Across Canada, kids woke up on Monday morning, cranky that they had to get dressed and head to school. Meanwhile, there are 75 million children and young people out of school in countries affected by crisis.
Rowan* was one of those children. When Rowan was just 8 years old, she was forced to leave her home in Syria for Turkey. She was the focus of a case study from Save the Children’s research shared by the Independent. At the time, she was 12 years old and she was unable to continue her education while displaced because tuition fees were too expensive for her family.
“Now I should be in middle school. I feel like I missed so many things. We used to do theatre with the other children. I wish to go to school again,” she said.
Rowan explained that her family tried to teach her some things, but it just wasn’t the same as attending school where she would be learning and interacting with other children.
Rowan’s situation is not uncommon. Many refugee children miss out on basic educational moments due to crisis like the one her family faced in Syria.
“Now I should be in middle school. I feel like I missed so many things. ... I wish to go to school again.”
The average length of time someone spends displaced from their home is 17 years. Think about that. At home in Canada, children spend 12-14 years completing primary and secondary education.
So what does that mean when it comes to education for refugee children?
High tuition fees are just one of many barriers refugee children face when trying to attend school. Some families assume they will only be displaced for a short period of time so there is no sense of urgency, while others experience emotional trauma that makes it hard to move on.
Raouf, one of many children living in the Za’atari refugee camp, was too afraid to go to school in the camp.
“Dad, don’t make me go to school anymore because my school is destroyed,” he said to his dad before leaving Syria. Back home, Raouf’s school was hit with a bomb and that experience troubled him for a long time.
“Dad, don’t make me go to school anymore because my school is destroyed.”
Raouf spoke with filmmakers Zach and Chris while they were filming Salam Neighbor. He told them he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up, but at the time of filming, he had not been able to bring himself to go back to school.
Read More: One Year Later, Education Still Cannot Wait
According to The UN Refugee Agency, for every 10 refugee boys in primary schools there are fewer than eight refugee girls. At secondary level, there are fewer than seven girls for every 10 boys.
The benefits for girls to stay in school are far reaching. UNESCO estimates that 3.5 million child deaths could be prevented between 2050 and 2060 if mothers were educated to lower secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.
For all children, education is an important experience that helps them develop essential skills that will help lead to employment later in life. Education teaches children about supporting a family and overall promotes a healthy lifestyle.
School in refugee camps can also instill a sense of normalcy to a child’s everyday life, providing emotional support and facilitating interactions with other children.
Because the average length of time someone spends displaced from their home is so high, some people end up spending their whole lives in a camp. Such was the case with Jacob*.
“I am 21 years old. I have been in Kakuma for 21 years; I was born in the camp and grew up in the camp... I [still] live in the camp,” says Jacob.
Jacob arrived at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya in 1995 during the civil war between the central Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army in his home country of South Sudan.
Growing up in the camp, Jacob’s education lacked important resources and tools but he knew education was key to ending poverty and to furthering development in his country. That is why he became a teacher in the camp when he finished school, “I hope to return to South Sudan and improve the education sector. I have been inspired greatly and believe the innovation is the key to my country’s development.”
“I am 21 years old. I have been in Kakuma for 21 years; I was born in the camp and grew up in the camp... I [still] live in the camp.”
These stories come from refugee children in Jordan, Turkey and Nothern Kenya. The places are different, but the issues surrounding education are the same. Lack of resources, limited access and fear make it difficult for children to receive a proper education while they are displaced.
Water, food and shelter are important in a time of crisis, but education provides hope for the future and ensures there will be a way to rebuild and move forward when the time comes. Education in refugee camps should be at the forefront of international aid. Yet, in 2016, only 1.4% of humanitarian aid was invested in education.
Investing in children’s education helps to break the cycle of crises and results in economic and social returns. It ensures the prosperity of an entire generation. Because of stories like Rowan’s, Raouf’s and Jacob’s, education cannot wait.
*Names have been changed for confidentiality.