Globally, more than 75 million children are out of school due to conflict and natural disasters, approximately the same number of children who are in school across the 28 countries of the European Union. This has devastating consequences. With displacement crises lasting on average 20 years, entire generations of children are missing out on an education.
In the immediate term, they face increased risk of harm, including violence, child marriage and trafficking, with girls particularly vulnerable. Their future prospects are also severely undermined, as are those of the societies and communities in which they live, in many and often irrevocable ways.
Education is not only an internationally recognised right. It can also serve peace-building and conflict resolution objectives, countering some of the underlying causes of conflict through fostering inclusion, understanding of human rights and tolerance.
Despite the urgency of the issue, education has for some time been the forgotten child of humanitarian response. In 2014, less than two per cent of global humanitarian funding was allocated to education, according to the Inter-Agency Network on Education in Emergencies.
The situation is changing, however, with donors, aid agencies and refugee hosting countries starting to prioritise education in emergencies. Initiatives such as the Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait are making concerted efforts to galvanise political will, in support of improved access to education.
Barriers to Access Higher Education for Syrian Refugees in Jordan
Nowhere is the crisis of young people affected by conflict greater than Syria, including for those outside of the country. Of the nearly five million Syrian refugees registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, more than 1.5 million are aged between 5 and 17 and around 500,000 aged between 18 - 24.
232,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan are aged between 5 and 17. Of these, just over half (125,000) are in formal education. This is testament to the concerted efforts by the Government of Jordan and donors to respond to the unprecedented education crisis, but also speaks clearly to the challenge that persists. Sadly, the pledge to get all refugee children into school is unlikely to be met, for a number of reasons, including the lack of teachers and poverty levels amongst refugee families.
Whilst often overlooked, the situation for older children and refugee youth, in Jordan as elsewhere, is even more challenging. They face multiple barriers in accessing informal and formal opportunities. Differences between Jordanian and Syrian curricula create barriers for the integration of refugee students in higher education, whilst many have fled without the paperwork required for matriculation.
To make matters worse, Syrian refugees are classified as foreign students and pay fees 2 to 3 times higher than those for Jordanian nationals. Although some scholarship programmes are available, supply is outweighed by demand, and those fortunate to secure places free of charge, are often unable to cover the costs of transportation or otherwise their families cannot afford to lose a potential breadwinner. Consequently, as of December 2016, only one in seven Syrian refugees in Jordan aged 19 – 23 were enrolled in higher education.
Urgent action is needed to improve the situation. This requires not simply additional places for refugees, but the required supporting infrastructure in the form of transportation, more flexible and reduced fee structures, and programmes that link education provision with job placement. The latter is critical, for the long-term welfare of refugees and their families, to help create an environment where immediate, day-to-day needs do not always trump longer term investments. The political will exists, nationally and internationally, as do financing opportunities. They must now be acted upon.
About the Author
Juliet Dryden is the Director of Programme at the West Asia – North Africa (WANA) Institute in Amman, Jordan. She has previously worked at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London School of Economics (LSE IDEAS), and Chatham House (RIIA) in London before working with the United Nations in Cairo, Gaza, and Jerusalem. She has over 20 years of experience in international relations.
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