Every day in 2015, around 17,000 children fled their homes due to persecution and conflict, according to Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) latest World Report, launched last week. While access to education is crucial for children’s physical and emotional well-being, for those living in emergencies going to school is often an impossible dream.

The report draws on United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR)’s striking data, which shows that while half of the world’s 3.5 million refugee children of primary-school age attend classes, less than a quarter of the 1.95 million secondary-school-aged children have access to education. And it is worse for girls: globally, just seven girls for every 10 refugee boys go to secondary school.

Focus on primary education

While the record number of refugees and internally displaced people around the world has focused attention on the need to ensure that displaced children can enrol in school, humanitarian responses to crises have tended to focus on primary, rather than secondary, education, the report highlights.

An essay published alongside the report is thus entirely devoted to secondary education and examines the specific problems that it has to face in emergencies—especially where conflicts forcibly displace children. It goes on to offer solutions that host countries, donors, and humanitarian actors could adopt to promote and guarantee secondary education in aid-recipient countries affected by crises or large refugee flows.

Funding as problem and solution

At the root of these problems, and solutions, says the essay, are funding and refugee policies. It reveals that globally, less than two percent of donor support goes to education in emergencies; of that, far more goes to primary than secondary education. Also, it finds that inadequate resources coincide with restrictive refugee host-country policies that often hit children hardest just as they become adolescents.