By Peter Hyll-Larsen, INEE Advocacy coordinator, seconded by FCA.
Each year in November the World gets its school report card. This year is no exception and the 400 page long Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM) from UNESCO in Paris has just been published. It collects data and analysis on where each country is on its way to meeting the Sustainable Development Goal number 4 (SDG4) on education and development. Though overall the world community gets better and more coordinated at meeting the many challenges, every year the report also show up how far we still lack behind and the amount of work needed over the next decade to be where we want to be in 2030.
The report looks at all countries, analysing their data on school systems and education financing. It then goes on to look at both the countries who provide aid assistance to education and those countries who are the recipients of this aid. Finland is in the first category, and out of the 46 million USD that Finland gave to education (a not very large 7% of Finland’s total overseas development aid budget in 2016, the latest figure available to the GEM) 33 million went to basic education, 8 were to secondary and only 5 to post-secondary education.
”The peace dividend of education is very considerable”
Though the overall figure of 46 million could be much better, it is perhaps the prioritisation that is the most telling illustration of one of the major goals of the SDG4: after largely winning the battle around primary education (figures are still not good, but many have entered primary school over the last decade) it is now the transition to and retention in secondary school that is needed, and hence much more political will and financial commitments are necessary to make this happen. This could be one place for Finland to continue to make a difference: not by taking away the 33 million for primary, but by augmenting the 8 million and 5 million for secondary and post-secondary. Finland is rich enough to do so, and not only will it help towards ensuring everyone their continued right to quality education, it will contribute to a much more stable world, since the peace dividend of education is very considerable, especially in an age of mass displacement and in a reality where the gap in transition to secondary education is especially large for refugee children.
Refugees and displaced children are the key to meeting SDG4
Each year also has a specific theme and the new GEM Report is on an urgent and globally rising challenge: Migration, displacement and education: Building bridges, not walls. The Report convincingly sets out the challenges ahead for meeting this very large (and growing) population, and it maps trends and debates on how progress is made, providing the international community and countries with recommendations.
For Finn Church Aid this is especially important, because we work in some of the most difficult country contexts, where refugees and displaced persons are a major part of the population we try to assist. Uganda has one of the world’s largest refugee populations as well as one of the most progressive policies on displaced person’s rights. Myanmar on the other hand has forced more than 700.000 people across the border into Bangladesh, a country who is understandably weary of integrating such a large new population into already fragile national systems. And in Somalia and Eritrea a lot of people are internally displaced after years of unrest. FCA works with education in all of these countries. The report is therefore hugely important in guiding how we bring about change: In the aid policy debates in Helsinki and the international fora where Finland takes an active part, as well as with ministries and civil society organisations where we work.
”UNHCR estimates that only 61% of refugees attend primary school, compared to 91% at the global level and just 22% refugee adolescents receive a secondary education, compared to 84% around the world.”
Today’s crises are long and protracted, resulting in extensive periods of displacement and disruption. As a result of this and a range of policy and financial barriers which may prevent refugees from accessing the national education system, refugees and other displaced populations are five times less likely to attend school than other children and youth. UNHCR estimates that only 61% of refugees attend primary school, compared to 91% at the global level and just 22% refugee adolescents receive a secondary education, compared to 84% around the world. These figures are echoed in the GEM report, which then goes on to make the all-important link between ensuring the right to education for displaced populations and achieving the wider SGD4 goal for development.
Integration into national education systems
A major recommendation is for the inclusion of refugee children into national systems of the host countries – of which most are in the Global South, such as countries like Uganda and Bangladesh. This is the best and most sustainable way forward to ensure quality of education and that we do not create large un-wieldy parallel societies or refugee camps wherein people are caught for years and years, with little hope of neither going home or integrating into the host countries. And with out integration and hope there is a very real danger of war and instability continuing and spreading. Unfortunately, as highlighted by the report, there is still a lack of political will (and financial commitment as well – in the short term it costs a lot of money for existing education systems to integrate many new learners, even if the long-term economic gains are considerable). It is only a little more than half of the 25 high-priority host countries (those with biggest populations and with the biggest needs, as identified by UNHCR) who actually allow refugees to integrate into national systems.
One country that is on the fore-front is Uganda, with some very progressive policies on the integration of refugees from Chad, DRC and South Sudan – allowing them the freedom of movement and giving them a piece of land among other things. This is in part due to a far-sighted regional collaboration of seven East African countries that have come together on a commitment to inclusion in education, as expressed in the Djibouti Declaration. However, what is needed, in Uganda and in the many other countries that draw up impressive policies, is both a greater support from the international community as well as much greater accountability and better monitoring systems to prove that the good intentions are actually translated into action, rather than just staying at a policy level, in capitals and in ministries of education, in Geneva and New York. Finland and its EU partners can help support and encourage the host countries to do so – through collective and coordinated political and financial action.