2019 Global Education Monitoring Report: Migration, Displacement and Education: Building Bridges Not Walls





Globally, about 1 in 8 people are internal migrants, about 1 in 30 are international migrants (almost two-thirds in high-income countries), and about 1 in 80 are displaced by conflict or natural disaster (9 in 10 in low- and middle-income countries). This report presents evidence on the impacts of migration and displacement in the education sector, and discusses how reforms in the sector could address challenges and opportunities posed by migration and displacement. Key messages (focusing on displacement) include:

  • Migration and displacement can affect education, requiring systems to accommodate those who move, those who stay, and those who host immigrants and displaced populations. Education also affects migration and displacement, as it is a major driver in the decision to migrate, and is key to providing citizens with critical understanding, promoting cohesive societies and fighting prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination.
  • Displacement reduces access to education. Displaced people tend to come from some of the world’s poorest and least served areas, and their vulnerability is further exacerbated when displacement deprives them of education.
  • Education can help displaced people to realize their potential. Access to education is critical to establishing normalcy, structure and hope. Education needs to help displaced populations cope with protracted displacement and prepare them for a variety of futures.
  • Education for the displaced lags in access and quality. 52 percent of refugees are under the age of 18; at least 4 million refugees (age 5-17) were out of school in 2017. UNHCR estimates refugee enrolment ratios at 61 percent in primary school and 23 percent in secondary school. In low-income countries, refugee enrolment ratios are 50 percent in primary and 11 percent in secondary. The quality of refugee education is “bleak”. In many conflict-affected countries, refugees and IDPs strain already struggling education systems (e.g. South Sudanese refugees in Uganda settle in the poor West Nile sub-region, where the secondary net attendance rate was 9 percent in 2016, less than half the national rate).
  • Consensus has emerged that refugee education should not be provided in parallel systems that lack qualified teachers, do not offer certified examinations and risk having their funding cut at short notice. For example, Ethiopia’s Refugee Proclamation gives refugees access to national schools and gives host children access to refugee schools, Iran decreed in 2015 that schools accept all Afghan children regardless of documentation, and Turkey has decided to include all Syrian refugee children in the national education system by 2020.
  • The degree and evolution of refugee inclusion in national education systems vary across displacement contexts, affected by geography, history, resources and capacity. Refugees may share the host country’s curriculum, assessment and language of instruction but be only partially included due to geographical separation (e.g. camps in Kenya) or capacity/resource constraints (e.g. double-shift schools in Lebanon and Jordan). Even countries with more resources can face practical challenges in delivering education to refugees through the national system (e.g. planning and coordination problems in Greece). In several contexts, refugees continue to be educated in separate, non-formal community-based or private schools (e.g. Palestine refugees, Burundian refugees in Tanzania, Karen refugees from Myanmar in Thailand). Other impediments to refugee inclusion that are discussed in the report include: lack of identity documents and credentials; limited language proficiency; interruptions in education; and affordability of education (not limited to fees). IDPs tend to face challenges similar to those of refugees.
  • The report highlights examples of host countries addressing these challenges. Chad included refugees in its temporary education plan in 2013 to address issues such as language of instruction, recognition of diplomas and the threat of loss of culture and national identity; it converted 108 refugee schools into regular public schools in 2018. Alternative education programs help children whose education was interrupted by displacement, e.g. an accelerated learning program in Dadaab camp, Kenya, which condensed the national eight-year curriculum into four years, increased access for refugee boys.
  • Teachers are the key to successful inclusion. Teachers are sometimes the only resource available to students in displacement settings, when classroom space or learning materials are in short supply. Yet including the displaced in national education systems poses challenges for teacher recruitment and retention. Teacher shortages intensify in displacement contexts: if all refugee children enrolled in school, Turkey would need 80,000 additional teachers, Germany would need 42,000 teachers and educators, and Uganda would need 7,000 additional primary teachers. Some countries help refugee teachers get certification and re-enter the profession. Compensating teachers in displacement situations is challenging; unregulated, substandard and short-term teacher contracts have a negative effect on working conditions. Teachers need training to develop strategies to deal with overcrowded, mixed-age or multilingual classrooms, as well as stress and trauma linked with displacement.
  • Immigrants and refugees can suffer from prejudice and discrimination in school, which hampers their learning, and public attitudes can affect migrants’ and refugees’ sense of belonging. Education can shape attitudes towards immigrants and refugees by providing critical skills to enable engagement with different cultures, and by providing an opportunity for students to engage with immigrants and refugees in school and challenge their own stereotypes. Additionally, diversity of teachers is associated with minority students’ achievement, self-esteem and sense of safety.
  • Monitoring the education status of migrants and displaced populations presents numerous challenges. Systematic data on the education status of migrants and refugees are patchy. Data tend to be collected relatively systematically in refugee camps, but less than 40 percent of refugees and even fewer IDPs live in camp settings.
  • Providing early childhood education and care for the displaced are crucial. Over one-sixth of displaced are children under age 5, for whom the lack of adequate interventions and protective relationships can lead to long-term mental health, social and economic problems. Best practices for refugee children under the age of five should focus on families and caregivers, and adopt a multi-sectoral approach. A review of 26 active humanitarian and refugee response plans revealed that nearly half made no mention of learning or education for children under 5 and less than one-third specifically mentioned pre-primary education.
  • Tertiary education for refugees should not be a luxury. Tertiary education opportunities increase refugees’ employment prospects and contribute to primary and secondary enrolment and retention, yet refugee tertiary participation is estimated at just 1 percent.
  • Addressing the technical and vocational education needs of migrants and refugees is important. Adult migrant and refugee education needs are often neglected. Financial literacy can protect migrants and refugees against scams, and help households make the most of remittances. Recognition of qualifications and prior learning can ease entry into labor markets.
  • Refugee children with disabilities face several barriers to education. Lack of physical accessibility is not the only barrier for refugee children with disabilities; lack of teacher education also matters. While research and data on disability in displacement remain limited, examples of good practice demonstrate that collecting high-quality data is a prerequisite for designing strategies to improve inclusion.
  • Language programs should include migrant and refugee voices in planning. For example, as part of an evaluation of its first refugee integration strategy, the Scottish government consulted with 700 refugees and asylum-seekers on the design of language and literacy courses.
  • Technology can support education for displaced people. The scalability, speed, mobility and portability of technology make it a suitable option for educating displaced people. But initiatives tend to provide content that is incompatible with national curricula in host countries. International organizations that support such partnerships need to ensure that they serve inclusion of refugees in national education systems.
  • Humanitarian and development aid provided about US$800 million for refugee education in 2016, but without joint planning.

The report makes seven recommendations that support implementation of the compacts on migrants and refugees: (1) protect the right to education of migrants and displaced people; (2) include migrants and displaced people in the national education system; (3) understand and plan to meet the education needs of migrants and displaced people; (4) represent migration and displacement histories in education accurately to challenge prejudices; (5) prepare teachers of migrants and refugees to address diversity and hardship; (6) harness the potential of migrants and displaced people; and (7) support education needs of migrants and displaced people in humanitarian and development aid.