provide English language training to ensure refugees have the ability to make use of the full range of online and international opportunities available. Plus, our academic guidance supports refugees through researching and applying for the best pathway for them after secondary school.
Recognising the insight and innovation within refugee communities, we design our programmes with refugees. We use technology because our vision is that hundreds of thousands of refugees will be able to use our programmes. And we make all of our programmes freely available to community centres in places like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, to help us reach the most marginalised.
And right now we cannot keep up with demand. This is because getting to university, earning a degree or a diploma, and transforming one’s skills is an aspiration of so many refugee youths – those like Ammar, a Syrian refugee in Jordan and one of our programme participants who wants to study journalism:
“When I graduate from journalism, I will feel very proud that I will start my journey with success for my personal projects… I have projects in mind that I would love to develop and work on and this will not be complete until I get the university degree….. I want to report the disastrous situation when I go back to Syria.”
There are thousands of others like Ammar, who want to start a journey of achieving ambitions, supporting families, becoming leaders in their communities, and – like Jobs, Brin, Albright and Einstein – becoming global leaders and solving the world’s problems, bringing with them their education.
But the global community – education institutions, funders, businesses, governments – needs to walk with them on the journey, as they cannot do so alone.
Guest Blog by Ben Webster, Founder and CEO of Mosaik Education. Mosaik Education is an organisation that supports refugees to reach higher education. They are charity partners of Maanch- you can check out their profile on our site here.