Back to School: Educating a Generation of Refugee Children

By Pearl Joslyn, UNA-USA Campus Fellow, Northeast Region

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As the summer comes to an end, students in the U.S. and around the world are preparing to head back to school. For many refugee youth, however, the start of the school year won’t come. Only 61 percent of primary school aged children who are refugees are enrolled in primary school, compared to the worldwide average of 91 percent. Children who encounter gaps in their education often have significant difficulty catching back up, especially following long amounts of time out of school. As refugee youth grow older, these rates fall even more, with only 23 percent enrolled in secondary school, and only one percent attending university.*

Many children who are growing up in refugee camps face barriers to education, many of which stem from a lack of access to basic school supplies and facilities. For children who spend extended periods of time living in refugee camps, these barriers can add up quickly, and make education completely inaccessible. Without access to education, refugee youth face enormous difficulties adapting upon return to their home countries, or resettling in new countries.

While rates of primary school attendance among refugee children have increased, enrolment rates fall sharply among secondary school age refugees, and even more so among university age refugees, with only one percent of refugees attending university. These numbers indicate that most refugee youth face significant barriers to education, with refugee youth who do attend school often having limited access to school supplies and contending with overcrowded classes.

With the new school year come new opportunities to help refugee youth reach their full potential. By hosting an Adopt-A-Future Fundraiser, your chapter can raise money to help refugee youth gain access to education. A smaller donation of $250 covers the cost of uniforms and school supplies for 10 youth, while a large donation of $30,000 covers the cost of building a new classroom, which provides 40 or more children a safe space to learn for ten years. The Adopt-A-Future Campaign aligns closely with Sustainable Development Goal Four, which promotes access to education for all. Learn more about setting a fundraising goal here. 

As you return to campus for another semester, keep in mind the barriers many children around the world face to obtaining the education many of us take for granted. Use that momentum to plan a dinner, film screening, or other fundraising event to provide refugee youth with critical educational supplies.

*All statistics taken from: http://www.unhcr.org/left-behind/ and http://www.unausa.org/programs/adopt-a-future

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