By Savanna Henderson, Humanitas Global
Education is a fundamental human right, ensured to children through the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Yet, many children today lack access to any form of education, especially those in conflict-affected countries or those displaced by conflict and war. Education has a profound impact on children’s well-being, development and future opportunities, and even a minor disruption in schooling can impact a child’s academic and social outcomes.
Before the war, Syria was reporting universal enrollment in primary schools and near-universal enrollment in secondary schools. Fast-forward to the 2014-2015 academic year and half of Syrian children did not attend school. Over 2 million children, already at an educational disadvantage from disruptions during the school year or a total loss of education, have been displaced outside of Syria. Of those children, more than 700,000 are not enrolled in school. Further igniting the call for action is the magnitude of refugee children that fled Syria as infants or whom were born in refugee camps. As these children reach school age, as many as 100,000 a year, it is necessary that they have opportunities for adequate education. The loss of educational opportunities makes children vulnerable to inadequate development and to risks such as child labor, early marriage, and violence in the form of recruitment to armed groups.
Many Syrian children and their families have been displaced to countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan, all of which struggle to meet the needs of the expanding population, including those of the most innocent. Of particular concern is the provision of education for refugee children. Whereas in Syria it was a law to provide free and compulsory basic education, many of the countries absorbing refugees do not have the means to support the influx of children in school or have prohibitive policies and laws preventing children from enrolling.
When children are able to enroll in school, they may be facing subjects taught in a new language and in a new cultural and social environment. Add to the challenging situation that some children may be returning after a year or more away from any type of schooling. In other situations, loss of identification and documentation, or lack of proper documentation could prevent a child from enrolling in school. Ensuring children have opportunities and resources to learn the language used in school is of the utmost importance to supporting their overall education. It is important though that their own language and culture isn’t overshadowed and lost. Finally, children need to be ensured access to schools at the proper academic level. The Human Rights Watch report, Barriers to Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Turkey, revealed numerous cases where a child wasn’t allowed to enroll in a lower grade level that better fit their current education level because of school policies. As a result, many students were unable to keep up with lessons and learn and dropped out.
Discrimination and physical abuse in schools can hurt academic and social outcomes of children. Furthermore, the fear over a child’s safety can inhibit parents from enrolling their children in school when the opportunity exists. Many children have been victims of fear, trauma and violence from the war, some of which occurred in close association to schools, which can make it difficult and even impossible for a child to face a classroom or stay attentive to a lesson. UNICEF’s “No Place for Children” report found that over 30% of cases of grave violations against children resulting in death or injury occurred while these children were in school or traveling to or from school. Children dealing with emotional and mental trauma from the war may not find the necessary resources or support in teachers and administration to provide a safe and functional foundation for learning.
Schools should always be safe and supportive places for all children, but there is a need for schools to be tailored to meet the needs of displaced children. Teachers and school faculty should be provided training to recognize and respond to signs of trauma. Schools should also have a supportive health system with a referral system for students who may be suffering from PTSD or serious psychosomatic problems. Finally, school staff and teachers should establish
It is a responsibility of civil society, governments, donors, and private organizations to protect and ensure the rights of children. While many countries have provided asylum and gone to great lengths providing aid, there is still much to be done in the way of children’s education. Organizations like UNICEF, Save the Children, Human Rights Watch and initiatives like #NoLostGeneration are highlighting the role education and child protection has on ensuring an entire generation’s well-being and future opportunities and documenting the current situation. The refugee crisis will also be highlighted during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Spring Meetings. With so much effort already on the ground chronicling the situation and needs, it is time to act. Everyone has a role to play in protecting the rights of children.