Experts highlight education as a durable solution for internally displaced children, but lost opportunity for action
A new report launched last week by the High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement recognises education as a key pillar for durable solutions. The report highlights the need for investment in public education infrastructure, support for teachers, and targeted assistance for displaced children and youth. Yet with 30 million children and youth internally displaced worldwide, this report was a missed opportunity to focus one of the report's 10 recommendations for member states and donors on education.
In 2019, the UN Secretary General established the High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement to identify concrete recommendations on how to better prevent, respond to, and achieve solutions to the global internal displacement crisis. Despite challenging circumstances due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Panel made a constant effort to engage with internally displaced people and with civil society. We are grateful for this inclusive process and for the availability of the panel to engage with us on several occasions.
Putting forward the demands of internally displaced children and young people
Throughout 2021, INEE and Save the Children have worked together to listen to internally displaced children, young people, teachers and local organisations working with IDPs and to provide opportunities for best practices and their demands on education to be put forward to the Panel. We held five roundtables in different languages, published an INEE report synthesising the findings from the roundtables, a Save the Children report with five country case studies, and held a public webinar and a private discussion with some of the panelists.
What we heard was that safe, quality and inclusive education is a major priority for internally displaced children and young people.
So what does the Panel say on education?
The Panel calls for ‘crucial shifts that would see the world seize and address the internal displacement issue decisively. These shifts are centred above all on durable solutions.’ Durable solutions refers to the ability of IDPs to reintegrate into society and find a point where they no longer have needs associated with being displaced.
Five core areas to enable solutions were identified, with education being one of them. We strongly welcome this approach as education is consistently demonstrated as a building block for recovery, resilience, and prosperity. The report rightly outlines how inclusion in the national education system is the most effective and sustainable way to provide internally displaced children with access to quality education in the long-term - recognising that displacement can be over a long period or even a permanent displacement from the place of origin.
Yet accessing the national education system can be a huge challenge. Ongoing insecurity can threaten children, young people, and teachers on the way to, at, and from school. Schools may be destroyed or occupied by armed forces or IDPs themselves. Children and young people may have lost their education documents when they fled, may be faced with the costs of paying for education, lost long periods of schooling, and be confronted with language barriers. This is on top of discimination they may encounter from the local community and mental health needs they may have.
Lost opportunity for strong recommendations on education
It is therefore disappointing that with the wealth of consultations held with the Panel and with the wishes of the IDP children, young people, and teachers they spoke with, that there is not a dedicated recommendation on education.
We welcome the priority given to the protection needs of IDPs, but we expected there to be similar recognition to the role of education. Education does indeed protect internally displaced children, as well providing academic and social emotional learning opportunities. Without access to safe, quality inclusive education, children and young people are at greater risk of harm, including child labour, exploitation, and abuse. And as the report notes, without access to education they may be “more vulnerable to recruitment by gangs or armed groups, radicalisation, trafficking and negative coping strategies”.
We look forward to finding out more about the Panel’s recommendation for a Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Solutions to Internal Displacement to provide ongoing engagement with States on solutions. The mandate of this representative must include monitoring progress on education for internally displaced children and young people, as well as advocating towards member states to provide safe, quality, inclusive education for IDPs.
A Global Fund on Internal Displacement Solutions to provide financial and technical support to national solutions plans and strategies has been recommended by the panel. While this may mobilize increased resources in the medium to long term, the needs of refugee children and young people are more immediate. An increase in funding for education in emergencies and protracted crises is urgently needed, considering the huge needs. While the report provides little detail on the mandate of this proposed fund, we recommend that international funding for education should continue to flow through existing mechanisms - bilaterally and multi-laterally. These multilateral funds include Education Cannot Wait, which acts in emergencies and across the humanitarian development nexus, and the Global Partnership for Education which funds the development and implementation of national education sector plans (which should include internally displaced children).
Quality learning helps to tackle the drivers of forced displacement. It is also the key which unlocks the future potential and wellbeing of IDPs. The rights of internally displaced children and youth to be included within national education systems must be upheld and well-funded. The commitments that governments and the international community made as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement must be prioritised.
We thank the Panel, Expert Advisory Panel, and Secretariat for consulting with children, young people, teachers, and civil society, and for their work on the final report. We welcome the attention the UN Secretary General is giving this issue, and we look forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure every child, even in an emergency, gets a good education.