At a time when the United Nations is striving to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular the fourth goal of ensuring access to quality education for all, the Covid-19 pandemic could wipe out many recent efforts.
In every country, children's daily lives are turned upside down by the presence of Covid-19. Day-care centers, nurseries, schools, universities, apprenticeships, training courses - everything is disrupted. When you consider that more than half of the 79.5 million internally displaced persons or refugees are children, it's easy to understand why the head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, is so concerned. He notes that "the gap between refugee pupils and the general school population remains enormous, especially at higher levels of education. With the ever-increasing number of uprooted people around the world, stabilizing school enrolment rates is no mean feat."
Refugee schooling rate Primary: 77%; Secondary: 31%; Higher education: 3%.
Higher education In 2018, the secondary school enrolment rate for refugees rose from 23% to 24% and, 3% were enrolled in higher education institutions. 2019 was a record year for UNHCR's higher education scholarship program, known as the DAFI (Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative) program, which is largely funded by the German and Danish governments. The scholarship holders came from 45 countries. The majority of students came from Syria (29%), followed by Afghanistan (14%), South Sudan (14%), Somalia (10%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (6%). The top five host countries were Ethiopia, Turkey, Jordan, Kenya and Pakistan. In countries where the gross school enrolment rate for refugees is below 10%, such as Ethiopia and Pakistan, all girls are at risk of never returning to school.
Girls are particularly concerned
According to a study by the Malala Fund for Girls' Education and COVID-19, almost 10 million girls may not attend secondary school once the coronavirus pandemic is over. In the case of refugee girls, around 50% may not return to school when classes resume. Out-of-school refugee girls are exposed to increased risks of exploitation, sexual and gender-based violence, early pregnancy and marriage. Yet we know that women with a secondary education earn on average almost twice as much as those with no education at all. According to Unesco, if all girls completed elementary school, child marriages would fall by 14%. If they finished secondary school, this figure would fall by 64%.
The COVID-19 pandemic is also having an impact on the education of student refugees, 85% of whom live in developing countries. With some affected by school closures, distance learning is not always available, and even if it is, cell phones, tablets, laptops, TVs and radios, as well as Internet connectivity, are often not accessible to displaced people. The coronavirus could wipe out the dreams and ambitions of these young refugees. The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic not only restrict opportunities, but may also force displaced and destitute students to drop out of school and work, beg and marry early, in an attempt to support their families.