Accessibility links

A report examining the education of refugee children has found that three million Syrian children are currently out of school, putting them at increased risk of exploitation.

Published today by the RSA think-tank to coincide with Refugee Week, the report revealed that education makes up just 2% of humanitarian aid funding – despite schooling being identified as a high priority by refugee children and their parents.

The RSA's report, Cities of Reciprocity, warned that child refugees are spending their formative educational years ‘in limbo’- struggling to enrol into schools and faced with uncertainty about where they and their family can legally stay.

The RSA cited research by Save the Children, which found that for Syrian girls, a lack of access to education is contributing to sexual exploitation, harassment, domestic violence and a significant rise in forced marriages.

Given that many displaced people are likely never to return home, education should no longer be treated by authorities as a ‘secondary priority’, the RSA argued. 

More should be done to feature education in national development plans and education sector planning. Refugee’s educational access and attainment are rarely tracked through national monitoring systems, meaning their educational needs and achievements remain largely invisible, the RSA found.

Developing a means of accreditation is critical - including an international baccalaureate that could provide a global curriculum to those in transience. Technological advances also offer some hope, with initiatives such as mobile and online classrooms and open educational resources being used to formulate a city or region-wide approach. Online technologies can also be used to facilitate training opportunities for teachers and to foster locally developed solutions for pedagogical reform, the RSA said.

The report argued that much can be learnt from Athens, which has developed countless examples of good practice regarding refugee education. Currently there are 27,000 refugee children in Greece, with at least 18,000 are thought to be of school age. Responding to this challenge, Athens has developed numerous projects including:

  • The Cube Athens is a ‘self-organised learning environment’ for refugees who have been refused entry at schools (ages 6-16). The Cube is a co-working space that hosts new business start-ups and fosters connections between entrepreneurs. In the absence of a formal education, it provides an alternative way to conquer boredom and provide opportunities for young refugees to broaden their minds, work together to tackle challenges, and enhance their language skills.
  • The Hope School was set up by a group of young professionals living in Skaramagas refugee camp – the school now has over 600 children in attendance, operating out of shipping containers within the camp.
  • Microsoft and ‘Hack the Camp’ Athens involves programmers, designers, social entrepreneurs, educators and artists are invited to propose sustainable and scalable solutions for refugees in Greece.
  • Help Refugees has a growing bank of dedicated volunteers supporting vulnerable, young migrants in Athens. They offer a direct, practical way of helping refugees face their problems (without wading through layers of bureaucracy and red tape).
  • Refugees Deeply has compiled a list of some of the most influential education experts working on refugee education issues. They range from academics to policy advisors and are playing a crucial role in steering strategies and approaches to refugee education globally.
  • Techugees Athens is a social enterprise mobilizing the international tech community to respond to the refugee situation with chapters in 25 countries including Athens. Techugees organizes conferences, workshops and hackathons around the world in an effort to supply tech talent to NGOs working with refugees. 

Commenting on the report, RSA researcher Selina Nwulu said:

“Currently, the average refugee child has been out of school for a year and a half, though this is likely to increase to three or four years for refugee children from Syria. Given it’s unikely that many of the 21.3 million displaced children will return to their homes, it's vital that authorities start to pay greater attention to their educational needs. Beyond policy and the political sphere, there's also vast potential for innovative solutions to develop within and between cities. We hope that our analysis will inspire city leaders to leverage the power of city connections and foster acts of reciprocity in order to provide education for displaced children in future.”

Researchers concluded that there are 63.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, 21.3 million of whom are under the age of 18 (four times the number estimated in 2007). Challenges & barriers to refugee education include:

  • Refugee students and families are often under pressure to provide family income. Paid work is particularly valued over education for young men who may be considered the ‘breadwinners’ of the family.
  • Refugees have difficulty meeting the requirements of school registration. Birth certificates and written records of previous enrolment are often required by schools. Given that many families leave their home abruptly or unexpectedly, many may not be able to provide this.
  • Adapting to a new curriculum and language is a challenge for refugee children. Often refugees will move countries more than once, which further compounds the disruption to their education.
  • In primary and secondary education there is often a maximum age limits – refugee children whose secondary education has been temporarily delayed may find it impossible to go back and complete their studies.
  • The mainstream depiction of refugees means that many children face discrimination – perceived by schools as a ‘problem’ which can have an influence on the way students are treated by both students and teachers.
  • Schools often lack capacity and can struggle to accommodate children with different languages and abilities. Teachers also report feeling isolated and ill equipped to react to tensions and conflicts within the classroom as well as offer psychological support to those affected by the trauma of migration.

Notes to editors

  1. To find out more contact RSA Head of Media Luke Robinson on or call 020 7451 6893 or 07799 737 970



Be the first to write a comment

Please login to post a comment or reply.

Don't have an account? Click here to register.