Education is not a privilege that must be earned but an inalienable right. Globally, the prospect of education for refugee children is bleak. Overall, ninety-one percent of children are in primary school, but only sixty-one percent of refugee children attend primary school. The discrepancy in these numbers increases as the refugee children get older. While, eighty-four percent of adolescents attend secondary school, only twenty-three percent of refugee children do. Unfortunately, only one percent of refugees enroll in tertiary education, whereas the global rate is thirty-six percent. These figures demonstrate that refugee children are at a much greater disadvantage globally when it comes to fulfilling their right to education. This is in large due to a dire need for increased international aid to support Syria and host countries in providing education to refugee children.
At the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London, in February 2016, countries all over the world recognized the need for international aid to help the Syrian refugee crisis, and to guarantee refugee children’s right to education. At the conference, the six largest donors pledged US$1.4 billion for education funding in Syria and bordering countries that host large numbers of Syrian refugees. The pledged aid was intended to assist in meeting the overall goal of complete enrollment for all Syrian refugee children in school by the end of the 2016-2017 academic year. Unfortunately, due to the discrepancy in the aid received versus what was pledged, amongst other major hurdles, there were still approximately 530,000 children unenrolled in school.
The international community recognizes that education should be guaranteed for all children. This principle is part of the economic, social and cultural rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in Articles 28 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), that “Syrian refugee children have the right to free primary and generally accessible secondary education without discrimination.” The CRC also recognizes the need for State parties to do everything within their power to provide resources within the “framework of international co-operation” for children to have access to education. Syria and host countries can only provide education for every child with help from the international community. Education is especially necessary for refugee children, since it could be the only constant in a refugee child’s chaotic life plagued by upheaval, destruction, and violence.
The Human Rights Watch report, Following the Money: Lack of Transparency in Donor Funding for Syrian Refugee Children, released in September 2017, details the main issues with the money pledged versus what was received. The report identified the main problems to be a lack of consistent, detailed, and timely reports; a lack of information about the specific projects being funded by the donor countries; inconsistent information about school enrollment; and inconsistent education targets and goals the countries set. These main issues need to be resolved before addressing other issues affecting Syrian refugee children’s access to education including a lack of access to educational institutions, low-quality teaching, a lack of language training in the host countries, and failure to address harassment and discrimination. The most important way forward is to address the key obstacles that are truly keeping these children out of school. Understanding these obstacles would also reveal the extent to which it is the host country that is preventing these children from being educated, rather than a mere lack of international aid. Although these children face more barriers than a simply a lack of monetary support, the largest hurdle presently identified is the need for increased international aid for their education.
The overall goal of the London Conference is to provide an inclusive education, however an “inclusive education requires a long-term commitment from the international community.” There is no doubt that the international community has recognized their obligation to ensure all children have access to education; the pledges at the Supporting Syria conference demonstrate this. However, the current measures in place are not adequately addressing the major issues. If these issues are not overcome, the goal of universal education cannot be met. There was no consistency in reporting of aid to Syria and host countries, which resulted in discrepancies of millions of dollars. Those millions of dollars are paramount to enroll all Syrian refugee children in quality education, and it is a shared burden that the international community must face together. Refugee education is “an investment in the future, creating and nurturing the scientists, philosophers, and architects, poets, teacher, health care workers, and public servants who will rebuild and revitalize their countries once peace is established and they are able to return.”