The Syria conflict has given rise to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Some 4.8 million people have fled the country as refugees. Another 6.6 million are displaced in Syria.i The country’s civilian population has been subjected to widespread and systematic violations of human rights. Meeting at the London Conference on Supporting Syria and the Region in February 2016, the international community recognised that current efforts to support Syria’s displaced population and refugees in neighbouring countries were falling far short of the minimum levels required. Pledges in excess of US$12bn were announced. Those pledges have not been honoured. The gap between pledge and delivery is hurting Syria’s children.
Nowhere is the gap between pledge and delivery more damaging than in education. The international community has repeatedly undertaken to ensure there will be ‘no lost generation’ of young Syrians denied an education. Yet almost six years into the conflict, the education system in Syria is in freefall – and a generation is being lost. Minimal support is reaching the parents, teachers and community groups striving to deliver education in Syria itself. The plight of Syrian refugee children in neighbouring states, the subject of this report, remains dire. Almost 1 million of these children are out of school – and many of those in school are at risk of dropping out. These children are at immediate risk of falling into child labour, early marriage and recruitment by extremist groups. Restricted access to education is also a powerful driver of migration. Like parents across the world, Syrian parents see education as a pathway to opportunity and a better future for their children. Unsurprisingly, many refugee parents undertaking the hazardous journey to Europe cite the search for education as a major factor behind their move. The bottom line is that Syria’s refugee children have suffered enough. Having escaped the horrors of war in Syria, they should not have to sacrifice their education – and they have a right to expect the international community’s best effort.
The London Conference is in danger of following a lengthy list of summits that have promised much but delivered little. The London Conference included a pledge to ensure that all Syrian refugee children are in education by the end of the 2016/2017 school year. With a sustained effort on the part of host governments and the international community that goal is achievable. However, as the start of the 2016/2017 school year approaches, the window of opportunity is closing – and the international community has yet to act on its part of the education pact. Having recognised at the London Conference that at least US$1.4bn in additional funding is required, real financial disbursements have yet to materialise. Even the modest humanitarian appeal for education provision is heavily under-funded: as of mid-year 2016 only 39 per cent had been received. The aftermath of the London Conference has followed a wider pattern since the creation in 2013 of the No Lost Generation partnership between UN agencies, donors and the World Bank. Since then, there have been some notable advances in provision for Syrian refugee education, principally as a result of the efforts of host country governments. The record of the wider international community is at best chequered. There has been no shortage of encouraging summit communiques – but communiques do not put children in classrooms.
There is some cause for optimism over prospects for achieving education for all Syrian refugee children. Syria’s three neighbouring countries with the largest out-of-school populations have all developed ambitious but achievable strategies for expanding access and improving the quality of provision. In each case, host governments recognise that the scale of the challenge is such that it can be met only by strengthening the overall education system while addressing the distinctive problems faced by refugee children.
Implementation of host government strategies will require sustained financial support on the part of the international community and full delivery on the US$1.4bn pledge. That funding must be made available by the end of 2016 with upfront commitments provided by the start of the school year. Part of the problem with the London Conference pledge is that most donors have failed to meet even the most basic criteria for transparency, which makes it difficult to track delivery. While the headline number is large, opaque reporting systems obscure how much of the pledge represents new and additional finance, the time-period for delivery, and whether the spending will be channelled through projects or government programmes. Our best estimate is that less than US$400m has been tabled in the form of predictable, multi-year financing (of the type provided by DfID in Lebanon) for the next school year, leaving a funding gap of at least US$1bn. We stress this is a conservative estimate.
Donors must now deliver on the commitments made at the London summit, building on current initiatives. The crisis in education provision for Syrian refugees is in part a symptom of wider failures in development finance. Neighbouring countries have been hit hard by the surge in refugee flows. Economic growth has slowed and pressure on public finances has increased. There is an urgent need for grant finance to fund refugee education and for highly concessional finance to support investments in school infrastructure and the wider education system. However, because the neighbouring states are middle-income countries they are not eligible for concessional loans from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) and similar instruments operated by other institutions. Bilateral aid has also been limited. This has driven a dependence on unpredictable humanitarian aid appeals. The World Bank has now developed a Concessional Finance Facility (CFF) for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that holds out the prospect of longer-term financing for education at significant scale. The European Union is also equipped to play an expanded role in the region. However, the pool of bilateral donors in education for Syrian refugees is too small and the grant financing available is too shallow.
The crisis in education for Syrian refugees has turned the spotlight on wider failures in the international aid architecture. Governments around the world have adopted a bold new set of international development targets for 2030. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a commitment to universal secondary education. That target will be unattainable in the absence of new and additional financing for children losing out on education because of conflict and other humanitarian emergencies.
Over half of the estimated 65 million displaced people in the world are children.
From Syria to South Sudan and the Central African Republic, these children cannot access their right to education. Yet international funding and aid delivery to restore and rebuild their opportunities for learning is limited, slow-moving and based on annual appeals. The creation in 2016 of an Education Cannot Wait fund operating under the auspices of UNICEF but bringing together a wide range of agencies marked a recognition of the underlying problem. What is needed now is the funding – an estimated US$3.85bn over the next five years – to deliver results on the ground. The World Bank could also do more to respond to the development challenges posed by global displacement. With negotiations for IDA 18 replenishment (2017-2020) now underway, there is an opportunity to create a special financing mechanism for displaced people and refugees. There is a precedent for this in the IDA Crisis Response Window used to respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
This report looks at the challenges facing two countries on the front-line of the global refugee crisis – Lebanon and Turkey. Between them, these countries have some 732,000 children out of school aged 5-17. In both cases the level of need vastly outstrips the resources available. There are not enough teachers, schools or classrooms – and the education infrastructure that does exist is deteriorating. Refugee children face additional challenges in adapting to a new curriculum. Compounding these challenges, refugee poverty, insecurity and vulnerability create barriers of their own. While this report focuses on financing to deliver on the London Conference pledge, host governments also need to strengthen the reforms needed to deliver education to vulnerable refugees.
Proposals set out in this report will not solve the crisis in refugee education – but they would, if implemented, lead to fairer burden-sharing, extend hope, and create an enabling environment for delivering on the pledges made in the London Conference.
Or click to the next page for the summary recommendations:
No lost generation – holding to the promise of education for all Syrian refugees.
1. London Conference Commitments
The London Conference signalled an intent to move towards fairer burden-sharing and a higher level of ambition. It is now critical that all participants act on the commitment made. Among the immediate measures:
- All donors should report by October 2016 on the additional financial resources mobilised for Syrian refugee education in the 2016/2017 school year.
- Donors should by the start of the 2016/2017 school year have in place a coordinated strategy for delivering the US$1.4bn in additional financing needed to achieve the goal of education for all Syrian refugees.
- The immediate financing gap between the 2016 humanitarian appeal for education and delivery to date – around US$404m – represents a threat to refugee children now in school, and should be closed immediately.
- Syrian refugees are trapped in a protracted crisis which demands a system-wide response in education and other sectors. The time has therefore come to shift the balance of international support decisively away from short-term humanitarian funding and towards long-term, predictable support for host government strategies.
- Given the extensive demand side barriers to education associated with poverty and vulnerability, education strategies should encompass more generous cash transfer programmes linked, where appropriate, to attendance in school.
2. Multilateral and bilateral finance for global action
on refugee education
The refugee education crisis in Syria’s neighbouring states is the most extreme manifestation of a wider global crisis facing over 30 million refugee and displaced children around the world. The international aid system has not served these children well – and is in urgent need of reform. Building on current initiatives:
- The World Bank’s CFF mechanism for the Middle East and North Africa should be extended to other regions, with donors providing US$350 in grants earmarked for education.
- Current IDA mechanisms (including transfers from the IBRD and the IFC) should be used to expand concessional financing for education in conflict-affected middle-income countries, generating an additional US$300m in IDA resources for education.
- Given the scale of the global crisis, the IDA 18 Replenishment (2017-2020) negotiations should create a special US$2bn refugee and displacement window.
- A commitment of US$3.8bn over 5 years for the newly established ‘Education Cannot Wait’ fund.
With international support Lebanon is well-placed to deliver on the pledges made at the London Conference. Among the priorities highlighted in this report:
- Immediate action for the 2016/2017 school year to provide the US$157m needed to keep the refugee children now in school in education and to reach those out of school in the 2016/2017 school year.
- Front-loaded and increased IDA support, with US$40m made available in 2016/2017.
- A donor pledging conference to mobilise the US$350m annually in support required to implement the governments RACE II strategy.
- An increase in the flow of resources through the Government of Lebanon’s education ministry – and a rapidly phased increase in the share of support delivered in the form of multi-year funding.
- Increased support from the EU through the Madad Fund and other instruments to provide US$400m over 5 years in RACE II support.
- Support for classroom construction from the Islamic Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
- Expanded provision of early childhood, community-based and non-formal education, including through the Education Cannot Wait Fund.
Despite the trying political conditions, Syrian refugees in Turkey could be provided with opportunities for universal education if both the Government of Turkey (GoT) and the international community act decisively. Among this report’s core post-London Conference recommendations:
- The EU should demonstrate international leadership and mobilise €450m annually for three years under the EU-Turkey Action Plan.
- The World Bank should provide an additional US$400m in IDA-terms concessional finance.
- The GoT and donors should agree cost-effective strategies for expanding access to the Turkish public school system.
- Both the GoT and aid agencies should work with registered NGOs to expand support for language training, school-preparedness and non-formal education.
