Sahar lives in a refugee camp in the Saadnayel informal settlement in Lebanon. Her parents recently fled the war in Syria, and despite continuous fighting in the camp and not enough to eat, she goes to school every day – it makes her happy and she gets to make new friends. Sahar believes that education will open the doors for a bright future for her, and this gives rise to a critical question: are we as a community doing to deliver on our promises of universal human rights and citizenship rights? The Syrian refugee crisis is one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time, birthed war and geopolitical crisis. Spanning the six years since the start of the war in 2011, to September 2017, 23 million inhabitants, or half of Syria’s population, have been displaced. This mass displacement has affected the demographics of the refugee-accepting countries. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have witnessed an increase in population by 25%, 18% and 10% respectively since the start of war.
This influx has affected public service sectors and has stirred tensions in countries where development and stability are a challenge. Schools and hospitals are severely overcrowded, rents have spiked in downtrodden areas, and a downward spiral in wages and increased unemployment have affected the economy. Government services have been overburdened in terms of funding and resources for education and health. While refugees want to return to their country, a peaceful resolution for this war seems like a distant dream. Even if in the future there is an option of political settlement in Syria, most of the Syrian refugees will not go home for many years because of residual societal tensions, an ill-equipped economy and destruction in infrastructure (Jenkins 2014). Historically, it has been observed that these situations are not resolved quickly and it takes an average of 17 years for refugees to return to their homes.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that less than 40 percent of Syrian Refugees are enrolled in some form of formal education. The long term threat lies in the future of Syrian and host country societies. The future of Syria depends upon the children, there is a lost generation that is being created as the stability of the region will depend on the amount of education they gain to be ‘resilient under the circumstances’ and the capability to provide for themselves and their families. Looking at data in terms of education, strained infrastructure and political risks, there is a need to alleviate the situation with innovation in education, evidence-based decision making, improved effectiveness and knowledge sharing. We need to focus on four problem areas in order to develop a cohesive educational policy for Syrian Refugees. The Rand Corporation believes that these four policy questions need to be addressed in order to improve the educational practices in these regions.
- Access: How can refugee children access education?
- Management: How will refugee education be planned, managed and resourced?
- Society: How can refugee education promote a stable and prosperous society? How can plans for refugee education be managed within sensitive political constraints?
- Quality: How can quality of education for both refugee and host country citizens be promoted in such difficulties?
Access to Education
More than 900,000 Syrian refugees are not attending any sort of formal education due to lack of space and curriculum, prevalence of child labor, and inadequate funds. Different organizations such as UNICEF have built new schools for children, increased space in schools and reduced school timings. However, these factors aren’t enough to increase accessibility of education. Here are some policy measures we can look at when addressing access:
- Developing a coordinated strategy to address access for out-of-school children: A significant amount of planning is required in improving access for more than 900,000 Syrian refugees who are out of school.
- Strategic use of available school spaces: GIS mapping of refugees in terms of schools, combined with a transport plan, can help us to make more efficient use of space.
- Certification in terms of full-time quality formal education: Developing quality formal programs with a monitoring framework at a large scale will give children who have missed several years of education an opportunity to get certified. This would require funding by the government, UN agencies, the business community and other entities.
- Innovative school financing and building plan: One needs to develop a school building strategy which should include both long term and short term scenarios with building additional schools and financial commitments by global and regional partners.
Managerial Training in Education
For a sustainable school system, there is a need to formulate policy in teacher training, monitoring, increasing oversight and a mechanism where policy can be implemented. Education for a large number of refugees is a daunting and very complex task which requires key measures that will last long term. one also has to take into account evaluation indicators such as grades and class average in subjects as evidence in order to base decisions.
- Increase priority for the support of formal education: As funding becomes limited with further decline in the long run, one needs to establish long term commitments for donors who support some sort of formal education. As of now there are programs which are short term supportive programs.
- Create a pool of data and information in terms of refugee education: Information is always critical in decision making in support of planning which is lacking in the current situation. Collection of data by asking key questions and creating a set of measures/indicators will help to give certain level of foresight which is necessary in order to develop key measures in educational planning.
- Use of information technology: Innovative technology and the internet can be leveraged to increase efficiency and effectiveness in refugee education.
Societal and Political Factors
There are certain socio-political barriers that refugees face that must be addressed, such as certifications, labor market, child labor, early marriage, and the health and psychosocial needs of children and teachers.
- There is a need to develop curriculum standards and certified exams at the regional level to prepare Syrian students for two scenarios: either their repatriation, or their integration into their host country.
- Employment of Syrians will help mitigate the detrimental effects on labor markets in host countries, and also help Syrians to support their families. Currently, Syrians have a lack of skills to work and support their families, which drives down the wage rate of the host country, and gives rise to refugee child labor and early marriage leading to a drop in school attendance. Evidence-based policy making in terms of employment could improve economic conditions in the host country, and enable refugees to contribute to public services through taxes.
- Structured programs are required to be developed at the national level which can prepare schools and teachers to address the psychosocial needs of refugee children.
Quality Factors in Education
Host countries, UN agencies, humanitarian organizations, NGOs and the refugee community are working tremendously hard in order to provide education to children. Accommodating the needs of refugee children in education poses challenges in terms of quality, as there are strained resources with an overworked public school system.
- In order to have more school spaces, host countries need to create second shifts for Syrian nationals in public schools. Studies have suggested that student performance is not affected by this, provided there is adequate time in terms of instruction, and that time is managed well.
- We need to create a support system for educators through training from experienced teachers, and additional training to mentor students who have gone through trauma or require help with multiple skills. Hiring Syrian teaching assistants into classrooms can help the two communities integrate into one system.
- Interviews by educators have given impressions that the presence of Syrian refugees have deprecated the quality of education in their own population. Keeping a focused attention towards the educational needs of the host country should be prioritized and addressed.
This Syrian refugee crisis has created an education crisis, that of a lost generation of children without education across multiple countries in Middle East. This problem requires global responsibility and a collective solution, not merely limited to host countries, international donors as they have responsibility to sustain the educational system in a financial way and other support to refugees in host countries. At the end of the day we want those 900,000 refugees to gain a formal education and develop approaches to create sustainable solutions which will enable these refugees to pursue education, help governments cope and create a social and political balance. After all we want kids like Sahar to achieve education and dream of a bright future just like any 8 year old.
Culbertson, Shelly, and Constant, Louay. Education of Syrian Refugee Children : Managing the Crisis in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Santa Monica, US: RAND, 2015. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 3 June 2017.
Jenkins, Brian Michael, The Dynamics of Syria’s Civil War , Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, PE-115-RC, 2014, pp. 3– 4. As of September 1, 2014: http://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE115.html
About the Author
Sohom is a University of Iowa graduate who has studied Economics. He is currently working with TranswebGlobal and overseeing different projects catered in the education space. A Transitions Labs alumni, well versed with all the programs. Beyond his academics, he works with professors, and in an engaged student. He volunteer in mentoring programs for international students in Iowa, where he collaborates with Iowa Dept. of education, School board, Not for Profits.