The world’s displaced children risk losing out on a quality education. Coronavirus just makes it harder

‘Unless everyone plays their part, generations of children – millions of them in some of the world’s poorest regions – will face a bleak future,’ Mo Salah writes in UNHCR’s Education Report

Mo Salah
Wednesday 02 September 2020 18:00 BST
UNHCR 'Coming Together For Refugee Education' report

Around the world, Covid-19 has closed schools and universities. It has emptied offices, hotels, stadiums, cafes, museums and cinemas – almost everywhere we used to gather.

It has disrupted not only the education of our children and youth but also the work of those who teach them, and the livelihoods of the parents who do everything they can to pay for books, uniforms and school journeys.

For many refugee children, the vast majority of whom live in the developing world, the coronavirus has added new challenges to lives already torn apart by conflict and persecution. Many of them may never return to school. Hard-won gains, built up slowly and patiently over decades, risk being reversed indefinitely. Young lives could be ruined forever.

I became the ambassador for the Instant Network Schools (INS) programme only days before the coronavirus pandemic radically altered our everyday lives. Delivered in partnership with Vodafone Foundation and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the INS connects thousands of refugee and host-country students to a quality digital education.

Part of my new role was intended to include visiting the schools supported by the INS programme to raise awareness of the vital importance of quality education for refugee children. Like many other people’s travel plans, mine will have to change.

But the project – like many of the initiatives highlighted in this report – shows how we can come together in new ways to make a difference to the lives of millions of young people, who more than ever need a helping hand.

Children who have been uprooted from their homes need books, schools, qualified teachers and more, but they also need the digital technology that connects them to the rest of the world.

That means better partnerships with the private sector, which is stepping up to create and deliver technology solutions – providing software, hardware and connectivity.

It’s not just about technology. Every company can make a difference – transport, construction, sport, sanitation, health care and more – by getting kids to school, building the classrooms they need and safeguarding their physical and mental wellbeing.

Apprenticeships and employment opportunities will give refugees and non-refugees alike something to aim for, and the means to support themselves and their families.

In turn, the private sector should build on the needs of refugees and the priorities set by their host governments. By also leveraging the capacity and harnessing the aspirations of refugees and hosting communities, along with the expertise and experience of aid agencies, charities, NGOs and others, these projects can be locally owned, and made as effective as possible.

Ensuring quality education today means less poverty and suffering tomorrow.

As we face this pandemic together, innovation will play a crucial role if the world’s displaced children and youth are not to lose all hope of getting an accredited, quality education – and not only innovation measured in silicon chips, but bold and imaginative thinking across the board to make that education a reality.

Unless everyone plays their part, generations of children – millions of them in some of the world’s poorest regions – will face a bleak future.

But if we work as a team, we can give them the chance they deserve to have a dignified future. Let’s not miss this opportunity.

Mohamed Salah is a footballer for Liverpool FC and Egypt. He is also ambassador for Instant Network Schools from the Vodafone Foundation and UNHCR. INS connects refugee and host-country students to a quality digital education.

UNHCR has released its annual refugee education report, Coming Together for Refugee Education, which highlights how the coronavirus threatens to reverse hard-won gains in refugee education and destroy the dreams and ambitions of tens of thousands of young refugees.

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