Host governments must also do more to expand access to education. Fairer burden-sharing on finance is a condition for getting all Syrian refugee children into school. That is why international donors have to act now on the pledges made at the London Conference. However, host country governments must also step up their efforts. Far too many Syrian refugee children are missing out on an education because of regulatory barriers, residence insecurity, language barriers, and labour market rules that deepen poverty and vulnerability. Similarly, while neighbouring country governments are demonstrating some flexibility, there is a need to make far greater use of Syrian refugee teachers.
Syria’s refugee education crisis is also an opportunity. Displaced by war, traumatised by violence, and forced out of their homes, Syria’s refugees live with a hope shared by families across the world: the hope that their children can be raised in safety, realise their potential and expand their opportunities through education. The world is used to heart-wrenching images from Syria. It is aware of the scale of displacement. Less widely recognised are the opportunities that come with the hope of education. The refugee children behind the statistics are the doctors, engineers, teachers and mechanics of tomorrow.
As the extraordinary story of Mohammed Kosha, the boy on the cover of this report demonstrates, education can flourish in the most unlikely circumstances. A refugee from Daraya given the opportunity to attend a public school, Mohammed finished second in the country in Lebanon’s Brevet exam – the test taken by all students before entering secondary school. An extraordinary accomplishment that defies the odds, it demonstrates what is possible when government action unlocks opportunity (Case Study 1). Yet for every Mohammed, there are thousands of Syrian children denied a chance to flourish through education. Instead, they are put on a track that leads to poverty, child labour, early marriage and the risk of recruitment by extremist organisations.
Faced with that threat, many Syrian refugee parents will make the same decision that any parent reading this report would. They seek to migrate to a country that offers their children the chance to go to school.
The London Conference raised the bar for ambition...
In February 2016, governments from over 60 countries gathered at the London Conference to agree an ambitious response to the Syria crisis. Pledges in excess of US$11bn were announced, including a range of multi-year commitments.1 Neighbouring countries were encouraged to adopt bold plans for responding to the worst displacement and refugee crisis since the Second World War. Unfortunately, delivery has lagged far behind the pledges. The gap between pledge and delivery constitutes a grave threat not just to refugees and displaced Syrians, but to social, political and economic stability in neighbouring countries.
Education figured prominently in the pledges made at the London summit – and for good reason. Participants adopted a declaration announcing that there would be ‘No Lost Generation’ of Syrian children, pledging to provide quality education for 1.7 million refugees and vulnerable children in host countries – and to step up support for education in Syria itself. In the case of Syrian refugee children, the commitment was to get every child into school by the end of the 2016/2017 school year. This is a daunting challenge. During the 2015/2016 school year some 916,000 Syrian refugee children aged 5-17 were estimated to be out of school. The implied enrolment rate for these children was 43 per cent (and falling). To put this figure in context, it is well below the comparable enrolment rate for sub-Saharan Africa – and this for children from a country that was nearing universal secondary schooling.
Delivering on the London Conference commitments provides an early test of donor commitment to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The international community has embraced some ambitious collective goals for 2030, including universal provision of quality education to secondary level. Within the overall framework for the Sustainable Development Goals is an injunction to ‘leave no one behind’ and to ensure that the goals are achieved for all countries and social groups, with an ‘endeavour to reach the furthest behind first’.2 The Syria crisis represents a profound challenge to these ambitions. Millions of children from a country that had achieved near universal secondary schooling are now faced with the prospect of failing to complete primary school. These children are being left behind in global education. In the space of a single primary school generation, Syria’s children have experienced what may be the greatest reversal in education in history. Any endeavour to reach the furthest behind in education has to include these children – and any assessment of SDG intent has to consider the policy response of the international community (see Box 1).
... but delivery has been disappointing
Promises on education delivered at the London Conference have yet to be delivered. Host country governments were encouraged ahead of the London Conference to draw up ambitious plans for delivering education for all refugee children. The three countries with the largest out-of-school populations – Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan – did so (Box 2). Donors at the Conference recognised that pledges of around US$1.4bn would be required to achieve the goals set.3 While donor reporting systems are insufficiently transparent to track how much has been delivered, we have been unable to find evidence of increased disbursement. In fact, even the modest UN humanitarian response appeal of US$662m was just 39 per cent funded by the end of May 2016.4 The shortfall is particularly damaging in education because it means that education ministries and partners are unable to plan for the 2016/2017 school year. Even if this gap is closed, the practice of back-loading financing to the end of the UN appeal period is counter-productive and will hold back efforts to provide quality education to refugee children.
Deeper failures in the development finance architecture
The crisis in refugee education has revealed deeper failures in the international development financing system. The refugee crisis unleashed by the Syria conflict is now in its sixth year. It has lasted so far for the equivalent of an entire primary school generation – and there is little immediate prospect of a resolution. However, the international community has responded to what is a protracted conflict imposing immense strains on the education systems of neighbouring states with short-term, unpredictable humanitarian financing generated through annual appeals. Both the unpredictability of the flows and the persistent shortfalls have hampered effective national planning by host governments – as starkly illustrated by the experience of Lebanon (see Section 1).
Insufficient grant and concessional finance has been made available. As middle- income countries, the neighbouring states bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis in education are not automatically eligible for concessional loans from the International Development Association, the World Bank’s soft-loan affiliate, or from comparable mechanisms in other institutions. Nor do they figure with any prominence in wider non-humanitarian bilateral aid flows. This has hampered the national and international response. Responding to the refugee crisis in education and other areas has increased demand on public finance, while the Syria crisis has contributed to a slowdown in growth. Neighbouring states need grant finance to meet the immediate needs of refugee children and highly concessional finance to support investment in school infrastructure, teachers and the development of an education system equipped to respond to the refugee crisis without compromising the quality of education for all children.
The World Bank has taken steps in the right direction. Recognising the shortcoming of current financing arrangements, the World Bank has established a new mechanism to provide concessional finance. The Concessional Finance Facility for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region will use a mixture of grants, risk guarantees and other instruments to provide more concessional loans.5 Established initially with US$140m in grant contributions for Jordan and Lebanon the CFF has already been used to underwrite a US$100m IDA loan for education in Lebanon (see main text). The objective is to raise US$1bn in grant contributions over the next five years for Jordan and Lebanon. Around US$300m of this should be earmarked for education – and consideration should be given to extending the facility to Turkey. There is also scope for the World Bank to apply more innovative financing to support education in countries dealing with displacement issues. Transfers from the IBRD and the International Finance Corporation accounted for around 6 per cent of IDA 17 financing, or US$3bn.6 More of these resources could be drawn upon to finance concessional loans for education provision in countries hosting Syrian refugee populations and, more broadly, to support education in conflict-affected countries.
Wider measures are needed to fix the financing architecture for responding to education emergencies. The number of people displaced by conflict and other humanitarian emergencies has reached the highest level since the Second World War. Over 65 million people were living with displacement in 2015. Over half were children.7 Most of these children are either out of school or at immediate risk of dropping out. Current international financing mechanisms are not fit for the purpose either of maintaining education during emergencies, or of restoring and rebuilding education provision and infrastructure. The financing that is available, principally through the humanitarian system, is short-term, unpredictable and woefully inadequate: in 2015 only around two per cent of humanitarian funding was allocated to education. The need to address the distinctive needs of children in conflict and overcome a deeply ingrained humanitarian divide was recognised by the UN Secretary General in a report for the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.8 One of the few concrete measures to emerge from that summit was the creation of an Education Cannot Wait (ECW) fund operating under UNICEF auspices, but providing an umbrella for a wider group of agencies.9 The current ambition is to mobilise US$3.85bn over five years in new and additional finance, with a view to rapid disbursement and delivery.10 If successful, the ECW mechanism could do for the education of children facing emergencies what the global funds in health have done – namely, mobilise private sector engagement and facilitate high impact, value-for-money interventions through effective pooling of resources. The Syria crisis provides an early testing ground for ECW’s role.
More systemic responses are also needed in the wider multilateral system. There is an urgent need to mobilise more concessional finance for all countries grappling with the challenges posed by conflict and mass displacement. Negotiations on the replenishment of IDA (IDA 18 will operate from 2017-2020) provide an opportunity. Consideration should be given to the creation of a US$2bn Displacement Crisis Response Fund open to all countries dealing with the systemic challenges posed by internal displacement and refugee flows. There is a precedent. Under IDA 16 (2011-2014), the World Bank’s shareholders agreed to establish a Crisis Response Window, which was subsequently scaled-up to deal with Ebola.11 Given the systemic nature and scale of the displacement crisis, there are compelling grounds for establishing a mechanism equipped to respond flexibly and with highly concessional finance.
Inaction also has costs
The donors who convened and attended the London Conference, and the wider international community, must act with urgency to prevent the loss of another school year. As the Syria crisis enters its sixth year, the country’s refugee children have received an impressive array of pledges and promises. The London summit was the latest in a series at which governments recognised the urgency and scale of the Syrian refugee education challenge, acknowledged the consequences of inaction, and restated the commitment to ensuring there would be ‘no lost generation’. Yet a generation is being lost – and the gap between what has been promised and what is being delivered remains as wide as ever. The 2016/2017 school year is the time to change this picture. Both the Lebanese and the Turkish governments have developed credible strategies for delivering quality education to all Syrian refugees. What is lacking is the predictable multi-year funding at requisite scale from donors. Putting in place commitment for funding in the small window still open prior to the start of the 2016/17 school year would act as the catalyst for a breakthrough. The sooner donors commit, the more ambitious the pace and scale of their contributions, the more can be achieved for children who have suffered enough, and are now threatened by child labour, child trafficking and radicalisation.
