Why Is Education Segmented For Refugee Children?

Education remains the backbone of all developed countries and it has been used as a grading scheme to categorize development globally. As such, why is this vital aspect limited to some of the most vulnerable people, such as refugee children? These children are allowed to enroll in primary school but often times denied the privilege to gain access to secondary schools and even less in universities. Education is a cumulative program with segmented levels for everyone in every country. Evidently, these divisions help the development of a child as well as aids in their future for job acquisition. For several years, refugee children, mostly those in camps, have been deprived of their human rights in being able to further their education largely because of strict regulations from some host governments.

As much as it is commendable to recognize the investments and efforts made by some host countries to provide camp primary schools, it would be even more beneficial for these children if these efforts can be extended to include other levels of schooling. Hundreds, if not thousands of children still roam around refugee camps after graduation from primary school sections without any hopes of furthering their education. Equally, it is praiseworthy to applaud the works of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children Emergency Fund, Save the Children, and World Vision, just to name a few organizations that have tirelessly made efforts to promote education for refugee children especially those living in camps. These organizations have advocated, lobbied, and instituted basic child-related projects for younger children and the positive impacts are outstanding. There is no doubt that, in this age of extreme competition to get jobs and maintain sustainable incomes, a mere primary school graduate cannot meet up with the standards to compare with a university graduate in the job market.

Figures Of Refugees In School

In the larger picture, according to UNHCR, there are around 3.7 million refugee children out of school – more than half of the 7.1 million are school-age refugee children. The shocking statistics reveal 63 percent of refugee children are enrolled in the primary school level as opposed to 92 percent globally. Sadly, only 24 percent attend secondary school compared to the 84 percent global figure. Lastly, the most critical, just 3 percent of refugee children attain higher education or university level education. This is a global statistic from the UNHCR population data, the unregistered numbers may be even more daunting. Almost all the refugee children who have excelled at the higher education level have had partial/full financial support from some host governments and/or full scholarships through UNHCR and some global funding from governments like Norway, among others.

Refugee children are children too, though their unfortunate circumstances caused them to relocate to another country. Just like every child, they have natural abilities, talents, and ambitions to excel in a career in the future. Several, if not all of them will appreciate the opportunity to be able to achieve their aspired dreams and to become responsible professionals. All reports from every organization working with refugee children have enlisted stories of young refugee children anticipating to become professionals later in life. They desire, like every other child, to be able to have the opportunity to study in classes with a designed curriculum which can enable them to excel in the national examinations of their host countries.

So many children in these same reports have expressed extreme joy because they had the opportunities to go back to school again. This has presented them with hope which will automatically build self-confidence and optimism. Several organizations have had to introduce tertiary projects to refugee youths living in camps just as a way to help them secure a life economically and to reduce the idleness of not going to school. Not all these youths will certainly be interested or can succeed in these trades. For example, some organizations have had projects with women to teach them sewing. This is a great profession but most of these women/ young girls feel compelled to do it as a way of life but they would have preferred a formal education. Instead of being ‘compelled’ to learn a trade or skill in the camps as support projects from organizations, they could have the chance to gain the knowledge needed for their desired skills and prospective career paths. Every human has potential and they all deserve the right to be able to use these abilities no matter what they have experienced before.

In addition, if these children gain skills from higher education and become entrepreneurs, for example, the host country automatically benefits. Whatever profession they choose, they will invest in the same country. Several of these children could be business owners in the future but they just lack the platform to learn about the tools on a practical formal basis.

Still on the positive viewpoint, if these children who will most likely become the leaders of tomorrow can learn and use their skills/ talents, it will help immensely in times of post-conflict reconstruction in their nations when they return. That is, for those who escaped/ migrated due to conflict, they will probably return to their home country and apply the skills that they have learned. Thus, these acquired skills and experiences could be used to improve their lives and those of their communities. This is indirectly one country investing in the peace and stability of another country in the future. Aspects like this should be included in discourses about maintaining and supporting peace internationally. People are the main components of every society. If people are trained on how to be stable, in every aspect including economically, it will facilitate the national peace-building agenda.

Refugees, like every other person, want to have the opportunity to be valuable in society. They want to be able to have the means to support themselves at all times. They are grateful for the support from organizations but this help has to exceed daily food supplies and shelter. They will like to have the liberty to be able to fend for themselves.


All host countries, especially signatory states to the International Children Rights Convention, should consider the inclusion of further education for refugee children when making national budgetary plans. If constructing secondary schools are a challenge at the refugee camps, they can at least support these children by providing transportation services to nearby schools. This could include assigning buses to camps to enable children to commute to the nearest cities or towns where there are schools. Governments should cut down on the excessive administrative bottlenecks and assist by providing scholarships.

It is worrisome that the post-corona pandemic era will pose an imminent financial crisis not solely for humanitarian donors but for governments. Therefore, this is time for organizations and good-willed people to advocate and support ventures that will provide sustainable solutions. If refugees are allowed access to study in national schools at all levels, they will have more employment possibilities within and outside their host countries. This will certainly reduce the burden on government and organizations that seem to be providing basic necessities to a group of idle people who can work. They do not stand the chance for global awards solely because they survived a devastating conflict. It is not fair for them to become illiterates or to be labeled a “lost generation”, as some activists have referred to them because of their unfortunate status.

Sarah Namondo


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