Don’t let COVID-19 stop progress on education for refugees

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

This article is part of a collection of blog posts related to the education in emergencies response to COVID-19.

 INEE aims to fulfill the pledges it made at the Global Refugee Forum in order to enable the right to education for all forcibly displaced and host community children and youth.

"'World Refugee Day is an important annual milestone to stand in solidarity with the 29.6 million people who have fled across international borders in search of safety. Half of all refugees are under the age of 18. 

In times of crisis, education can play a life-saving and life-sustaining role. Yet refugee children and youth are five times less likely to attend school than other children in the countries to which they have moved. However, there has been some incremental progress in primary and secondary enrolment figures in recent years, and commitments made by governments, donors, and practitioners to build upon this progress in order to achieve global goals for ALL children. 

The COVID-19 pandemic compounds the problem of refugee education. But with the right commitments and approaches, the global community can ensure progress continues.

Marking six months since the Global Refugee Forum

This year’s World Refugee Day marks six months since the first ever Global Refugee Forum (GRF), the largest-ever gathering on refugee matters, which led to an historic set of commitments and pledges in support of the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees. This global agreement seeks to deliver more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing, recognising that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation.

As one of six main areas of focus at the GRF, education ‘stole the show’ with the most spotlight sessions. By the end of April 2020, 204 pledges relating to education were received (over 175 of these were pledged specifically under education, with 30+ education related pledges submitted under multiple categories). These are aligned with the Global Framework on Refugee Education and cover the full spectrum of learning, from early childhood development, to tertiary education, to support for refugee teachers to scaling innovations in EdTech. 

UNHCR’s new outcome document of the GRF, the accompanying Pledge and Contributions dashboard, and this specific education pledge dashboard (collated from the main dashboard in June 2020) sets out some analysis on the pledges made. This analysis highlights that:

  • A quarter of the financial pledges were for education.
  • The majority of pledges were made by States (80 pledges), followed by NGOs (70 pledges), Academic institutions (24 pledges), the Private sector (14 pledges), and international organizations (10 pledges). 
  • Low- and middle-income states made the most pledges, including pledges from three of the top five largest refugee hosting countries (Turkey, Uganda, and Sudan), with pledges from high-income states mainly from Europe. 
  • While 59% of all education pledges were submitted by either global actors (31%), or actors from Europe (28%), Africa and the Americas represented the next highest regions with 16% and 12% from these regions respectively. Recipients of pledges included Africa (60), MENA (37) and Europe (37) who received the most pledges, closely followed by global pledges (34).

Deeper analysis of these pledges on education is essential to understand the trends and gaps in response against the learning needs of refugees in different countries. This needs to be disaggregated by age, gender, disability and ethnicity. Specific gaps in data related to children with disabilities and those in secondary education require additional in-depth analysis. Such analysis would enable the education community to understand where greater efforts are needed to support particular groups with a relevant response. 

We must ensure that despite new challenges, no refugee child or youth is left behind.

The COVID-19 pandemic — impact on education for refugees

134 refugee hosting countries have reported local transmission of COVID-19. The majority of these countries have enacted school closures to prevent further spread of the virus.  

These closures will significantly impact the availability of quality education for refugee children especially as in a number of contexts host governments have already failed to prioritise or blocked access to education. The traditional delivery of learning in the classroom has been stopped and alternative methods that are equitably accessible to refugee learners are urgently required. The pandemic has impacted all countries in some way, meaning that typical donor countries need to consider their domestic education needs amongst the risk of economic recession and dwindling budgets. The COVID-19 crisis also puts the implementation of pledges made on education at the GRF at risk. 

But as we respond to the crisis, we must not forget our promises to displaced boys and girls. Refugee children and youth should be included in all government-led responses to ensure the continuity of education during the COVID-19 response. This should recognise that refugee and host communities may have limited access to technology, and that connectivity can be prohibitively expensive. Some of these issues can be overcome by using UNHCR’s Connected Education resources.

INEE’s progress towards our pledges

INEE took an active role in the preparation leading up to GRF by joining the 68 official co-sponsors and co-chairing the GRF task team on education in emergencies (EiE), one of several established to develop inputs to the above mentioned Global Framework for Refugee Education. At the GRF itself, INEE participated in a number of side events, focused on girls education, teachers in crisis contexts, and the importance of creating strong links between education and child protection in humanitarian action. INEE made four pledges at the GRF that reinforce INEE’s commitment to supporting the needs of all learners in crisis contexts, and the education rights of refugee and other displaced children and youth. Outlined below are the pledges and how we have progressed on them. They include: 

  1. Update the INEE Minimum Standards (INEE, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNHCR).
  2. Strengthen inter-agency support for inclusive and equitable quality education during displacement through global advocacy, capacity building, knowledge management, and evidence generation (INEE).
    • INEE’s working groups are planning and implementing actions in the areas of advocacy, policy, capacity building, and knowledge management, which includes highlighting the needs of refugees’ education in recent webinars, resource collections and advocacy materials as part of our response to the COVID-19 crisis. 
  3. Strengthen the quality of education sector coordination in emergencies (INEE, GEC, UNHCR).
    • INEE, the Global Education Cluster (GEC), and UNHCR pledged to work together to reinforce and strengthen the quality of education coordination in emergencies, formalizing a partnership initiated two years ago by the Education Cannot Wait fund supported Global Partners’ Project. A roadmap for its implementation is in the process of finalization, outlining detailed plans to deliver core aspects of the pledge, which include technical support for enhanced coordination, knowledge sharing, and capacity development.
  4. Establish Geneva as a global hub for EiE (INEE, Swiss government, UNICEF, GEC, ICRC, Education Cannot Wait, The Graduate Institute Geneva, University of Geneva).
    • INEE has been active in the early stages of establishing Geneva as a hub for EiE, and will support the convening of EiE actors and actions on EiE. The Geneva hub partners recently released a joint statement on the COVID-19 crisis, which calls for increased political commitment and funding for education.

With these pledges INEE aims to bring positive change in funding, programming, and policy to enable the right to free, quality, safe, inclusive, and gender-responsive education for all forcibly displaced and host community children and youth. While the timeline of these pledges spans the four-year timeframe set by the GRF, work is already underway.  

We call for continued action to ensure that pledges made at the GRF are fulfilled and that the learning needs of refugees are not forgotten during the COVID-19 pandemic.