Failure to provide Syria’s refugee children with education is a prescription for poverty and a lost opportunity to build the skills that will be needed to reconstruct a post- conflict Syria. The loss of hope associated with exclusion from education will also increase the risk of disenfranchised youth falling prey to recruitment by extremist groups. Unsurprisingly, Syrian refugee parents cite the hope of education as one of the primary considerations in undertaking the dangerous journey to Europe. Over the medium-term, investing in educational opportunities for refugees is likely to prove a more effective deterrent to migration and people smuggling than razor wire on EU borders.
Building on the approaches now emerging:
While this report focusses on Lebanon and Turkey, an effective global response to the regional and global crisis in refugee education will require a revamped aid architecture.
- Around US$300m in grants should be earmarked under the World Bank’s Compensatory Finance Facility for education among refugees and displaced populations.
- Recognising the scale of the challenge posed by the numbers of children displaced and living as refugees, the 18th IDA Replenishment should include a US$2bn facility for supporting the provision of opportunities in key areas, including education.
- Having established the Education Cannot Wait fund, donors should move rapidly towards funding of US$3.85bn over five years to support education delivery in emergencies.
The Syria crisis has left a profound mark on Lebanon. With over a million registered Syrian refugees (and up to 1.5 million including those who remain unregistered), the country has the world’s highest per capita refugee population. Figure 1 provides some sense of the dramatic increase in Lebanon’s population of Syrian refugees since 2011. Because there are no formal refugee camps, Syrians live in host communities and locations across the country.
The rapid growth of the refugee population, stress on services and wider effects of the Syrian conflict have impacted on Lebanon’s economy. World Bank estimates put the economic costs of the Syria crisis at around 11 per cent of Lebanon’s GDP for 2015, with attendant consequences for public finances, fiscal stability and employment.12 The crisis has also strained public services in health, energy and sanitation. The economic aid provided to Lebanon since the crisis started (around US$3.5bn) is dwarfed by the cost of hosting refugees (put by the government at over US$13bn). Economic growth has been adversely affected by the war in Syria: it recovered somewhat in 2015 from a downturn the previous year but is currently running at just 1.5 per cent. Public finances have suffered from the twin effects of rising refugee-related expenditure and declining revenues. The fiscal deficit represents seven per cent of GDP.Public debt exceeds 140 per cent of GDP, limiting the scope for debt-financed responses to the refugee crisis in education and other areas.
While host communities in Lebanon have responded with extraordinary generosity, the surge in refugee numbers has created acute social and economic pressures. Demands on over-stretched public services are rising. Labour market competition is intensifying against a backdrop of high unemployment and a slowdown in economic growth. The coping capacity of vulnerable host communities is being eroded, especially in already deprived Northern and Bekaa regions. Inevitably, social tensions are rising in many areas. Extreme poverty in Lebanon has risen from 10 per cent to 15 per cent in the last five years, and though the National Poverty Targeting Programme (NPTP) provides cash transfers, these have very limited reach.
An education system under strain
Lebanon’s education system has struggled to cope with the refugee crisis. An earlier Theirworld report highlighted some of the pre-crisis challenges facing the country’s education sector.16 While it had achieved near universal primary and lower secondary schooling, education quality in Lebanon’s public (and many private) schools was poor, teacher quality was mixed and teacher performance inadequately monitored, insufficient attention had been paid to learning assessment, data systems for tracking grade-to-grade transition were under-developed, and the curriculum (last revised in 1998) was inappropriate and outdated. The 2012 education sector strategy, which sought to address these and wider concerns, was overtaken by the Syria crisis and the influx of refugees. While estimates vary, MEHE estimates that in the 2015/2016 school year Syrian refugee children accounted for 38 per cent of pupils enrolled in the public education system (Figure 2). This is roughly equivalent to the UK education absorbing the entire primary school age population of Denmark, Norway and Sweden combined, or the system in France absorbing the primary school age population of the Netherlands.
The strengthening of Lebanon’s education system is a pre-condition for an effective response to the refugee crisis. Basic enrolment arithmetic explains why this is the case. The public education system in Lebanon accounts for only around one-third of national enrolment at primary and lower secondary level. Providing quality education to all Syrian refugees, as envisaged in the London Conference communique, would imply providing education to an equivalent number of Lebanese and refugee children through the public school system. An obvious corollary is that any financing strategy for refugee education has to be linked to the wider national strategy for delivering quality education.
This was recognised by the Ministry of Education in the 2014-2016 emergency response plan, Reaching All Children with Education (or RACE I).The plan marked a bold attempt to expand public education provision for Syrian refugee children and vulnerable Lebanese children. Having opened public schools to refugees, in September 2014 MEHE announced that places would be provided for 157,000 Syrian refugees. It introduced a second shift system that now operates in 238 of the country’s 1262 schools, facilitating the enrolment of 92,500 children. Syrian refugees could enrol free and without legal residency certification. Another 66,000 Syrian refugees are enrolled in first shift classrooms. External financing was estimated at US$600 per pupil for the second shift and US$363 for the first shift. RACE I also introduced more limited provision for early childhood, accelerated learning, secondary, and technical and vocational education and training (TVET). External financing requirements for the programme were costed at US$634m over three years. Actual transfers have fallen far short of this level.
Any assessment of prospects for delivering quality education for all refugee children has to start by recognising the uncertainty associated with data constraints. UNHCR provides data on the overall number, age profile and location of registered refugees.
The Government of Lebanon estimates that the number of unregistered refugees would push the figure up by around half a million, which would radically increase the denominator for estimating enrolment (and decrease reported enrolment rates). Weaknesses in education information systems make it difficult to capture with any precision what is happening to refugee education. There is no education management information system (EMIS) through which to track the grade progression of identifiable pupils, or measure drop-out rates. While a variety of enrolment and school attendance data make it possible to derive an approximate picture of numbers in school, it is not possible to establish the ages of children in specific grades. Data on learning outcomes and teacher performance are exceptionally poor across the Lebanese system. MEHE and donors have recognised the vital importance of addressing these gaps and building a credible EMIS – and this is an area in which support for capacity building is critical.
There is a large out-of-school refugee population. Data constraints make estimation of the out-of-school population a hazardous affair. The widespread practice of reporting on enrolment rates by using the 3-18 year old age group as a denominator is a complicating factor in this context – and a source of some confusion. Just over half of the registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon are aged under 18, with roughly a quarter in the primary school age group (6-14 years old). Figure 3 provides a snapshot of the age profile of Syrian refugee children and adolescents. Matching that profile against school enrolment data, we estimate that around 212,000 primary and secondary school age children are out of school, along with the vast majority of pre-school age children (Figure 4).
To summarise the data:
- Around 110,000 children aged 3-5 are not in education, with enrolment rates in the range of five to seven per cent.
- Enrolment rates for 6-14 year old Syrian refugees are around 51 per cent, leaving 136,000 out of school.
- Very few Syrian refugees make the transition to lower secondary education or beyond. Enrolment rates are around four per cent, leaving around 76,000 out of school.
- The total out-of-school population at primary and secondary level is around 212,000.
Early childhood provision is limited, for Lebanese as well as Syrian refugees
Early childhood coverage is very limited. For understandable reasons, MEHE and donors have focussed on primary school age children. Early childhood provision is not free in Lebanon – and is not widely affordable either to vulnerable Lebanese households or Syrian refugees. Financing constraints limit the scope for expanded public provision, as does a wider shortage of capacity. UNICEF provides financial support for just over 4,000 refugee children in the form of tuition fees and education kits.
There may be compelling grounds for expanding access to early childhood provision. Good quality early childhood provision has the potential to generate significant benefits for pupils from disadvantaged homes. Such provision can strengthen school-readiness, support cognitive development, and help parents create a home-learning environment conducive to learning. In the case of Syrian refugee children, early childhood provision can also help provide support and counselling for children who have been traumatised. The Government of Lebanon’s RACE II strategy recognises the importance of expanding early childhood coverage.
Beyond cost factors there are demand-side barriers to early childhood provision for refugees. Parents living some distance from pre-school centres are unlikely to allow their children either to walk or take public transport. Even if such centres are located in closer proximity, there may be concerns over security. This suggests that any expansion of early childhood provision may need to occur principally at the community level.
Despite the constraints there are opportunities for rapidly scaling up early childhood provision. Several large international non-governmental organisations with well-established operations in Lebanon – including the Norwegian Refugee Council, the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children – have strong expertise in early childhood provision. Moreover, several national NGOs – notably Ana-Aqra – have a proven track-record in delivering high quality, cost-effective early childhood provision at the community level. MEHE has signalled that it is open to non-state providers playing an expanded role and has developed an ‘accelerated early childhood programme’.
Primary and secondary provision has expanded, but barriers remain
The immediate challenge in primary and secondary education is to consolidate what has been achieved while expanding the reach and improving the quality of the education system, and extending non-formal opportunities. Meeting this challenge will require sustained government leadership, a step-change in international cooperation, and new partnerships between the government, NGOs and the private sector.
Despite the efforts of the Government of Lebanon there are barriers to education cooperation on both supply and demand sides. Although beyond the scope of this report, several studies have identified obstacles to school attendance facing Syrian refugee children. Not all schools appear to have implemented the government’s policy of allowing free registration and waiving residency requirements. In some areas there are not enough classroom places available (see below). Many Syrian parents cite concerns over bullying, physical punishment in schools, and prejudicial treatment on the part of Lebanese teachers. As we highlight below, poverty and vulnerability among refugees is pulling many children into labour markets. Concerns have also been raised over the difficulties cited by refugees in renewing their residency permits. The costs and wider eligibility requirements for claiming residency appear to have greatly increased the number of refugees without valid residency. Refugees unable to maintain their legal status are less able to travel around the country to seek informal work for fear of incurring fines. Meanwhile, the right to work itself is constrained, with refugees only permitted to work in specified occupations. Parents unable to secure paid employment are in turn less able to meet the costs associated with education, especially transport charges.
