The current refugee crisis has dominated the news for the past couple of years accompanied by images of destruction and displacement. While skimming yet another news article reporting on the clearing of a large refugee camp, known as “The Jungle”, in Calais, France, I noticed the photo of the family at the top of the page (If you’ve never heard of The Jungle in Calais see the link below, it’ll open your eyes to the scope of what I’m talking about). In the photo were several children. While the broad issue of the crisis is regularly debated and discussed, rarely are the details of the lives of these people, particularly the children, brought to the fore. Where have all of the children in this “Jungle” and other refugee camps like it been going to school? Is it the responsibility of host nations to educate the children of refugees?
It’s something that I had never thought seriously about before, and nor had many people that I’ve spoken with on the topic. According to a report published by the United Nations refugee agency this year, more than six million children under the U.N. agency’s mandate have no access to formal education. The report also notes that refugees are more likely to be out of school, five times more likely than the global average. In light of the current refugee crises around the world, such as the one emanating from Syria, it is easy to forget that an entire generation of a nation’s children are missing out on the opportunity and necessity of basic education. To better grasp the scope of this issue, imagine if Canada closed its schools for 20 years. The impact that this would have on society would be immeasurable, with a generation of citizens who lack the benefits and accompanying abilities provided by a basic education to contribute to society. It is important to remember that many of these children will one day return home to rebuild their communities, and going back without having had access to education will undoubtedly impact their ability to be successful in such a massive undertaking. These children will be heavily involved in rejuvenating and rebuilding their nation’s education and medical systems, governments, social programs, and economy. How will their lack of formal education affect their ability to carry out these monumental tasks? Even if they never return to their homeland they will still face an enormous challenge integrating into a new community without the benefit of a formal education.
The previously mentioned report does acknowledge that there has been some progress made by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees and its partner groups by increasing the number of refugees attending school, but this progress has been severely overshadowed by the exacerbation of refugee crises around the world. In many places where these issues need to be addressed there is already a struggle by local governments to provide education. Issues like language barriers, lack of qualified instructors and educational materials bog down efforts to make real progress in continuing the education of children who have been forced to leave their homes and flee to neighbouring countries.
One solution comes in the form of nations, like Canada, accepting refugees and providing them with public education while they are here, but the challenge doesn’t end there. The diverse experiences and educational backgrounds (or lack thereof) means that settling into a foreign school can be a challenge. According to an article in the Toronto Star last year, when children arrive at school, some are attending classes for the first time. This academic challenge is often accompanied by a language barrier, some form of culture-shock, and sometimes unresolved psychological issues. It isn’t hard to imagine how growing up in a violent environment for much of one’s childhood might affect the ability of a child to begin attending a public school in a foreign country where such violence is not commonplace, nor is it difficult to see how challenging it might be to focus on school work while fitting in socially in a new country.
The education of refugee children is but one part of the larger and unfathomably complex issue of the so-called refugee crisis, but education for these children might prove to be the most important part of any solution. It’s easy to take a big-picture look at this crisis and think of big-picture solutions, but if an entire generation is to be saved from a lack of basic education, the smaller details must be considered more closely.
For information on local initiatives, the Peterborough New Canadians Centre website has a variety of resources and information. For more information on the United Nations’ work or to read the report referenced in this article visit the UNHCR website. Offering children the opportunity for an education during this time of crisis would, in my opinion, be a huge boon to a suffering community, but this undertaking is by no means a small one. With all of the above considered, the question remains: Is it the responsibility of host nations like Canada or France or Turkey to educate refugee children?
Toronto Star - Schools Helping Syrian Children
New Canadians Centre Peterborough
Migrant Life in Calais
About Devin Hock (KWIC Blog Contributor)
Originally from Caledonia, Ontario, Devin is a recent graduate of Trent University's Environmental Science program. Devin's interests concern global and local environmental law and policy and how these subjects are conveyed and understood by the public. He is an avid whitewater canoeist and camper.