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“The best antidote for lost opportunities”
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“The best antidote for lost opportunities”

Education is both a right and a critical opportunity, writes Christine Shahbenderian, 25, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Nicosia in Cyprus, who argues it is also an essential but overlooked need for migrant children.

Education constitutes among the most powerful tools that can provide children on the move with the right skills to achieve personal fulfillment, impart the values, culture and language of host societies, and promote intercultural dialogue which is the getaway to employment and social inclusion.

“How can children become the workers and leaders of their countries someday if they have not had the education and support they need to reach their full potential?” asked UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake.

Perhaps a statement which serves as the best answer comes from a strikingly effective defender of neglected and exploited groups around the world, international human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney, who poignantly says “my own family left Lebanon when there was a war there, and I couldn’t have done any of the work I have done without having been able to have an education”.

Yet today, only half of primary school-aged refugee children are enrolled in school. Secondary school enrolment of refugee children is less than 25 per cent.

Around the world today, there is a growing movement made up of 50 million children on the move. More than half of them have been forcibly displaced by conflict. Some are escaping violence and persecution. Others are searching for a way out of crushing poverty or the intensifying impact of climate change. All are vulnerable to the dangers of the journey itself, to hunger, disease, to xenophobia, discrimination and violence. But a vulnerability which is not as visible and yet holds the greatest share of danger is the gaping absence of opportunity.

Millions of young migrants and refugees are at risk; the risk of never being a productive part of society. We must do all that we can to help these young members of our societies get the best start in life.

What we can do? The answer is clear –  invest in their education. Only formal education can eradicate this risk because it has the potential to be a healing and empowering process for refugee students. The child-centered spaces of school and classroom are ideally suited to support integration into a new community and help bring normal values to the disruptive experiences of displacement.

And yet, education in emergencies is severely underfunded. Since 2010, less than two per cent of humanitarian funding has been spent on education – a gap of $8.5 billion. New global funds to secure stable funding for education in emergencies, such as Education Cannot Wait and new funding mechanisms to support it, are a step in the right direction.

Investing financially in education, as crucial as it may be in increasing the attainment of education and improving its quality, is not the only way forward. Equally critical is the formulation and improvement of already existing strategies and pedagogies which teachers use to ease the transition for refugee students in their schools. The upheaval of the journey and the instability of living arrangements in a new environment can make it difficult for a child to learn. Other formidable barriers to a child’s access to education can be xenophobia, exclusion and stigmatization, which create inhospitable or dangerous environments for seeking to join a new school system. In this way, teachers must be equipped with the knowledge and techniques in creating a healthy classroom and school environment.

Amal Clooney not only serves as a real-life example of the wonders that formal education can provide to children on the move, but importantly she represents an important segment of the work that this field needs: advocacy. Providing formal education to these children is an effort which needs focused advocates and key operators in the field of education, human rights and development that can in an effective manner, make unprecedented call on governments and actors to ensure these children do not become a lost generation.

Nobody knows better than the challenges children on the move face in accessing basic education in many host countries. Therefore, all the above measures and efforts would still paint an incomplete picture of a consolidated solution if the voices of the refugee and migrant children are not heard and included in the reform processes in the field of education. The key role of young people in building an open and inclusive society and the importance of involving them in policy-shaping processes should be constantly highlighted and echoed in every room where decisions are being taken.

Concrete initiatives are still long overdue and direly needed at a global scale to provide real and substantial platforms for the children on the move. They must be able to engage in a dialogue with stakeholders about issues of integration and education – topics which our own future depend on.

photo credit: Brainbitch Rohingya people via photopin (license)
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 About me: I am currently working at the “Hope For Children” CRC Policy Center in Nicosia, Cyprus. Working for an international humanitarian institution that works for the protection and promotion of children’s rights has been a hugely rewarding and educative experience.

Ever since I remember, I have been passionate about history, migration, humanitarian diplomacy and international development. I try to blend these interests and apply my knowledge in promoting effective democratic governance and civic engagement, as well in assisting with projects concerning community empowerment, human rights and peace-building in my homeland, Cyprus.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response.
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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