While information on out-of-school Syrian children remains partial the evidence is improving. UNICEF’s 2016 Baseline Survey provides some valuable insights. The survey reports on attendance rather than enrolment, which is a more sensitive barometer of participation in school, and it provides a regional disaggregation. As illustrated in Figure 5, attendance levels are desperately low in Bekaa (which has the largest registered refugee population), El Nabatieh and Baalbek-El Hermel. The geographic dispersion of the refugee population in governates like Baalbek-El Hermel adds to the education delivery challenge.
Enrolment declines at higher grades
Syrian refugee children experience high rates of attrition as they progress through the education system. The Baseline Survey provides a useful snapshot of attendance at school by age (Figure 6). Caution has to be exercised in over-interpreting the results, but the data points to low attendance across the age range with a sharp increase in non-attendance from the ages of 12-14. Over 90 per cent of refugee children aged 17 are out of school. The clear inference is that even those children entering the Lebanese education system face daunting odds against progression through primary school into lower secondary school.
Most refugees have suffered interruptions to their education
Facilitating the re-entry into education of children who have had their education interrupted is one of the defining challenges to be addressed. Beyond the trauma that comes with violence and displacement, many refugees have experienced protracted interruptions to their education. An out-of-school 10-year-old now living in the Bekaa Valley may have completed two years of schooling in Syria, and spent two and a half years out of school. A 15-year-old who left Aleppo in 2012 may not have completed primary school, even though on age-for-grade criteria she should be enrolled in the second year of secondary school. Under RACE I, the MEHE introduced an accelerated learning programme (ALP) aimed at enabling children who had missed out on more than two years of schooling to catch up and resume education in the appropriate grade. A condensed basic education curriculum was developed for Grades 1-9, with a large scale pilot introduced in July 2015. RACE II envisages a scaled-up ALP. As of May 2016, just under 5,000 children were enrolled in accelerated learning programmes. Remedial education support for children struggling with the transition to the Lebanese system is also critical. These are areas in which non-formal provision can support the formal education system. For example, community based interventions delivered through NGOs in the form of homework support groups can help children keep up with the curriculum.
Poverty interacts with educational disadvantage
There is a damaging interaction between refugee poverty and educational disadvantage. It is estimated that around 70 per cent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live on less than US$115 per month – the indicative poverty threshold.19 Over half are unable to meet basic food costs. Poverty levels have increased sharply over time, as rental charges, rising food costs and health spending erode savings.20 Debt levels among refugees are increasing, from a reported level of US$850 at the end of 2015 to US$990 by the end of March 2016.21 There is evidence that refugee poverty is closely associated with high levels of child labour (Box 3). Seasonal child labour is widespread in the Bekaa, where many children are employed in fruit and vegetable picking, and in the North.22 There has also been a reported increase in the number of Syrian refugee street children. Children of families living in informal settlements are especially prone to being out of school and working. There is also evidence that refugee poverty and vulnerability is associated with early marriage among girls, which is typically a prelude to school drop-out.23
Cash constraints limit access to education …
Refugees report difficulties in meeting education costs. Poverty and vulnerability among refugees is reflected in the scale of the cost barriers to education. The erosion of savings coupled with restricted access to work makes it difficult for poorer refugee households to keep children in school. Cost is cited by parents of out-of-school children as the primary barrier to school entry across all governates (Figure 7).Transport costs figure prominently. In a focus group conducted for this research, parents reported paying US$20-40 a month in transport charges, with most saying this was a major financial burden.That burden is inevitably – and inversely – related to household income and savings. Parents and children living in informal settlements are doubly disadvantaged. They are more likely to be poor and the distance to second shift schools serving refugees is often considerable. Two of the three areas with the lowest enrolment rates – Baalbek-El Hermel and El Nabatieh – are located on average 9-10 km from second shift schools (Figure 8). Because distance is closely related to transport costs, parents on low incomes may face stark choices between spending on education and basic needs in other areas, such as shelter, heating and food. Any strategy for reducing the distance between home and school has to include some combination of opening more second shifts, leasing temporary facilities and providing financial support. Mapping the distribution of second shift schools and the registered refugee population (Panel 1) helps identify priority need areas.
… but cash transfers are limited
Cash transfers at current levels have a limited effect in lowering education cost barriers. There are a number of cash-based interventions for refugees, with transfers through food e-vouchers the largest programme.27 Multi-purpose cash assistance is provided to 20,000 households identified on the basis of their economic vulnerability. These households receive a monthly payment of US$175. Survey evidence shows that refugee spending of multi-purpose cash is dominated by food and rent (around two-thirds of the total), with health and winter fuel payments also figuring prominently. Education accounts for just 1-2 per cent of spending. While cash transfers make a difference, 59 per cent of recipients report having to take on additional debt to cope and one-in-five report having to reduce the amount of food consumed during difficult periods. Moreover, while the Vulnerability Assessment for Syrian refugees estimated that 52 per cent were in need of cash assistance, only one third of this number received it. Around 17 per cent of recipients of multi-purpose cash report having children aged 6-14 who are in work and 45 per cent report having children in the same age group out of school. An important question that arises is whether an additional cash transfer conditional on children attending school might encourage school attendance, reduce child labour, and help alleviate household poverty.
Expanded cash transfer provision could lower barriers to education. There is a growing recognition in the humanitarian community that cash-based transfers to refugees can be more efficient than food-based transfers, or other transfers in-kind.Putting money in the hands of refugees expands choice and restores a degree of autonomy. In the case of Lebanon, providing Syrian refugee parents with the cash needed to send their children to school could play a vital role in delivering on the London Conference commitment. Evidence from other countries certainly points to cash transfers as a powerful mechanism for moving children from labour markets to schools, reducing drop-out rates and strengthening equity.Part of the problem in Lebanon is that the cash transfer system suffers from some common failings in humanitarian aid. It is funded through short-term appeals, is highly fragmented (30 different aid agencies were involved in 2014), and education does not figure. As the Government of Lebanon and aid donors recalibrate their policy approaches in the light of what is now a protracted crisis, there may be a compelling case to consider the introduction of cash payments for education, whether on a conditional basis (with transfers linked to attendance at school) or unconditionally. The limited evidence available from Lebanon comes in the form of a survey that found children in households receiving cash support were less likely to be involved in child labour and more likely to be enrolled in school.
Supply-side constraints in the education system are part of the out-of-school problem. The expansion of the second-shift system has made an enormous difference, as witnessed by the marked increase in refugee enrolment in 2015-2016. However, there are inevitably gaps in geographical coverage (rural areas such as Zahleh, the Keserwan coast and West Bekaa have been identified as priority need zones). As noted earlier, there is a particularly urgent need to expand second shift provision in schools close to informal settlements.
Some practices and behaviours in the education system may also be reducing demand. Many refugee children struggle with entry into the Lebanese system. The national curriculum requirement that math and science are taught in French or English from an early stage creates a challenging learning environment for Syrian refugees previously taught solely in Arabic. The quality of second-shift teaching, much of which is provided by contract teachers, remains uncertain. Moreover, some refugee parents report concerns over bullying, corporal punishment practices and prejudicial attitudes on the part of teachers.
Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 18 account for around eight per cent of the Syrian refugee population. This is a critical group. Enrolment rates in secondary education among Syrian refugees are desperately low – probably around two to five per cent. There are few opportunities for technical and vocational education, with only around 1,350 non-Lebanese students covered in 2015/2016. For adolescents with an unfinished primary or limited secondary education, the cessation of learning opportunities is often associated with early entry into labour markets and insecure employment. There are also concerns that a new generation of marginalised youth may be vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups and criminal gangs.
The odds could not have been more heavily stacked against Mohammed. During 2012 Daraya was besieged by government forces, with civilian areas subjected to a relentless bombardment. Mohammed was a grade 7 pupil in his local school. But like other children across Daraya, he was able to attend class only during intermittent ceasefires.
After a temporary lull in a protracted bombardment in November 2012, Mohammed’s parents took the decision to leave Daraya and fled to Lebanon with their seven children. Mohammed missed a year of school, partly because he did not have school certificates.
Like other Syrian refugees, Mohammed was able to restart his education because of the Lebanese government’s decision to open its public schools to refugees. The transition was not easy. Mohammed had to adapt to a curriculum taught in English, rather than Arabic. Three years and a lot of hard work later he achieved the second best score in Lebanon’s Brevet (secondary school certificate): 19.14 out of 20.
Like other Syrian refugees, Mohammed’s parents are strongly committed to education. His father, Said, who left school at 14, works 18 hours a day, doing two shifts in restaurants. Education is a major expense because of textbooks, transport costs and payments for special projects. “But education is so important,” says Said, “and this is why I work hard so that my children can have the opportunity I did not.”
Interview with Mohammed Kosha
Where are you from Mohammed?
I’m from Daraya in Syria.
What was school like there?
I was in a public school like in Lebanon. It was close to my house. I reached the 7th grade but didn’t complete it [due to the crisis]. I liked all of my teachers. My 6th grade teacher was something special – I don’t know why, but he was like my friend. I loved maths and all the sciences. I always came first in the school.
How did the Syrian conflict start to affect you?
In 2012, when I was in grade 7, we started having to leave school early because of the bombing. We used to hide in the bathroom. We couldn’t sleep in our flat as it was one of the higher ones in the building, and it wasn’t safe. So we used to go to the neighbour’s flat on the ground floor and sleep everyone in there. I went to school until December 2012, then I had to stop because of the situation, it wasn’t safe to go. Even when school was open, it was very interrupted – we’d be two days in school, then two days out, just according to the ceasefires and the bombing. I was very scared.
