Access to secondary and tertiary education for all refugees: steps and challenges to overcome.

Author:Anselme, Marina L.


During situations of displacement, access for refugee youth to secondary educational initiatives is limited at best. However, upon the return of refugees, the national structure of their home country is most often weak and unstable. To ensure the economic, social, and political development of a society that has been severely affected by conflict or disaster, it is imperative that there be a youth population of capable, productive, and educated citizens who may provide an exit strategy from the situation. Future leaders must therefore be given the opportunity to promote the development both of themselves personally, and of their national structures, through learning--notably, secondary, vocational, and tertiary education. This paper underscores the need for and gaps in the provision of secondary educational initiatives, highlighting the many challenges involved in improving refugee youth access to both secondary and vocational education, and highlighting the issues that must be considered by policy and decision makers in order to facilitate and support such access.


Pendant les situations de deplacement force, l'acces a l'education secondaire des jeunes refugies est reduit au maximum. Cependant, a partir du moment ou ils peuvent retourner a leurs pays d'origine, son structure est en general affaiblit et instable. Afin d'assurer le developpement economique, social et politique d'une societe qui a ete severement troublee par un conflit ou catastrophe, il est imperatif de compter sur une jeunesse competente, eduquee et responsable d'un point de vue civique, et capable de creer et de soutenir une strategie de sortie aux situations du passe. Les leaders de demain doivent avoir l'opportunite de se developper individuellement, mais egalement de developper leurs structures nationales, a travers l'education, notamment secondaire, professionnelle et tertiaire. Cet article souligne les besoins et les ecarts existants ence qui concerne la provision d'initiatives dans le domaine de l'education secondaire, remarquant les divers defis auxquels il faut faire face pour ameliorer l'acces des jeunes refugies a l'education post-primaire (secondaire et professionnelle), et par voie de consequence a l'education tertiaire. En outre, il souligne egalement les sujets qui devraient etre consideres par les autorites politiques et decisionnaires competentes afin de faciliter et soutenir ledit acces.


Access to post-primary education creates long-term, sustainable growth and human development that is crucial for the rebuilding, stability, and recovery of states that have been weakened by conflict. Economic and social development in these situations is crucial, and therefore in order to ensure the future stability of a country recovering from a history of conflict or disaster, it is vital that future leaders are given the opportunity to promote their development, both nationwide and personally, through learning. Secondary education is thus integral to the rebuilding of an effective and reliable national structure.

Unfortunately, post-primary education is overlooked by most humanitarian donors, agencies, and organizations during the relief and reconstruction phase of humanitarian emergencies, as it "falls between the cracks" of development budgets for education, which typically concentrate solely on basic education for children, ignoring youth in the process. But these youth are typically one of the most neglected groups of people by aid organizations when it comes to providing assistance to the displaced. Youth who are left without access to secondary education are left idle and unproductive, susceptible to recruitment into rebel movements, violent gangs, and all forms of exploitation including sexual abuse and illegal employment. Whether formal or non-formal, secondary education, including vocational training, provides a bridge to tertiary studies and employment, offering (and sustaining) physical, cognitive, and psychosocial security, protection, and self-reliance. Essentially, secondary learning bridges the gaps between conflict and peace, between dependency and self-reliance, between primary and post-primary, and between secondary and tertiary education or sustainable employment.

The Refugee Education Trust (RET) has run educational programs for displaced, refugee, and returnee youth for over ten years in countries that are either in conflict, coming out of conflict, devastated by natural disasters, or at high risk of violence. The RET has a focus on not just the relief needs of refugees and internally displaced youth and communities, but also the developmental needs of returnees. The provision of education and self-reliance to youth is important at such a vulnerable age and time, bridging the gap between emergency needs of displaced youth and providing developmental solutions in the home and host country during and after repatriation. Whilst many UN agencies and international or national organizations offer protection, food, water, medical assistance, and primary education, the RET is the only organization focused exclusively on education for youth affected by conflict or disaster. In order to ensure stable societies, we need to counter the traumatizing and destructive experiences that war-affected youth have undergone. It is important that conditions are created that assist in producing positive and productive roles for youth in developing countries. An important way to avoid future conflict is through realizing and encouraging the dynamism and capacities of youth as the leaders of tomorrow's societies. Youth cohorts who are not given the opportunity to integrate into community and social structures are less able to acquire the skills they need for peaceful and constructive adult lives.

This article will consider the various factors involved in secondary education for refugees, examining the need for improved access, the main challenges faced by refugee youth and organizations working for their education in accessing and providing such programs, and the value of post-primary education in situations of displacement. Economic, social, and community development and the recovery of a nation are reliant upon the value of young leaders, able to lead the way out of poverty and post-conflict situations. However, this is dependent upon such potential leaders' access to valid secondary education. Recommendations made in the conclusion will stem from the RET's extensive experience in the field.

Issues Surrounding the Needs at Secondary Level for Refugee Adolescents and Youth

Being uprooted does not deny refugees their right to education, nor remove the states' responsibility to provide it. Nevertheless, refugee youth and adult access to appropriate learning and life skills during their exile is extremely difficult, in developing as well as in less developed countries. The provision of primary as opposed to secondary education for refugees has astonishing differences. Basic education, as one of the Millennium Development Goals and the main focus of the Education For All (EFA) initiative, is considered a priority over secondary education in nearly all humanitarian situations, and even then, it will consistently be left until the reconstruction phase of such emergencies, with health care, access to food and nutrition, clean water, and other forms of protection being prioritized, as expected. In the case of refugees, and in terms of international funding policies, the different stages of education are often perceived as independent compartments, instead of interdependent and interactive links in the educational process. However, the perspective of lifelong learning here is essential In that respect, for instance, it has been proved that high rates of enrolment and the achievement of learning outcomes at primary level depend significantly upon the availability of post-primary educational opportunities. Likewise, it is widely acknowledged that children who attend pre-primary educational programs are better prepared to succeed in primary education later on, and the provision of non-formal literacy courses for youth and adults who had their schooling interrupted not only improves their personal capacities and competencies, but also can have a positive impact upon the promotion of school attendance for their children; youth are an important potential resource for the development and reconstruction of societies and countries recovering from conflict.

It is often the case that this gap between primary and post-primary education is correlated with situations of conflict or disaster, especially in countries with restricted economic opportunities and poor governance. Indeed, as Rose and Greesley (1) discuss, attention to post-basic education is crucial to mitigate the risk...

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