Education is the only treasure that can’t be taken away from you. It is a powerful tool that can shape nations and society and bring about progress. The only catch is that education can be quite expensive. Not everyone can afford to pay for high tuition fees when they can barely afford to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Public schools also don’t always have the funding it needs to support additional students, especially foreign ones. Meanwhile, the elite and the wealthy can afford to study abroad and indulge all of life’s luxuries and study as many courses as they like.
It’s doubly harder to get an education if you are a refugee. First off, you are a person without a home or a nation. You are either driven out of your homeland because of wars and conflicts or even famine and natural disasters. Refugees have to stay in temporary shelters until a country welcomes them or a relocation housing is provided. But that does not mean that young kids should stop from learning. These children are already deprived of a lot of things that not finding a way to educate them is doing more damage to their already delicate situation.
From Fawaz’s home in a makeshift refugee camp just across the border from Syria, where he lives with his now-displaced family, one danger has been traded for another. “There are no schools. There is no education. My children have no toys. They play only with mud,” he says. “Our life was better in Syria.”
The children’s mother, Muna, shudders as she tells of encounters with snakes, rats, and mosquitoes. “We left Syria because of war,” she says. “Our family lost everything, but I am most upset because my children have lost their future.”
Fawaz and Muna’s story is not unique. Their pain is shared by almost every refugee family that once called Syria home – families that take to the seas and deserts in search of opportunity in the form of an education for their children.
Today, about one million Syrian refugee children are out of school. Most of those who are in school will drop out before starting secondary education. In the space of a single primary-school generation, Syria has suffered what may be the greatest education reversal in history. A generation has been lost.
Refugees often don’t have anything with them in their haste to save their lives from certain harm. However, these conflicts can drag on for years. Society can’t allow these young children to stay uneducated for an indefinite length of time too. They need to get educated for them to be able to change their situation and keep up with the progress around them.
In the United Kingdom – the world’s fifth richest economy – vulnerable children are being denied education. Asylum seekers and refugee children are struggling to access education – and unable to attend school or college. This contravenes rights to equal educational access in accordance with international human rights law.
I’m currently working on research projects about child refugees, one of which compares experiences of children in the UK with those arriving in Sweden – and I am concerned the UK education system is not currently fit for purpose or able to provide adequate schooling for every child.
The fact of the matter is that refugee children should be resettled in the UK. It is quite simply the right thing to do for obvious humanitarian reasons.
However, not all refugees receive the help that they oh so desperately need. It is already a struggle trying to find a home where they can feel safe from harm and receive clean food and water. Getting young kids educated is like pushing the limit. First off, the language barrier is a big hurdle that kids need to overcome if they want any learning to happen at all. That in itself is a big problem already, both for the young refugee and the school. Until today, educating them is a work in progress. Not all refugees are lucky to have a strong support system that will go out of their way to value the kid’s education. What is more important now is to understand the need for these kids to get an education despite their situation and hopefully empower them to be better people someday.