And how did you feel during the time out of school?
I was very sad. First of all I was used to going to school and I loved school. And I was bored at home. I felt like I was losing a year of my life and it wasn’t my fault. After one year, we got new papers and I was able to start grade 7 again in autumn 2013.
How did you feel that first day back?
I was so happy. I found new friends, I loved getting back to studying.
During the year out of school, did you study or read something to make sure you didn’t forget what you had learned before?
We had nothing that year out of school. Nothing to read, or revise, or to do. I would never forget what I had learned but there was no way to revise or study at all, we had no books. The alternative education centres are only for the younger kids. So for a year I was just helping my dad at the restaurant that he works at.
So was it difficult when you went back, having missed
The problem when I went back was not having missed a year, it was the language and the curriculum. In Syria we studied in Arabic, but this school is in English. Before I had only had one hour a week in English, now everything was English.
How did you learn so quickly?
It was difficult, we don’t have a computer at home, but I could get on the internet on my dad’s phone, and we had a kind of electronic dictionary. So my brothers and sisters and I would translate all of our lessons from English to Arabic to understand it, and then write the answers back into English. We studied in English and Arabic at the same time. It took six or seven hours a day just to do the homework. I would go to school, come home and study and then just eat and go to bed. I’d sleep just six hours a night. If I wasn’t asleep, I was at school or studying.
How did you feel when you discovered you’d come second out of all children in Lebanon in the Brevet [Brevet is roughly equivalent of GCSEs]?
I was so happy. I was surprised, I didn’t expect it. I thought I should have done well, but not to this level.
So what are you doing next Mohammed?
For the summer I’m just helping my dad, and I want to do an English course to improve my level before next term starts. Then I will enter grade 10. I need to complete grades 10-12 and then I can enter university.
What do you want to do when you grow up?
I want to be a doctor, I’m not sure which sort yet. Where there is a will there’s a way.
Mohammed, what advice would you give to other Syrian students who might have had their education interrupted and are now going back to school?
Nothing is impossible. They should work hard and complete their education to be able to go back to rebuild our country.
Do you want to return to Syria?
If there is peace, yes.
World leaders have promised funding to expand the double shift system, but they have not yet given everything that they have promised, and there are fears that they may not give the full amount. What is your message to them?
All of us need to learn, in order to succeed in rebuilding our country. Without education, we won’t be able to go back to Syria and build a prosperous future.
The Government of Lebanon and donors have a well-developed strategy and policy framework for delivering on the London summit pledge. RACE I was a structured response to the onset of the refugee crisis – and it has delivered results. The Government of Lebanon and donors have now developed a RACE II strategy for the period 2017-2022. External financing requirements for RACE II are estimated at US$350m (or US$1.75bn over five years). Current aid levels fall far short of this amount and are probably in the range of US$150m-US$200m.
At the heart of RACE II is a recognition that an effective response to the refugee crisis will require broader strengthening of Lebanon’s education system. RACE II is built on three pillars: improving access, with a focus on disadvantaged children; improving the quality of education services through more effective teaching, greater accountability, community engagement, and the introduction of systems for monitoring and evaluation of teaching and learning outcomes; and improving education systems. In the latter area, there is a broad recognition that the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) needs to develop an effective and accurate education information management system, a revised curriculum, and strengthened systems for school management, the professionalisation of teacher services, and financial management and coordination. The development of technical capacity in the MEHE is recognised as an urgent priority by the Minister of Education and Higher Education.
Robust partnerships built on open dialogue, clear commitments and delivery have a vital role to play. Delivering the results called for at the London summit will require sustained national leadership and the development of real partnerships. Under RACE I, MEHE, lead donors and UN agencies established a Project Management Unit to lead and oversee implementation, along with a RACE Executive Committee as an advisory body. RACE II will build on the successful foundations that have been put in place, providing donors with a clear framework for delivering effective aid. Developed by government, UN agencies and donors, the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan for 2016 is in its second year and will transition into a longer-term strategic framework for 2017-2021. This is potentially beneficial since the framework will correspond almost exactly to the RACE II planning period. Whether the potential is realised will ultimately depend on whether or not the crisis response plans are translated into predictable financial commitments on a credible scale (see below).
Aid effectiveness is weakened by aid architecture and bad practices
Aid effectiveness is hampered by a weak delivery and reporting architecture. The major donors in education are the United Kingdom’s DfID, the European Union, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States. Of this group, only DfID provides a medium-term multi-year commitment, amounting to £40m a year over four years (or £160m in total). The bulk of funding for education has been channelled through the UN appeals, principally through UNICEF and, to a lesser degree, UNHCR. There are high levels of unpredictability in UN appeal financing and donors operate variously across one to two year project reporting periods – a practice that makes it difficult to determine real annual finance availability. Table 1 provides a snapshot of donor support in 2015/2016. Funding to UNICEF is predominantly earmarked against support in the three areas covered by RACE, with a marked emphasis on access. Financing for access is overwhelmingly dominated by the EU and Germany. Table 1 also illustrates the absence or limited presence of a large group of donors, including France, Italy, Japan and the United States.
The World Bank has emerged as an important donor
The World Bank has emerged as an important partner in education. The creation of the Emergency Education System Stabilisation Project (EESSP) under World Bank auspices has created an important channel for support to the education sector. The EESSP is financed by a US$32m grant from the Lebanon Crisis Multi-Donor Trust Fund, which has received grants from the UK, France, Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Negotiations on the establishment of the necessary financing arrangements took around 12 months, with funds channelled through the Ministry of Finance to a dedicated account in MEHE. Around US$13m had been disbursed by July 2016. The World Bank has also announced a US$100m IDA loan for education in Lebanon channelled through a new Concessional Finance Facility (CFF) for the Middle East and North Africa. The loan will be aligned to RACE II financing (specifically for school construction and curriculum development) and disbursed over a five year period.31 Future World Bank support will be provided on the basis of a new Performance for Results programme (with funds channelled through the MDTF) including Disbursement-Linked Indicators (DLIs). Given the urgent need for front-loaded finance, it is obviously important that disbursement conditions recognise the efforts already made by the Government of Lebanon – and that proper account is taken of the political context.
Donor accountability and responsiveness has to improve, along with alignment behind a MEHE-leadership. MEHE has strong political leadership from a reforming minister with a clear set of priorities and a strong commitment to refugee education. Both the RACE Project Management Unit and the wider senior management in the ministry have high levels of technical competence. However, the high transaction costs of dealing with multiple donors, each with their own reporting requirements, represents a considerable burden on scarce human capital resources. Another concern is that commitments undertaken by donors, including those agreed at the London summit, have not been backed by real financial delivery. MEHE’s ability to implement RACE I and potentially RACE II has been further compromised by the tendency of some donors to operate outside of MEHE, and to make demands that are difficult to implement without sustained investment in capacity building.
Non-governmental organisations could play an expanded role in priority areas agreed with MEHE. Cooperation between MEHE and non-governmental organisations fell short of its potential during RACE I. The Government of Lebanon raised concerns over the quality and cost of some NGO programmes. It highlighted what it saw as failures of coordination and delivery models inconsistent with the national system. The rapid proliferation of NGOs in the wake of the crisis led to heightened concerns. However, the MEHE has now established an NGO sub-committee under the RACE structure. The Ministry has signalled that it sees national and international NGOs playing a critical role in supporting early childhood provision, non-formal education, and complementary programmes that enhance access and learning outcomes.
While the Government of Lebanon and donors have developed a credible framework for delivery, current practices are not geared towards universal provision of quality education for refugees and vulnerable Lebanese. Several interlocking concerns need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. These include chronic under-financing and a failure on the part of donors to translate summit pledges into real financial support; donor reporting systems that are weakly aligned to real-time education planning requirements; a generalised failure to work through MEHE and strengthen the underlying system; and a need for integrated strategies that address background poverty and vulnerability.
Weak delivery of the strong London Conference commitments
Current financing is insufficient to provide for universal refugee access in the 2016/2017 school year. Six months after the very clear commitments made at the London Conference, donors have yet to deliver the resources needed to deliver education to all refugees. As of the end of May 2016, some US$150m out of the US$388 requested for education in the regional appeal had been received or was in the pipeline – 39 per cent of the total (Figure 9). The uncertainties associated with humanitarian appeal financing are undermining efforts to achieve the goals set at the London Conference. What matters for education planners is the real financial resources available for the next school year and the ability to plan spending on a multi-year basis across school years. Recurrent payments for teacher salaries and textbooks and investments in classroom construction and school maintenance have to be planned across several years. Under the current arrangements for donor support, MEHE has limited information about what funding will be available for the 2016/2017 school year, let alone future years. Despite the goodwill and the commitment spelt out in RACE II, budget prudence dictates that resources cannot be committed on the required scale in the absence of assured and predictable financing. The shortfall translates into a lack of funding for agreed priorities in areas ranging from school rehabilitation to capacity building and early childhood provision. Provision for Palestinian refugee children displaced by the Syria conflict is particularly limited.
Efforts should be made to front-load support and to align real financial commitments with the school year financial planning cycle.
There is a real and present danger of reversals in refugee education.
There is also a danger of diminished coverage because 2016/2017 funding to provide for the Syrian refugees currently in the first and second shift systems remains uncertain. UNICEF is the primary source of external support for Syrian (and vulnerable Lebanese) children. As of the end of June 2016, only 40 per cent of funding required to cover the agency’s first- and second-shift financing requirements had been either received or placed in the pipeline – a shortfall of US$57.8 million (Figure 10). Factoring in the differential costs of first-shift and second-shift provision, we estimate that the deficit is equivalent to around 89,000 school places. This financing gap is a source of uncertainty. It also undermines effective planning and school management. Current UNICEF donors should fill the appeals financing gap as a matter of urgency.
