Crises and Education: A Growing Global Challenge

The Changing Nature of Crises

The concept of displacement and return may soon become a fallacy: the number of asylum-seekers was more than double in 2014 what it was in 2013 (Siegfried 2015). Furthermore, migrants tend to be displaced for longer periods of time, with the average protracted refugee crisis lasting 17 years—a figure that nearly doubled between 1993 and 2003 (US Department of State n.d.), meaning that for humanitarian education efforts, a long view must be taken. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported a nearly 500 % increase in 2014 since 2008 in the number of IDPs being supported by their agency, with

Syrian internally displaced persons (IDPs) being the largest cohort at 6.5 million (UNHCR 2015b).

Educating IDCs During Crises: The Supple Side and the Question of Mandate

Learning programs that are delivered during times of forced displacement can help protect children from physical and psychosocial harm, both in the present and as a protective action that builds resilience to future shocks. As Talbot (2013) and others have noted, education during crisis is not in and of itself protective, life sustaining, and certain to lead to high human development indicators later in life—but it can be if done well. It is critical to acknowledge that education programming undertaken during times of crisis that prioritizes well-being and sustained engagement of cognitive, social, emotional, and physical skill development is known to be helpful (Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council 2014).

A complicating factor is the lack of clarity around which UN agency is mandated to support IDPs and, within that, which UN agency is responsible for education. In fact, with respect to IDPs, the principle of the responsibility to protect says that it is the responsibility of the state to protect its own citizens (International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect n.d.).

The challenge of education as a durable solution for children forcibly displaced arises when governments become contributors to the problem of education during displacement. Sometimes the governments legally responsible for supplying education make concerted decisions to limit its availability. In northern Syria, teachers on the government payroll were not allowed to remain on it unless they taught at government schools. As recently as September 2015, there were indicators that the Government of Syria was involved with dropping weapons on its citizens in northern Syria (Barrel bombs 2015).

In turning to the UN and other international agencies to seek support for IDCs, the complicated UN structure itself as well as the often-political nature of conflict creates challenges. Ostensibly, UNESCO holds the mandate for ensuring education for all (UNESCO n.d.b). In practice, however, it is UNICEF that is often at the forefront of UN-sponsored education service delivery even though it is not mandated to act in such a direct way. The UNHCR is clearly mandated to support refugees but “the High Commissioner does not have a general or exclusive mandate for internally displaced people” (UNHCR 2013, 9). The final agency with a related mandate, the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), focuses on support to Palestinian refugees and IDPs, including providing educational services (UNRWA n.d.).

As a result of these complications, IDP children tend to have less education-related support than refugees. Entities (e.g., UNESCO) recognize this challenge, noting that “.. .some of the education governance problems facing IDPs can be traced to international provisions” (UNESCO 2011, 214). As Kirk (2009, 35) noted: “.[I]n many ways the situation for IDP children may be more complex than that of refugee children, and access to education even more difficult” and “[a]lthough UNICEF and UNHCR are often active in IDP operations, no UN agency has consistently provided these children with education or protection” (2009, 40).

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