World leaders urged to address growing education crisis among refugees

Global governments must commit to providing a full education to one million refugee children by the end of the school year, anti-poverty campaigners urge

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 13 September 2016 10:50 BST
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Louise Thomas

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What would it feel like to have everything you had learned taken away from you?

It may seem implausible, but that is the idea behind a new thought-provoking film seeking to highlight the plight of the 3.6 million child refugees who are denied an education.

The social experiment comes as part of a campaign led by human rights activists, who are calling on world leaders to urgently address the growing education crisis among refugees ahead of the United Nations General Assembly this month.

Produced by the ONE campaign and creative agency Don’t Panic, the video shows the difficulties faced by those unable to perform simple tasks such as reading a sign, writing their name or telling the time.

In it, a group of volunteers are hypnotised into temporary illiteracy, then asked to perform basic tasks.

A doctor is suddenly unable to read his own prescriptions.

Another volunteer finds she is unable to tell the time. "I don't see how you can go out into the world knowing nothing," she says.

A playwright temporarily has her livelihood taken away from her, when she is unable to read her own writing.

"It's like being in a place where no one can hear you or understand you," she says, "and that's just not right".

More than half of the refugee population last year were children, Unesco figures show, with some 3.57 million missing out completely on school or any other formal education.

Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school, despite many from Syria coming from highly skilled, supportive families in what were once developed and safe countries.

Only half of these children are in primary school, yet just two per cent of all emergency funding is earmarked for education, prompting concerns that not enough is being done to address the problem.

Highlighting the need to put education at the forefront of discussions at the summits in New York this month, the ONE campaign has launched a petition urging leaders to commit to providing one million refugee children with an education by the end of the school year.

Roxane Philson, a spokesperson for ONE said: “The world is experiencing the biggest displacement emergency since the Second World War.“

”Meanwhile, the resources provided by wealthier governments to support those who have fled their countries and the developing states that house the majority of the world’s refugees are just not sufficient.“

”A comprehensive approach to this crisis is vital, and part of this is ensuring that children who have already lost their homes are not at risk of losing their future, merely because they lack basic literacy and numeracy skills.“

”We’re asking governments to provide the financing and implement the polices necessary to ensure that every refugee child gets a quality education as soon as possible.“

In making the film, she said volunteers “got a small glimpse of how different their lives would be if they couldn’t read or write”.

“No one can reach their full potential without an education,” said Ms Philson. “We wanted to make that point in the most visceral way possible”.

“But for the millions of refugee children who won’t get an education it’s not just a scary few moments – it’s a lifetime of missed opportunities. This can and must change.”

The average amount of time a refugee spends in exile is now nearly 20 years – more than double what it was 30 years ago – leading to a situation where almost 80 per cent of teenage refugees are out of school.

The issue is of particular concern for refugee women and girls, who are 2.5 times more likely to drop out of school than their male peers.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai has also spoken out about the issue, calling on world leaders to guarantee all refugee children access to a full education in order to avoid a “lost generation” of displaced young people.

Highlighting that more children than ever before are spending their school years as refugees, she said: “It's not just giving attendance, a bit of food that will protect these families in the future, it is also education.

“You give education to the children of these families and you guide them and you make their future.”

“Education is crucial,” said Ms Yousafzai, “I understand that, you understand that, people understand that but when it comes to world leaders' decision making, they completely ignore it, as if they have no knowledge and are completely ignorant.

“They should understand this because they want their own children to go to universities and get a quality education.”

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