Donor provision and reporting systems are fragmented, lacking in transparency and poorly aligned with MEHE and RACE II planning requirements. Current donor support is provided through a variety of channels over variable time periods, typically geared towards a one to two year delivery period. Of the major donors, only the UK’s Department for International Development has provided a credible multi-year financing framework for education, committing £40m over four years. The World Bank’s MDTF and IDA financing could increase the amount of multi-year financing available, providing disbursement modalities can be agreed. It is difficult to establish with any precision either the real financing provided through donor channels or the real financing available across the first few years of the RACE II period. The fact that UN donors and bilateral donors operate across financial reporting periods (calendar years in the case of UN appeals) that are different from Lebanon’s budget and school year cycles adds to the complexity. What is clear is that relatively little support is currently delivered through the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE), and that the overwhelming bulk of the support that is delivered is for access. Only a small fraction of the 2015/2016 Rapid Response request – just under US$6m in total – is geared towards strengthening the national education system. Another US$62.4m is earmarked in the appeal for improving the quality of learning, though it is impossible to establish either financial delivery or effectiveness.
Current financing falls far short of the RACE II requirements. The costing estimates for RACE II provide a credible basis for delivering on the commitments made at the London summit. While donors’ reporting systems make it difficult to establish real annual financial transfers, our best estimate is that these are currently running at well under one-third of the US$350m a year required. Failure to close this financing gap and provide predictable, multi-year commitments will effectively rule out any prospect of universal education provision for refugees.
We left because it wasn’t safe for the children. I’ve been [in Lebanon] for three years. When we first came here the children were out of school for a year doing nothing. Then I heard about a local informal school and registered them for classes there.
On their first day back at [school] they were so excited. They were shouting ‘Mum, give us bags! Mum, give us pens! We want to go to school!’
But for three months this year [my husband] had no work at all. It was very hard. He was looking for work but not finding anything. The bus cost $75,000LL [$50] for each child every month. We haven’t got this money. The rent is $250 and it’s our biggest worry. Sometimes we can’t even afford to eat and also pay the rent.
We have to pay the rent, we have to eat. In the end we had to take Abdulghafour out of school so that he can work. Now it’s two months since he left school. He works in a tailor’s shop, helping with the sewing, helping with the customers. He works from 8 in the morning until 8 in the evening and earns $100 a month.
Lebanon’s political commitment to open the doors of its public schools to all children must be matched by a credible commitment from the international community. Donors have worked with MEHE to develop a credible strategy to support refugee education through a strengthened Lebanese education system. They must now translate the funding commitments made at the London conference into predictable multi-year financing at levels of around US$350m annually for RACE II. As the world’s primary source of multilateral development finance, the World Bank should scale up its current commitment to education in Lebanon using IDA resources and innovative strategies for blending concessional and non-concessional financing. Given the very direct link between restricted opportunities for education and forced migration, the European Union and European bilateral donors should also play an expanded role, along with regional donors. The earlier donors commit, and the more ambitious the pace and scale of their contributions, the better the results that can be achieved for both the education and wellbeing of a whole generation of children at risk of child labour, trafficking and radicalisation. The World Bank should review and publicly report on the real annual financing available ahead of each school year.
The 2016/2017 school year could mark a breakthrough – but the window of opportunity is closing
There is an urgent need for additional financing for the 2016/2017 school year for primary school age refugee children. In the absence of a concerted effort to mobilise additional support, there is no prospect of achieving near universal provision for primary school age children in the coming school year – and there is a real danger that the progress achieved to date will be reversed. Among the most immediate priorities for the 2016/2017 school year:
- Mobilising US$157m for universal provision for refugees at primary school level and expanded access at secondary level.
- Providing US$25m for early childhood and community-based, non-formal provision.
- Financing of US$180m for early initiation of an emergency school construction programme
The European Union should lead an emergency appeal to deliver on the commitment given at the London summit, mobilising the US$157m needed to achieve universal refugee access for the 2015/2016 school year. The EU is the leading donor in the response to the Syria crisis in Lebanon, with the Commission allocating more than €858m in assistance from the humanitarian budget (including €89m for 2016), the European Neighbourhood Instrument, the Peace and Stability Instrument and regular bilateral cooperation through the Neighbourhood Policy.33 The overwhelming bulk of finance for refugee access to education is provided by the EU and Germany, through UNICEF. No other donor has either the depth of engagement of the EU or the capacity to coordinate bilateral donors in support of the Government of Lebanon’s education strategy.
At the London conference the EU pledged an additional €1bn for Lebanon and Jordan – but it is not clear that any additional funding has been disbursed. Since 2015, the EU has been delivering a growing share of non-humanitarian aid through a trust fund – the Madad Fund – which, recognising the protracted nature of the crisis, aims at building long-term resilience and supporting vulnerable host communities.34 By merging various EU financial instruments and contributions from Member States and other donors into one flexible, rapid delivery pooled funding mechanism, the Madad Fund is equipped to deliver at the speed and scale required to catalyse effective action. Working through the Madad Fund and wider coordination mechanisms, the EU should mobilise an additional US$157m for the 2016/2017 school year, comprising:
- US$57m to cover the deficit against the 2016/2017 financing target for supporting children in school (US$48m of which is required to cover current first and second shift provision).
- US$93m million to finance second shift provision for the 155,000 primary school age refugee children now out of school, with the expansion of the second shift system to currently under-served areas.
- US$6m for 10,000 children in the 15-18 age range to participate in accelerated learning programmes, secondary school and technical and vocational education provision.
These are very immediate priorities. MEHE and schools have to plan for provision in an academic year that starts in September. It is therefore imperative that financial commitments are made and delivered by then.
School construction and classroom rehabilitation are urgent priorities which could be taken up by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Islamic Development Bank and the World Bank. Providing for refugees has placed immense stress on the physical infrastructure of the education system. There is an urgent need for increased investment in classroom rehabilitation and school construction. RACE II will provide a detailed planning framework. However, immediate concessional financing is required for the construction, furnishing and equipping of 60 schools, at a cost of around US$180m (or US$3m per school).
The Education Cannot Wait Fund has a role to play
The newly created Education Cannot Wait (ECW) fund could be deployed in partnership with MEHE to provide US$25m in supporting early childhood provision to 50,000 children, and community based learning support for children in primary school to 40,000 children. There are compelling grounds for extending pre-school provision and non-formal community-level learning support. Apart from coping with trauma and displacement, Syrian refugee children have to make the transition to a school system that requires new language skills. There are a number of registered national and international non-governmental organisations in Lebanon with proven capabilities in delivering community-based non-formal education support. With additional ECW finance in place, these agencies could be invited to tender on a competitive basis for expanded delivery during the 2016/2017 school year.
Donors need to back RACE II with finance and improved practices
Making 2016/2017 a breakthrough year for refugees will take sustained MEHE leadership. MEHE is led by a minister with a proven commitment to reform and refugee education. The ministry also has highly professional capabilities in administration and, through a special project unit, RACE implementation. Subject to donors delivering credible and timely financial commitments, MEHE and UN agencies should identify priority areas for the expansion of the second shift system, with additional support for classroom construction and transport. Following a proposal from MEHE, increased use of Syrian refugee teachers as classroom assistants could play an important role in expanding the reach of the education system.
Looking beyond the 2016/2017 school year, donors must act now to provide support for RACE II. It is not feasible to support a five year education strategy requiring an integrated approach to investment on the basis of annualised UN humanitarian appeals and associated delivery structures. While it is not possible to measure with any precision the multi-year funding committed by donors, we estimate that less than US$50m of funding would fit this category. The United Kingdom remains the only bilateral donor of any scale providing funding beyond a two year time horizon. However, with the World Bank trust fund, IDA resources and the Madad Fund now coming into play, there is an opportunity to develop and deliver a long-term pooled fund model. Discussions on RACE II must aim at delivering the US$350m in financing required for implementation. Donors now conspicuous by their absence or limited presence in Lebanon – France, Japan, the United States, Italy and regional governments among them – should seek to participate more actively in pooled funding.
The World Bank could play an expanded role through IDA funding. As the world’s largest source of development financing with a clear remit to promote global efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the World Bank has a critical role to play in responding to the refugee crisis. To date, the response has been too slow. Rules limiting IDA eligibility to low-income and lower middle-income countries have made it difficult for the Bank to mobilise education financing resources for countries, like Lebanon, at the epicentre of the Syrian refugee crisis. Innovations introduced in 2016 by the World Bank’s President Jim Yong Kim with the support of shareholders are starting to change this picture. The US$100m in IDA financing for education in support of RACE II signals an important shift in a positive direction. This financing will be provided on highly concessional terms, with a six year grace period and amortisation over 35 years.
IDA commitments for RACE II should front-loaded. The World Bank has explicitly linked the US$100m in IDA financing to the London Conference goal of getting all Syrian refugee children into school in 2016/2017. Given the very large financing gap for achieving the goals and the urgent need to strengthen MEHE capacity, the World Bank should allocate US$40m for disbursement in 2016/2017 and US$80m over the first three years. Any move in this direction would require early ratification of the IDA loan by parliament and approval by Cabinet – and the international community should step up diplomatic efforts to secure parliamentary action.
