Looking for reading matter for your Thanksgiving travels? Sarah Dryden-Peterson's new study, Refugee Education: A Global Review, published by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees,takes on the immense and oft-overlooked problems in educating refugees. I offer a brief summary here, but the full report is well worth a read.
The report presents three approaches to the field of refugee education: humanitarian, prioritizing rapid response to emergencies; human rights, promoting the right to high quality education in any situation; and developmental, recognizing the importance of education as a long-term investment in societal advancement. Unfortunately, UNHCR's current programs focus on the first with insufficient regard to the second two methods.
This emphasis causes numerous problems in achieving quality education for refugees; the study focuses on seven. Relying on shocking statistics and case studies, the report makes the case for a total re-evaluation of UNHCR's approach to refugee education.
The problems with the current approach are numerous. Access to education is extremely limited. Globally, secondary school enrollment is just 36%. Access is often gendered; for example, in East Africa and the Horn of Africa, only five girls are enrolled in school for every ten boys.
Education is generally of extremely low quality. In some cases, the teacher-pupil ratio is as low as 1:70, and teachers have not undergone even the minimum of ten days of teacher training. In some schools, teachers rely heavily on corporal punishment and are verbally abusive towards students. In other schools, there are few female teachers, creating a less secure environment for girls.
UNHCR, to date, has simply failed to put sufficient emphasis on education, which receives only 2% of humanitarian aid. The focus has been on schools as spaces to identify protection issues, not on sites of learning.
What's the road forward? Drysden-Peterson offers some thoughtful solutions to the existing challenges. In broad strokes, these include the suggestion that UNHCR provide secondary education for all refugees, emphasizing access for girls and other marginalized groups. UNHCR should also invest in teacher training as well as in developing standards and indicators that measure teacher quality by focusing on pedagogy and student learning outcomes. Education specialists must offer guidance to teachers to understand and address the impact of conflict on children's experience in the classroom. Perhaps most importantly, the current lack of expertise in refugee education must be addressed to ensure the productive use of existing and additional financial resources.