Credit: Mark Kaye/Save the Children
Powerful stories of ambition, hope, fear, anticipation, ingenuity, fulfilment, sacrifice, courage, perseverance and distress remind us that ‘migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future. It is part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family’ (United Nations, 2013). Yet migration and displacement are ‘also a source of divisions within and between States and societies … . In recent years, large movements of desperate people, including both migrants and refugees, have cast a shadow over the broader benefits of migration’.
Internal migration accounts for the majority of population movements. Rural to urban migration, a particularly salient phenomenon in middle-income countries, and seasonal or circular flows tend to pose the biggest challenges for education systems. But the pace of urbanization and internal migration intensity are lower in the Arab States than in other regions.
In Tunisia, the internal migration rate jumps from 2% among 15- to 19-year-olds to 7% among those in their 20s and more among females, with education of better quality in urban areas a key reason for migration. On average, 8% of Tunisians migrated for education purposes and over 20% from some governorates.
In Egypt, children of internal migrants have slightly lower dropout rates in primary and lower secondary education and are more likely to persist into secondary and post-secondary education.
In Iraq, 13% of the population lives in 3,700 slums where there are almost 2,200 uncompleted schools. In Sadr City, the largest slum in Baghdad, 9% of inhabitants cited education as a top-priority need. In a quarter of slums of Cairo, Egypt, general secondary schools were situated far outside the neighbourhood.
Field schools for nomadic and pastoralist communities in countries such as Djibouti focus on farming-related skills aimed at increasing livestock management efficiency and mitigating climate change effects.
At the end of 2018, there were 25.9 million refugees, of whom 5.5 million were Palestinian. The Syrian Arab Republic (6.7 million) was the country from which the largest number of people had fled, while Sudan (0.7 million) was also in the top 10. Among the top ten countries hosting refugees were Sudan (1.1 million), Lebanon (1 million) and Jordan (0.7 million). In addition, Lebanon (0.5 million) and Jordan (2.2 million) hosted Palestinian refugees, making them the two top refugee hosting countries in the world as a share of their population.
Faced with crises, most governments used to provide parallel education systems for refugee populations. This is still the case with Malian refugees in Mauritania, where 5,300 out of 19,300 school age children attend schools that follow the Malian curriculum.
However, this is not a sustainable solution. Parallel systems lack qualified teachers, examinations are not certifiable and funding risks being cut at short notice. They therefore diminish the chance of refugees being included and leading meaningful lives especially if displacement is protracted. The objective is to include refugees fully in the national education system, studying in the same classrooms with natives after a short period of catch-up classes, if necessary, to prepare them for entry at appropriate age-for-grade levels.
The 2017 Djibouti Declaration on Regional Refugee Education commits its signatories, including Djibouti and Sudan, to integrate education for refugees and returnees into their education sector plans by 2020 and proposes actions, such as establishing minimum learning standards or integrating refugees into the national education management information system.
Geography, history, resource availability and system capacity all affect the degree of refugee inclusion. In some cases, the move towards inclusion has been gradual, following developments on the ground and an increasing understanding of the potential benefits. In Turkey, the share of Syrian refugee children attending temporary education centres fell from 83% in 2014/15 to 37% in 2017/18. The government will include all Syrian refugee children in the national education system by 2020 and phase out separate provision.
Resources can be a key constraint. Jordan and Lebanon adopted double-shift systems. Natives attend in the morning and most Syrian refugees in the afternoon. While the only realistic solution in the short- to medium-term, it is not recommended in the long-term. It is necessary that governments strengthen their teacher and school administration professional development; donors link their short-term humanitarian response with long-term development system-strengthening interventions; non-formal education actors create programmes bringing native and refugee students together; and all actors prepare for eventually dismantling the second shift and addressing the consequences of including those who stay.
Refugees frequently lack documentation, such as birth certificates, school-leaving certificates and diplomas, which makes inclusion in national education systems more difficult. Jordan used to require refugees living outside camps to obtain service cards for access to schools but in 2016 the Ministry of Education began allowing public schools to enrol children without cards. In the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the Ministry of Education used to issue temporary equivalence recognition of students’ secondary school certificates for access to university but it halted the process in 2018/19.
Fees and other education costs can be particularly high for refugees, especially when their freedom of movement and right to work are constrained. The World Food Programme introduced the Emergency School Feeding programme in Lebanon in 2015/16. Its pilot cash-based modality was successful but could not be scaled up financially. Its food modality has expanded to 24,000 vulnerable native and refugee children in selected public primary schools in areas with high poverty and refugee density.
Recognizing and addressing children’s trauma is complex. Teachers can provide solutions for less acute situations with routine education practices that focus on promoting growth and building individuals’ skills. Yet, while they need continuous professional development, they lack mental health and psychosocial support training. In the Syrian Arab Republic, 73% of surveyed teachers had no such training.
Supportive social and emotional learning approaches can build skills related to self-awareness, self‑management, social awareness, relationship building and responsible decision-making, which can be damaged by the uncertainty and dangers of displacement. Examples include creative expression programmes and child-centred play therapy in Turkey, social support-building activities through sport in Jordan, and mind-body activities to manage stress and fear in Palestine.
Scalability, speed, mobility (the technology can reach displaced people) and portability (displaced people can carry the technology) make technology-based solutions popular for reaching anyone with a connected device, such as a smartphone or tablet. A survey of 144 non-state actors in education for Syrian refugees found that 49% were engaged in developing and distributing technological education innovations. But despite attempts to adapt content, compatibility with host national education systems is the exception.
Despite an overwhelming response in the five countries hosting Syrian refugees, 39% of school age children are still not in education. And many are still placed in parallel systems, which are mostly unsustainable in the long term, especially with diminishing international support.
Sahrawi refugees in Algeria have a separate education system and curriculum in Arabic and Spanish. While all children attend basic education, most of the over 2,200 lower secondary school graduates in 2017 had left for secondary schools in other cities, including those attending boarding schools several hundred kilometres away. In addition, there is a long-term decline in humanitarian aid.
UNRWA, in partnership with UNESCO, provides accredited free basic education to 526,000 Palestine refugee children in 711 schools. It closely cooperates with four host governments to ensure the smooth transition of students into their secondary education systems, including recognition and accreditation of their qualifications, curricula, examinations and timetabling.
UNRWA operates with four different curricula and sets of textbooks, a process with a clear rationale but also challenges. In 2011, it adopted a policy on education for human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance and in 2013 it introduced a framework to review host-country curricula to ensure compliance with its pedagogical standards. In about 4% of cases where curricular content was found non-compliant, UNRWA developed ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary’ enrichment materials for teachers.
As 44% of its schools were directly impacted by armed conflict and violence, UNRWA has embarked on a reform to protect and support refugees, strengthen staff capacity to deliver good-quality education, build a community of practice in the school and foster close links with parents and the community. It has to plan and budget for contingencies related to additional teacher salaries, transport costs, non-school-based learning activities, and refugees’ reduced ability to pay for school-related costs, due to poverty.
An emphasis on children of compulsory education age, should not come at the expense of international commitments under SDG 4 to ensure lifelong learning opportunities for all. Early childhood education, technical and vocational education and training and tertiary education opportunities for refugees are receiving increasing attention. About 100,000 Syrian refugees are participating in TVET programmes in the five host countries in the region.
While the Syrian Arab Republic has by far the highest percentage of internally displaced people (IDPs) as a share of the population (36%), Yemen (8%) and Iraq, Palestine and Sudan (each about 5%) are among the top 12 countries on this list.