Lebanon urgently needs additional grant financing and highly concessional loans for education. The slowdown in economic growth associated with the Syria conflict and the costs of responding to the refugee crisis have placed Lebanon’s public finances under considerable stress. The fiscal deficit reached 7.8 per cent of GDP in 2015 and public debt rose to 138 per cent of GDP. Against this backdrop, Lebanon cannot credibly take on more debt to finance refugee education other than in the form of a limited amount of additional highly concessional IDA lending. The bulk of the financing required to deliver on the London Conference commitment will have to be delivered on grant terms.
The World Bank-led Concessional Finance Facility (CFF) for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a step in the right direction. The multilateral development finance system has been slow to respond to the refugee crisis. Because middle-income countries in the region, like Lebanon, are not eligible for IDA under the standard criteria, they have been excluded from concessional financial flows. The CFF, launched with the support of eight donors and the European Union in 2016, has addressed this problem. By combining grants from supporting countries with loans from multilateral development banks, the Facility will bring down interest rates on loans to highly concessional levels. The establishment of a sustainable, long-term, predictable financing platform addresses the gaps in multi-year and medium term financing typically associated with emergency humanitarian response. The proposed approach would enable multilateral development banks to scale up their concessional financing by up to three to four times, leveraging additional concessional resources in the process. The CFF could form an important part of wider measures to mobilise resources for education financing among refugee and displaced populations. However, while soft loans and loan guarantees, which make up the bulk of CFF financing, may have a considerable role to play in financing infrastructure, education financing for refugees requires a rapid increase in grants. To that end, the World Bank should mobilise an additional US$150m for RACE II financing in Lebanon from current IDA mechanisms, principally transfers from the IBRD and the IFC (around US$3bn in IDA17). Lebanon could also benefit from an expanded CFF envelope and a wider expansion of IDA resource availability for middle-income countries affected by conflict and emergencies.
Donors should align their support with MEHE planning requirements.
Donors deserve credit for mobilising resources at significant scale in what is a complex operating environment. However, three problems require urgent attention.
First, donor reporting systems make it all but impossible to determine the financial resources available for the next school year, let alone the next two to three years. For education planners responding to what is clearly a protracted crisis, the lack of predictability makes it impossible to put in place the spending and investment commitments needed to mount an effective response.
The UK’s Department for International Development multi-year financing commitment provides a model that other donors could – and should – consider following.
Second, annual UN appeal processes represent an inherently unstable financing mechanism for dealing with the challenges facing Lebanon’s education system.
The instability is exacerbated by the large shortfalls between appeal requests and delivery – and by the lack of synchronisation between UN appeal cycles (which operate across a calendar year) and school year cycles (September to July). That is why a coordinated commitment to RACE II is so important.
Third, it is vital that disbursements are predictable. The ESSF and IDA financing are welcome additions to the education support system. However, it is important that the ‘payment for results’ triggers developed by the World Bank are designed to be credible and realistically achievable.
The Education Cannot Wait (ECW) fund could play a catalytic role in delivering on the London summit promise.
Established during the World Humanitarian Summit, the ECW fund brings together UN agencies, NGOs and donors, providing a framework and a financial delivery mechanism for responding to education in emergencies. Just a few months away from the start of a new school year in Lebanon, and with a framework in place for delivery, ECW could serve as a conduit for the additional US$93m needed to reach all primary school age children. The fund could also facilitate scaled-up support through NGOs and the private sector. Delivery modalities clearly have to be worked out. But ECW could be brought into the RACE governance structure with immediate effect, potentially unlocking new sources of regional, private sector and philanthropic finance.
There is an urgent need and scope for expanded private sector engagement.
Private sector and philanthropic engagement with education in Lebanon remains limited and poorly coordinated. There is an unmet need for appropriate learning technologies, including tablets. More broadly, private sector partners could play an expanded role in supporting the development of capacity within MEHE in areas such as curriculum reform and development, the design and delivery of learning assessment systems, teacher training, and the introduction of data and information technology systems equipped to monitor education performance. Currently, private sector and philanthropic support is making at best a modest contribution to refugee education. There are too many small-scale and weakly designed projects. Both the efficiency and the impact of these initiatives would be enhanced if the companies and organisations involved pooled their resources and coordinated their contributions through the RACE II framework. An important corollary is that companies should bring their own funds and not seek to raise funds from donors since this runs the risk of diverting already inadequate donor support.
Education interventions will not deliver results on the scale, or at the pace, required in the absence of wider measures to tackle refugee poverty and vulnerability.
Even the most effective education interventions will fall short of their potential if they are not integrated into wider strategies for tackling underlying poverty and vulnerability. The multi-purpose cash transfer programme could be scaled up, perhaps through the introduction of a conditional transfer component linked to school attendance. Such schemes have proven highly effective in increasing school attendance in other countries. However, results will clearly depend on the scale of the transfer (the daily wage rate for children may serve as a useful guide), the effectiveness of targeting and the degree to which cost represents a barrier to schooling.
Turkey now hosts the world’s largest refugee population. In 2016,
the number of registered Syrians in the country passed the 2.6 million mark (Figure 11). Just over half of these refugees are children. Almost a million are aged 5-17. Prospects for achieving universal education for Syrian refugee children hinge critically on developments in Turkey. Yet despite commitments made at the London summit, donors have been slow to mobilise support – and a majority of Syrian refugee children are out of school.
As in Lebanon, the refugee surge has placed Turkey’s social and economic infrastructure under great stress. The size of the country’s overall population and economy masks the scale of that stress at a local level. Refugee populations are heavily concentrated in Istanbul and the southern provinces of Gazientep, Hatay and Sanliurfa (Figures 12 and 13). Responding to the refugee crisis has placed considerable strain on public finances. By September 2015, the Government of Turkey (GoT) had spent US$7.6bn on its response – more than the total pledge for 2016 from the London summit.
An open-door to ‘temporary protection’
The GoT has adopted an open door policy on Syrian refugees based on the ‘no sending back’ principle. Since 2014, rights and responsibilities have been defined under a Temporary Protection regime, with government ministries taking on obligations under an umbrella strategy. Beyond the governmental response, Turkish citizens and civil society organisations have responded with extraordinary generosity. One survey found that one-third of respondents across 18 provinces had made a personal financial contribution.
Planning responses have evolved in response to the crisis. Initially, refugees were placed in temporary camps, of which there are now 26 in ten provinces close to the Syrian border. Administered by the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) these camps now house some 274,000 refugees. Since 2012 however, most of the new arrivals have settled outside these camps. While Syrian refugees represent a smaller share of the population than in Lebanon, the marked concentration of refugees in some areas – especially in the south-east – has far reaching implications for the provision of basic services, including education.
There are high levels of poverty and vulnerability among Syrian refugees in Turkey. One survey in late 2014 found around four in five respondents reporting difficulties in meeting food costs. Refugees rely heavily on selling assets to maintain consumption. However, as household assets and savings are depleted, hardship grows and pressure to enter labour markets intensifies. The GoT has introduced groundbreaking legislation allowing refugees to work and be paid a minimum wage, though many refugees – including children – are working informally at lower wage levels (Box 3). There is also some evidence to suggest that economic pressures may be contributing to early marriage. One survey among Syrian women and girls conducted in the city of Kirikhan found that child marriage was seen as more common among Syrian girls in Turkey than in Syria itself. The most common reason identified was financial hardship.
Like their counterparts in other countries, Syrian refugee children in Turkey face psychological problems resulting from their traumatic experiences. One study conducted in a refugee camp in Islahiye, found very high levels of trauma: 30 per cent of children had been kicked, shot at or physically hurt, and 60 per cent had witnessed such acts. Almost half the children surveyed displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.38 Turkish government authorities and other sources have highlighted the very large unmet need for psychological support as a major concern in education.
The GoT’s Ministry of National Education (MoNE) and AFAD have made enormous efforts to keep open opportunities for education among Syrian refugee children. Much has been achieved. Yet the system has been overwhelmed by the sheer scale of demand. The GoT was unable to meet its target of getting 450,000 refugee children into school in the current school year, as envisaged in its statement to the London Conference.40 Delivering on the London Conference commitment to provide some form of education for all refugee children by the end of 2017 will take an enhanced national effort backed by a step-change in international cooperation.
Around half a million Syrian refugee children are out of school. Data constraints make any estimate of out-of-school numbers subject to wide margins of uncertainty. The MoNE provided schooling for 310,000 Syrian children during the 2015/2016 school year. On the basis of the estimated number of 5-17 year old children at the start of the school year, this would represent an enrolment rate of 37 per cent and an out-of-school population of 524,000 in the 2015/2016 school year. That bad news is that this figure will have increased with the inflow of refugees during the school year. Enrolment rates are highest in the lower grades, with school participation dropping off steeply at higher grades. Figure 14 uses adjusted refugee population estimates for age groups that correspond to those for Turkish school level to estimate gross enrolment by grade (Figure 14).
Education is delivered to refugees through a number of channels. In the 2015/2016 school year, 247,000 children were enrolled in Temporary Education Centres (TECs) in camps, urban areas, and local communities. Around 1,000 Turkish teachers and 11,500 Syrian voluntary teachers work in these TECs, which provide instruction in Arabic using a modified version of the Syrian curriculum. Another 73,000 refugee children are enrolled in Turkish public schools where they follow the national curriculum. Enrolment rates are far higher in camps (around 80 per cent) than outside of the camps (Table 1).
Any strategy for refugee provision in education has to address daunting challenges. With no end to the Syria crisis in sight, the role of temporary education provision geared towards students returning home has to be reviewed. While TECs offer the advantage to students of being taught in a familiar language, there are potential disadvantages for young people seeking to make the transition to higher education in Turkey, or to employment. Entry to the Turkish public school system confers potential benefits in these areas. However, many Syrian students struggle with the use of Turkish as the language of instruction, and teachers require assistance and training to address the needs of Syrian refugee pupils. Moreover, school infrastructure is already desperately over-stretched in areas with large concentrations of refugees, pushing up maintenance and operational costs.
