The 24th of January is International Day of Education, declared by The United Nations General Assembly, in celebration of the role of education for peace and development. Education is a basic Human Right which unfortunately not everyone has access to.
Welcome Churches has partnered with Refugee Education UK, to further explore why young refugees in the UK may find it difficult to navigate the education system in the UK and what kind of things we can do to support them. The article below has been written by Catherine Gladwell, Founder and Chief Executive, Refugee Education UK.
About Refugees Education
REUK has grown from a small volunteer-led local project into a charity which now supports over 700 refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people every year. Today, we run a range of direct education-support programmes across the country, train schools, colleges and universities to better support young refugees, and carry out research with and for the United Nations, governments, universities and other organisations.
Education for young refugees – why it matters and what needs to be done
“I just want to study. For me, education is the key that unlocks my future” – Jihan, from Syria.
Each week, our team at Refugee Education UK meets young refugees like Jihan, whose right to go to school has been taken away by conflict or war. We want that to change – we are working towards a world where all refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people can access education, thrive in education, and use that education to create a hopeful, brighter future.
In conflict, schools are destroyed, occupied by armed groups and used to shelter displaced people. Where learning continues, students and teachers can be targets of violence. For many, continuing to learn is just not possible.
When children and families are forced to flee their homes, they miss out on more education as they make dangerous journeys trying to find a place of safety.
For refugee and asylum-seeking young people arriving in safe countries, education is a priority: it’s how lives begin to be rebuilt and hope for the future is rekindled. But getting back into, and progressing in education is fraught with challenge.
Despite its importance, the right to education is disrupted in forced displacement: an estimated 48 percent of displaced children of school age are out of school. This disruption is particularly stark at post-primary levels. In 2019, only 31 percent of refugees were enrolled in secondary school while a mere three percent of refugees were enrolled in university.
Getting into education
On arrival in the UK, refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people can wait up to 9 months before getting a place in school.
For those aged 16-18 (including the majority of unaccompanied asylum seeking children) trying to get into college, or further education (FE), the barriers of insufficient accurate information, a lack of appropriate courses, the impact of immigration status and age, and a reluctance from some institutions to admit asylum-seeking students combine to make access difficult for some, and impossible for others.
For those trying to access university, international student fees and ineligibility for financial support, prescriptive entry requirements, and, as with FE, insufficient or inaccurate information, advice and guidance combine to make access to education at these higher levels immensely difficult.
Thriving in education
Getting into school or college is only the beginning. Once in, refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people are held back from realising their educational potential by a combination of a lack of English language skills, a limited number of appropriate courses and study pathways, and the impact of trauma on their mental health and ability to function or remain in educational settings.
We want things to be different. So what needs to change?
Firstly, we need much more investment into helping children learn English rapidly when they arrive in the UK – most of our partner schools have limited English as an Additional Language resource, and we’d love to see that change. Great organisations like The Bell Foundation have brilliant resources for schools and teachers working in this area.
Secondly, we need to support children’s mental health if they are to thrive in school. This can be done through dedicated training for teachers, as well as in-school trauma informed provision.
Thirdly, refugee children across the country need bespoke education support and guidance to build their skills and navigate their own journeys – we’re doing this through providing 1:1 educational mentoring, wellbeing support, progression advice and guidance and leadership training for hundreds of young refugees across the country.
We are so thankful for Refugee Education UK and the incredible and valuable work they do supporting young refugees. As Christians we can be praying for these young people to learn quickly in a new environment and to have easy access to support that will aid their learning and also pray for the education system to be better equipped and more adaptable to their needs.