By Francine Menashy, University of Massachusetts Boston

Education in contexts of humanitarian crisis is a multi-faceted issue, which can be addressed from a range of perspectives—the classroom, the school, the nation. At the recent Refugee Education Conference hosted by Education International in Stockholm, Sweden, I moderated a workshop where participants discussed refugee education through the most overarching lens: the global perspective. 

Participants represented a range of countries and professional backgrounds, including school teachers, administrators, and representatives from unions, ministries of education, and UN agencies. Four roundtables focused on different elements to the global perspective on refugee education. For example, one group focused on global conventions on refugee rights, and brainstormed strategies that could improve countries’ ratification and implementation records on such international declarations as the Sustainable Development Goals and the recent New York Declaration from this past September’s UN Refugee and Migration Summit.  

Another roundtable discussed how to re-frame perceptions of refugees as blessings instead of burdens—a direct response to the media and political rhetoric that readily portrays refugees in a negative light. This group targeted the ways in which refugees can contribute to host communities and their economies. 

Participants discussed the unique needs of unaccompanied minors and how to support them within communities and classrooms, in line with global conventions that have been established to protect them. And another roundtable addressed the urgency for adequate and sustainable funding for education in contexts of humanitarian crisis, a topic of urgent importance given the current climate of diminishing bilateral aid to education.

After hours of engaged debate and discussion, each roundtable developed a few key recommendations for EI, its affiliates, and the educational community more widely. For example, Education International and its affiliates were encouraged to engage in campaigns that aim to turn the tide on public opinion on refugees by shifting their communication strategies, particularly through social media and in collaboration with other stakeholders and NGOs. 

Participants recommended that education unions work to support regional, national, and local authorities in ensuring that unaccompanied minors are provided with effective protection and assistance in a comprehensive and sustainable way, in line with international conventions and by promoting cross border collaboration between relevant authorities to enable efficient family reunification processes. 

Education stakeholders were encouraged to work with wider social service agencies to ensure an effective transition for refugees into their host communities, with education at the core of all support services. And with a view to increase aid to education in all global contexts, Education International was asked to better support affiliates in lobbying for more contributions to the Education Cannot Wait Fund and to pressure donor governments to reach the 0.7% goal in development assistance budgets.

More people have been driven from their homes than at any time since UNHCR records began. One in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced person, or a refugee. Millions of children—each of whom holds the right to be educated—have an uncertain road ahead. In the face of these staggering statistics, the global community can take responsibility through a range of actions and advocacy efforts that address the urgent need for refugee education from the global perspective.