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Refugee education: The time to act is now

Report from Save the Children Published on 16 Mar 2018


Over the coming months UN Member States will gather in Geneva to negotiate the Programme of Action for the Global Compact on Refugees – a potentially landmark global agreement on how the international community responds to large movements of refugees and to protracted refugee situations.

Right now, an unprecedented 22.5 million refugees have been forced from their countries, over half of them are children under the age of 18.

In an era of increased displacement and conflict, there might be some scepticism about the impact of global agreements. But the Global Compact on Refugees must become a game-changer for the millions of refugee children who need the world to rally round to ensure their rights are fulfilled.


Over half of the world’s registered refugees of school age – some 3.5 million children – are not in school. Refugee children are five times less likely to attend school than other children. Even for those who can access education, the quality is invariably poor.

There’s no question that these children should be in school and learning. Education is every child’s basic right. A right that doesn’t diminish in times of emergency. Providing refugees with an opportunity to learn is the building block for recovery, resilience and long-term development. During a refugee child’s displacement, for safe, good-quality, inclusive education provides hope and a path for the future.

Save the Children has provided education to refugees in many countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East for decades. Refugee children and their parents tell us that education is a priority for them. They know that education makes a remarkable difference to their lives, opening doors and increasing their wellbeing.

It’s our responsibility to listen and be held accountable to those we aim to assist.

We need to do more collectively to reach more refugee boys and girls with quality learning. And we need to do it urgently.


There are promising signs that the international community does want to make progress on refugee education. In 2016 we saw the launch of the Education Cannot Wait Fund and the New York Declaration, where all UN member states committed to ‘ensure all children are receiving education within a few months of arrival, and we will prioritise budgetary provision to facilitate this, including support for host countries as required’.

This is a commitment Save the Children fought for. Now this commitment needs to become reality.

The Programme of Action is meant to set out tangible activities to deliver on the New York Declaration commitments. While the first draft of the Programme of Action provides an useful starting point, we think it needs to be more ambitious and more practical. We strongly urge States to seize this unique opportunity to agree a Programme of Action that will deliver specific results on education for refugees.


The Programme of Action needs to be stronger to meet the refugee education challenge. In particular, it must deliver on the principle of responsibility sharing.

Together with over 30 UN, civil society and philanthropic organisations, Save the Children has produced a briefing setting out recommendations under the following 3-point plan:

Inclusion of refugees in national education systems: Inclusive policies and practices are vital so that children can access and thrive in the formal system where possible, and enter and succeed in accredited non-formal education where not. Including refugees in the national education system is the most practical and sustainable way to enable displaced children to access accredited and certified learning opportunities that can be monitored for quality and can lead to future opportunities.
We recommend that refugee-hosting states:

develop national education sector plans that include provisions for refugees remove policy barriers that prevent refugee children from attending the formal education system – for example, by an inclusive and flexible registration system that allows students to enrol in school, even in the absence of documentation.

Financing education for refugees: 86% of the world’s refugees live in low- and middle-income countries whose education systems already struggle to meet the needs of the marginalised children. These countries need international support to scale up provision of local services and to provide alternative educational opportunities for refugees – so that responsibility for large movements of refugees is shared.

We recommend that:

donors provide predictable, long-term, multi-year funding to support hosting countries to deliver safe, quality learning opportunities to refugees and host communities UN agencies, multilateral institutions, States, NGOs and private sector actors develop a global costed plan for financing refugee education, based on national costing estimates in refugee hosting countries using common costing benchmarks. This would show how quality educational services can be provided to both refugee and host-community children aged 3–18 years.

Ensuring refugee children are learning: At present the quality of education available to refugee boys and girls is almost invariably poor. This is putting their development, learning and well-being at risk, while also leading to high dropout rates.

We recommend that refugee-hosting states, donor states, UN agencies, NGOs and the private sector:

improve foundational literacy and numeracy in the early grades and support holistic learner assessments increase resources for psychosocial support & social emotional learning; recognise that early learning should become standard practice in refugee responses mainstream protection into all policies and initiatives related to education, to ensure barriers that prevent the most vulnerable refugees, including girls, from accessing education are removed collect refugee education data to inform policy-making, budgeting, implementation and accountability.


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