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Story | Research
22 November 2019

Education and refugees: building bridges, not walls


At the WISE Summit 2019, experts have focused on how to protect the rights of migrants and displaced people to education

The crisis facing the provision of access to education for migrants and displaced people, and its impact on the education landscape of the Arab region, have been placed in focus on the closing day of the WISE Summit 2019.

The findings of the Global Education Monitoring Report, 2019 issued by UNESCO, were presented at the biennial global education summit during a session organized by the Education Above All Foundation, titled Migration, Displacement and Education: Building bridges not Walls.

Speakers at this session highlighted how humanitarian conflicts and crises in Sudan, Yemen, and Syria have slowed the process of education in these countries and limited opportunities for future generations, as well as the challenges of ensuring the provision of quality education in countries where refugees are settling on their borders.

“Education should be an essential element in improving the lives of refugees, and schools are the main place to provide education services for those people,” said Manos Antoninis, Director of the Global Monitoring Report, who was among the keynote speakers at the session.

“In many cases, refugees cannot make it to these services due to many challenges, which can be summarized in seven challenges, for which the report has recommended seven solutions.

“We must start by protecting the rights of migrants and displaced people to education; integrating them into national learning systems; understanding and planning the educational needs of migrants and displaced people; and include and carefully present the history of immigration in teaching materials, in order to face and correct biased ideas and concepts.

“The fifth solution essentially lies in preparing the teachers of immigrants and refugees to enable them to deal with change, address the obstacles they face, utilize their energies and potentials, and fulfil their educational needs within the framework of humanitarian and development aid.”

Saad Ibrahim Abdulrahim, the Director General of Vocational Education at the Ministry of Education in Iraq said: “One of the main challenges that faces those who have been forced to leave their homes is that they do not have any documentation or papers, so we must agree on special legal arrangements for accepting them into schools in the areas they move to”.

“It is also important to maintain the bare minimum of high-quality education, because providing school premises on its own is not enough, and it is crucial to have efficient human resources in the form of faculty members. Our main concern is that education does not wait for refugees and displaced people, and many of them see years of their lives being wasted without education.”

UNHCR Regional Representative Khaled Khalifa highlighted the importance of cooperating with governments to implement policies that ensure the necessary legal framework is in place to integrate migrants and displaced people into the national education system of each country.

“There are more than 71 million people without education, including more than 54 percent of school-age children,” he said. “We have policies and laws that support this group of people, but we face obstacles in the operational processes, and we are trying to work more with governments in order to limit it.

"The reality of this situation in the Arab world is sad because, due to political reasons, there is a lack of collaboration between various entities to make things better in reality. In fact, there is no unified Arab strategy to resolve this crisis.”

During a discussion about migration to the Gulf region by those who are not classed as refugees, from decades ago to the present day, Zahra Babar, Associate Director for Research at the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar – a Qatar Foundation partner university – said that Arab migrants have significantly contributed to the building of the Gulf region’s education system, providing teachers and educators as well as supporting the construction of education facilities.

“Over the past four decades, the need to build an educational system that offers diverse educational options for young people has increased,” she continued.

“Arab immigrants were forced to bring their families from their home countries to the Gulf region, especially from countries experiencing instability, conflict and violence. The Arab migrant community in the Gulf region has become large, with two or three generations being born there.

“This is why we should distinguish between asylum and forced migration for social and economic reasons, rather than political or security reasons".

The educational crisis in Syria was also identified as a key priority and challenge, with Farida Aboudan, an educational specialist from the Education Above All Foundation’s Educate a Child program, saying: “It is a major crisis not only for Syrian society, but in host countries whose educational institutions are not considered sufficiently prepared to respond to the needs of migrants and displaced people.

“This requires more work on educational systems, and the collection of data to expand educational approaches and enhance their flexibility. It is also necessary to establish programs to accelerate development, so that children can return to school, building bridges in a concrete manner.”

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