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Investing in the Future: Education in Emergencies Cannot Wait
Thursday, July 07, 2016

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(Washington, D.C.) July 7, 2016 — When Nora was three years old, she and her family fled violence in the Darfur region of Sudan, and have been living in a refugee camp in eastern Chad ever since. She sells biscuits in the market to help support her family, and many girls like her are not in school. 

Nora’s story is not unique. In fact, Nora is one of 75 million children and adolescents age 3-18 whose education has been directly affected by natural disasters, conflict, and protracted crises. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), only 50 percent of refugees or internally displaced persons are enrolled in primary school — 25 percent in lower secondary school — and very few have access to pre-primary or tertiary education.

Jesuit Refugee Service, rooted in the Jesuit tradition of educating young people, operates education programming in more than 38 countries serving more than 141,000 refugees and displaced persons like Nora. Now 14 years old, Nora is enrolled in a school run by JRS and talks to her friends and other community members about the importance of achieving an education.

As a leader in the field of refugee education, JRS has observed that education provides stability and a sense of normalcy, and acts as a form of vital psychosocial support to children whose lives have been affected by crisis. Education also plays a critical role in preparing individuals and their communities to recover and rebuild after conflict or disaster. It is an important tool in promoting and ensuring greater peace and rehabilitation following an emergency situation.

JRS knows that individuals and families who are displaced due to conflict are often not able to return home or find permanent refuge for a number of years. In fact, UNHCR estimates that the average length of displacement for a refugee is 17 years, making education an even more important investment. New generations are born and raised as refugees and education offers a long-term solution and hope for their futures.

JRS considers education a life-saving intervention and offers a variety of education programs both in refugee camps and in non-camp settings. These include pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary education. In addition, JRS offers vocational and teacher training programs; targeted enrollment of women, girls and those with disabilities; and supports the building of new schools and distribution of school books and materials. 

On May 23 and 24, global leaders gathered in Istanbul, Turkey for the inaugural World Humanitarian Summit where a new initiative to mobilize support for education in emergencies was launched. Education Cannot Wait, a fund for education in emergencies, aims to transform the global education sector for children affected by crisis by focusing specifically on meeting their educational needs. This effort will both mobilize and coordinate support for these critical programs, which currently receive just two percent of humanitarian funding.

JRS International Director Fr. Thomas H. Smolich, S.J. participated in a panel discussion during the World Humanitarian Summit focused on innovations in developing education programs in emergency settings. He emphasized the important role that education plays in crisis contexts, saying; “Education should and needs to be holistic; it’s not just about teaching — it’s about psychosocial support, protection, food, and after school activities. The more services we can offer, the more likely we are to have success.”

In recognition of the new Education Cannot Wait fund, JRS released a report — Providing Hope, Investing in the Future: Education in Emergencies & Protracted Crises — which provides an overview of JRS education programs and recommendations for the best approaches to increasing access to a quality education for those who are forcibly displaced. 

The report also outlines the barriers faced by displaced families and children in achieving an education, as identified by JRS staff around the world. These barriers include lack of legal status, poor infrastructure and lack of materials, change in language or curriculum, discrimination, significant learning gaps and dealing with the effects of trauma. 

To address these barriers, JRS education programs feature several key strategies, including:

• Parental involvement through regular parent-teacher meetings, information sessions and individual meetings between social workers and parents whose children are having challenges at school.
• A holistic approach that support students’ nutritional, transportation, hygiene and health needs in order for them to benefit from a quality education.
• Complementary programs for parents and families including psychosocial support and education centers that also act as community hubs for families to interact with each other.
• Teacher training provided regularly both for current and new teachers, focused on participatory methods and new learning approaches.
• Language skills and remedial education to ensure that children are able to catch-up and integrate into formal education programs.
• Youth programming focused on life skills and leadership to promote social cohesion, tolerance and building resilience.

For children in crisis situations, education is an absolute necessity. Neglecting refugees’ right to education ñ and the protection it affords ñ undermines not only their future, but also the future of their societies. Lack of education leaves children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, including recruitment into armed groups, child labor, and early marriage. 

Children who are not formally educated are more likely to feel marginalized and hopeless, making them vulnerable targets for radicalization. For example, JRS staff in Chad often witness instances where young, vulnerable refugees are targeted by paramilitary groups in Darfur looking to recruit members to fight on their behalf, back in Sudan.

In many regions where JRS operates, children are not in school or have dropped out due to the burden of domestic work, including collecting water, firewood, cooking, housekeeping and taking care of children. Others are asked to contribute to their family’s livelihood by helping with the grazing of animals or working in food kiosks or by delivering water to homes, as reported in the North Darfur region of Sudan. In a number of countries where JRS operates programming, staff have witnessed students leaving their studies because they are forced to work informally and, in some cases, submit to exploitative labor conditions in order to survive. 

JRS places a special emphasis on encouraging families to send their daughters to school, although early marriage is both a cause and consequence of limited educational opportunities. In some cases, cultural norms dictate that girls are pulled out of school so that they can be married. In other cases, families that are unable to send their daughters to school may see marriage as the only way to ensure that they are provided for.

In Mai Aini camp in northern Ethiopia, JRS staff witness many young Eritrean refugees leaving out of desperation upon realizing that they have limited education and work opportunities. They put their trust into the hands of smugglers and often endure torture in the desert, death in the Mediterranean or become embroiled in complicated European asylum processes or held in detention centers.

The cost of denying children and youth access to an education is too high. We must take action to identify a path forward, and find a solution to the current challenges that are before us. We can’t let education be a casualty of conflict and crisis. 

Past investments in educational progress are in jeopardy as we face a record number of long-standing conflicts and resulting global displacement. At this important time, JRS calls on donors, governments and the humanitarian and development communities to take action. Access to education must be prioritized in all stages of humanitarian response with a focus on effective transitions to long-term sustainable solutions, in particular for protracted crises.

JRS advocates for the basic right to emergency and long-term educational opportunities and urges better access to formal, informal and skill-building and vocational training programs for refugee children, youth and adults.

To improve the quality of, and access to, education in emergencies and protracted crises, JRS recommends:

• Prioritization of access to education in all stages of humanitarian response and through development initiatives. 
• Adequate and sustainable funding for the education of all refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, both in emergency and protracted crisis settings.
• Better coordination of education programs between host countries and humanitarian agencies and alignment of programs with country plans and systems.
• Effective transition from humanitarian response programming to long-term education development, through coordinated planning between humanitarian and development actors. 
• Improved quality of education for the displaced, with a focus on special needs and equal access across genders and the prioritization of language training, long-term livelihoods development, and the use of technology.
• Integration of refugees into host communities, as appropriate, including integration of children into local school systems, access to employment opportunities and equitable compensation for the displaced.
• Assurance that schools remain safe and secure places free from armed groups, forced military conscription, sexual violence, and discrimination.
• Academic institutions accept international certificates, diplomas and degrees and explore the possibility of mainstreaming the accreditation process across countries and school systems.
• A diverse group of partners mobilize support for education in emergencies and protracted crises and support new efforts — including the Education Cannot Wait fund — to address this critical issue.

JRS remains committed to ensuring that all displaced persons have access to an education, and will continue to work with governments and partners throughout the world to deliver a quality education to those who are most in need. Join us in this effort, to ensure that no child is forgotten.

To read the new JRS report Providing Hope, Investing in the Future: Education in Emergencies & Protracted Crises, please click here

To send a letter to your policymaker urging continued U.S. support for refugee education programs, please click here

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