Someone once said, “You can take away one’s education, but you cannot stop them from learning.” I wonder whether they ever stepped into refugee camps in a pandemic.
The world today has the highest population of refugees at 80 Million, out of which only 50% of households have acceptable levels of ratio for survival. Up to 250 people share a single tap for water (in Syrian refugee camps) and social distancing is near impossible. The absence of documentation and money has reduced vaccination availability for refugees from little to none.
Jobs have been lost along with lives. Survival has become a daily gamble. In the mix of problems, lack of education is barely important.
In 2019, the UNHCR reported that out of 7.1 Million refugee students, only 3.7 Million are in school. With the increase in age, enrollment of refugees in schools decreases—only 31% of students enrolled in secondary school and as low as 3% of the students paved their way to higher education.
With the advent of the pandemic, education was disrupted or halted for up to 1 Billion children worldwide. As of April 2021, 753 Million students remain affected by complete or partial closure of schools. Although the refugee population affected by the circumstances is yet to be determined, UNHCR believes that the existing educational infrastructure has only worsened.
Refugee students are 50% less likely to have access to devices with the internet, which have become the definition of education and edu-tech in the pandemic. Consequently, all these students have been shut from educational resources for more than a year.
The world is under the threat of losing years-long of gender equality efforts as almost 50% of female refugee students are under threat of not returning to schools, reports the Malala Fund.
Traditional gender roles are enforced on girls in these camps where they are burdened with more unpaid care work compared to their male counterparts which barely gives them any time for self-learning. Coupled with the absence of paid work rights and work permits, funds run short in families.
These limitations are making education unaffordable and reinforcing the stereotype that educating girls is futile due to lesser monetary yield in the long run.
Domestic violence has seen a spike in the pandemic as girls are forced to stay home. Sexual abuse and experimentation may be used as tools to intimidate girls from going to school (in the future). With a lack of sexual education and discussion, even consensual sex has become a daunting experience.
In Turkey, Save the Children reports that approximately 80% of refugee households have experienced “negative changes in employment and income status”. Per the current economic trend, education will be out of reach for several families, even post-pandemic. Those who were not already enrolled in education programs may never see the face of a school.
Lack of infrastructure, hardware and connectivity point towards the possibility that refugee students will remain at risk of being excluded from national distance-learning programs.
Efforts and policies exist on global levels. The inclusion of refugee education issues in the 2018 Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration increased admissions, but most of the progress has been lost.
Through the Global Education Coalition, UNESCO is facilitating partnerships between stakeholders to improve future prospects for pandemic-stricken students. It has pledged to furnish the Member States with expertise and technical guidance to integrate refugee students in national education frameworks. Its qualifications passport for refugees and vulnerable migrants launched in 2019 aims to facilitate learners’ integration in the education system and labour market through assessment procedures.
The COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan reports that the education cluster was only 7.33% funded when the campaign ended in December 2020. Given the existential condition and long-term vulnerability of education infrastructure in refugee camps, an urgent and massive donation is required to avoid financial constraints in the future.
The pandemic has alleviated the convenience of civilian help to refugees due to medical and humanitarian constraints. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
As a student, I sympathise with those who have education taken away from them, and with those who are forced to sit through hours-long assessments while in turmoil.
Nerissa (from Merchant Of Venice) once said that one must live in mean happiness as those who surfeit with too much suffer as much as those who starve with none.
It is impossible to satisfy all the student population with one set of guidelines or expect a uniform level of competency from all. The world itself functions on redundancy and all the tricks that provide a roundabout from rules created by those three to four generations above us. It’s almost as if we need a factory reset. And hopefully, this time, we will make quotes that correspond to everyone’s realities.