The GoT has stepped-up efforts to support refugee education and prepare refugee children for a difficult transition. Far more than in other neighbouring countries, language confronts refugee children with tough challenges. Turkish language courses are offered free of charge by MoNE and registered NGOs. Efforts have been made to introduce Turkish language training for pupils following the Arabic curriculum in TECs, and for refugees attending public schools. The MoNE has also introduced an Equivalency Examination in Arabic for Syrian refugee high school children who have had their education interrupted, enabling them to re-enter school at an appropriate grade or join accelerated learning programmes. In addition, MoNE is working with a wide range of national and international NGOs to expand opportunities for early childhood and non-formal education. Under any scenario, these are areas which will have to be scaled up if the reach of the education system is to be expanded.
While the response to the Syria crisis is an international responsibility requiring multilateral action, Turkey has been left to shoulder much of the burden with very limited support. Following the spirit of the London summit, the GoT has now developed detailed plans for expanding the access of Syrian refugees to quality education. Implementation of these plans will require financial support on a scale commensurate with the challenge to be addressed. What is happening in education is a microcosm of a wider failure on the part of the international community to recognise the urgent need for burden-sharing in responding to the surge of refugees into Turkey.45
Under-funded humanitarian appeals for education
For Turkey, as for other countries hosting large Syrian refugee populations, the London summit pledges have yet to translate into financial transfers. The ambition of the Regional Response Plan for education in Turkey was increased in the light of the London summit, with the revised appeal raised to US$137m for 2015/2016 channelled principally through UNICEF and UNHCR. As of mid-year, only one-third of the appeal – or US$46m – had been funded – the smallest share for any neighbouring country except Egypt. The shortfall has undermined delivery of commitments made at the London summit and compromised plans to put in place a more ambitious programme during the 2016/2017 school year.
The GoT has now developed a three-year strategy for accelerating progress towards universal schooling for Syrian refugees. Underpinning the strategy is a commitment to provide education for 834,000 refugees aged 5-17 at an equivalent level to that provided for Turkish students in publicly funded schools. The three-year financing framework (Table 2) envisages a large scale classroom construction programme, along with an expansion of the teaching workforce and the hiring of 15,000 Syrian ‘volunteer’ teachers. The strategy also details a range of measures to improve education quality, reform the curriculum used in TECs to make it more compatible with the Turkish system, and promote progression to secondary education. Budget costs for the proposed programme are estimated at €2.7bn over three years, or €900m annually. On a per capita basis, that translates into spending of around €1,081 per pupil. Per pupil costs would fall significantly if, as appears likely, the number of refugee children entering Turkey and seeking access to education increases.
The GoT’s strategy for expanding access to quality education merits support. While there may be scope for reducing costs through efficiency savings, greater recourse to Syrian teachers, and reduced costs for classroom construction, the financing assessment provides a credible framework for action. More detail on the assumptions underpinning the costings would help to facilitate an informed debate in these areas. However, negotiation on the detail of implementation should not be allowed to delay an increase in international financial support. Indeed, efforts should be made to support accelerated implementation of the plan with a view to getting all Syrian refugee children into some form of education by the end of 2017.
There are some areas in which the current strategy may need further elaboration and strengthening. Despite the notable efforts of MoNE, many refugee children struggle with the demands of learning in a new language. If the aim is to expand access to Turkish public schools, Syrian children will need greatly increased access to skilled language tutors, school and community-based homework support groups, and remedial education. The large and growing number of children and young people who have been out of school for three or more years will also need specialised support to integrate into formal education programmes, and more skills training. Meanwhile, early childhood provision for Syrian refugee children is limited, as it is for Turkish children.
Education financing alone will be insufficient to achieve the goals set by the GoT and the London Conference. Many of the greatest barriers to schooling operate outside the education system. Refugees often arrive in Turkey in a desperate condition. Those living in urban and peri-urban settings have great difficulties meeting their basic needs, let alone financing transport to schools. Getting children out of labour markets and into school will require integrated action on several fronts. Expanded opportunities for employment, increased social protection, and targeted welfare support all have a critical role to play. These are among the most under-funded areas in the humanitarian appeal for Turkey, with US$12m provided by mid-2016 – just five per cent of the amount requested.
Cash transfers could help to ensure that investments in education are accompanied by increased demand on the part of vulnerable refugee children. Many – and perhaps a majority – of out-of-school refugee children are working. To the extent that labour market participation is a function of household poverty, cash transfers can create a counter-incentive. Information on wages for Syrian child labourers is limited, though anecdotal reports (see Box 3) typically put earnings for 14-15 year old children at US$80-140 a month. Design of a cash transfer system aimed at creating incentives for school attendance would have to take into account localised wage rates paid to children, refugee household income and the age profile of children. For indicative purposes, a conditional cash transfer in the form of a payment for children attending school set at US$120 per month for 250,000 refugee children would require financing of US$270m.
Turkey is host to the largest out-of-school population of Syrian refugee children in the region. Despite the concerted efforts of the GoT, humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organisations, commitments made at the London summit have been slow to materialise. As the crisis enters its seventh year, the danger now is that an entire generation of refugees will be set on a course that leads to child labour, poverty, insecurity and the risk of recruitment by extremist groups.
The European Union is well placed to lead the donor response to the education crisis facing Syrian refugees. In November 2015 the European Council announced a €3bn Refugee Facility in support of a joint EU-Turkey Action Plan.48 The Facility provides a resource envelope for a wide range of interventions, including a Humanitarian Implementation Plan which will finance monthly cash transfers on a targeted basis to vulnerable refugees. While the overall framework covers a wide range of activities, education stands out as an immediate and urgent priority. One of the aims of the Action Plan, like the London Conference itself, is to reduce distress migration by expanding opportunities for refugees. Removing the barriers to education now confronting over half a million refugee children has a critical role to play.
The Refugee Facility is just one financing instrument available to the EU. Funds for Turkey are also channelled through the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), ‘Pre-Accession Assistance’, the Instruments for Peace and Stability, and the Madad Fund. In developing a response to the education crisis the EU should seek to frame a coherent offer that brings together the full range of financing mechanisms to:
- Provide around €450 million annually in funding over three years, or around half of the external financing requirements estimated for implementation of the Turkish government’s strategy.
- Through ECHO support the introduction through the Emergency Social Safety Net programme of conditional cash transfers for education and, more widely, an expansion of cash-based support.
- Support UNICEF in its work with the GoT and registered Turkish and international non-governmental organisations to expand access to early childhood provision and non-formal education.
As in Lebanon, there is an overwhelming case for Turkey to be provided with grant-based support for education, with some IDA-terms concessional loans for classroom construction. Many of the financing mechanisms outlined in the previous section with respect to Lebanon could – and should – also be deployed in Turkey. While the following figures are indicative, they illustrate the scale of the effort required from the international community to deliver on the London Conference pledge:
- The mobilisation of US$400m on IDA terms financed through CFF grants and internal IDA resources for school construction.
- The mobilisation of US$200m in concessional finance for school infrastructure through the EBRD and Islamic Development Bank.
- Provision of US$30m through the Education Cannot Wait fund to support UNICEF registered non-governmental organisations delivering non-formal education.
The Syria crisis confronts the international community, host governments and – above all – refugees themselves with increasingly stark choices. With no prospect of resolution in sight, hopes that peace would enable an early return for refugees has given way to resignation and a realisation this is a protracted crisis. How the international community responds to the plight of refugees is a litmus test not just of its ethical standing and its legal responsibilities, but of its commitment to multilateralism, the Sustainable Development Goals agreed for 2030 and its capacity for enlightened self-interest. In the absence of fairer burden-sharing and decisive action to support host governments in enabling refugees to rebuild lives in the region, the ongoing crisis of displacement and flow of refugees will inevitably lead to distress migration on a scale that could wreak havoc across the region and in Europe.
For host governments the challenges are more immediate. The sheer force of numbers dictates this is not a crisis that can be dealt with by creating ad hoc projects and parallel delivery systems. Expanding provision in education and other areas to create opportunities for all refugees can only be achieved if national systems are strengthened and reformed to reach, teach and support refugee children. Host country governments and societies like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have responded to the crisis with a generosity conspicuously absent in many countries in Europe and the rest of the world. They have a right to expect fairer burden-sharing. At the same time, governments must step up the pace of reforms needed to address the distinctive problems facing refugees in education, including curriculum development, language support, non-formal provision and more flexible use of Syrian teachers. Moreover, in the absence of wider measures to tackle the poverty, vulnerability and insecurity that pervades the lives of so many refugees, no education strategy will succeed in delivering quality education for all.
For refugee parents and children the choices are increasingly painful. Deprived of the hope that comes with education and faced with the prospect of deepening poverty, many refugee children are being drawn into lives of diminished opportunity. However anecdotal, the evidence of rising child labour and early marriage tells its own story. Trapped in a cycle of poverty and restricted educational opportunity that leads to insecure employment or unemployment, marginalisation and desperation, there is a real danger that young will be being drawn into extremist political groups – and this in a region where such groups are actively recruiting vulnerable young people. Against this backdrop, for many Syrian refugee parents the journey to Europe, however hazardous, retains an obvious appeal.
Expanding opportunities for education in the countries hosting Syrian refugees is not an anti-migration strategy. Europe and the rest of the world could – and should – be doing far more to resettle refugees from the Syria conflict. But by supporting education in the region, the international community can provide refugees with choices they are currently denied. It can demonstrate a commitment to multilateralism. And it can bring hope to children who have suffered enough.