By Michael Cacich and Farida Aboudan, Educate A Child, a programme of the Education Above All Foundation
The recent Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report 2019: Migration, displacement and education: Building bridges, not walls estimates annual education spending at US$4.7 trillion worldwide. While education at all levels is inherently valuable to individuals and society at large, arguably it is especially useful when it is recognised and allows the individual to maximise future employment and learning opportunities wherever they are.
According to UNHCR, the world is now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record, with 70.8 million people globally having been forced from home. Amongst them are nearly 25.9 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.
The situation in the Arab States is particularly worrisome. The first regional edition of the GEM Report published by UNESCO argues that no part of the world is currently as affected by migration and displacement as the Arab States. While the region accounts only for 5 per cent of the global population, it hosts 32 per cent of the world’s refugees and 38 per cent of all those internally displaced by conflict.
Recognition of prior learning for migrant and refugee children
A timely GEM Report Policy Paper (37) entitled, What a waste: Ensure migrants and refugees’ qualifications and prior learning are recognized from December 2018 shows that, for migrants and refugees, recognition of prior learning and qualifications in the country of displacement and/or in the case of return, is essential. Especially, if one is displaced by conflict or another emergency, recognition of prior learning can prove difficult.
Although efforts to recognise tertiary qualifications are commendable, the largest number of refugees and migrants is under the age of 18. Tertiary education is only possible with a strong foundation of primary and secondary education. While recognition of prior learning at the primary and secondary levels is equally challenging (for example, lack of proper documentation for those forcibly displaced), children are further disadvantaged, when the only education available to them is through the non-formal sector, which is often not recognised, limiting opportunities for education progression.
Challenges in the Arab States in recognising prior learning and non-formal education
The Arab States are confronted with the need to:
- Enrol large numbers of out of school children into education programmes, in particular the hardest-to-reach. For example, 39 per cent of school-age Syrian children are still not in education, despite the substantial responses of the five countries hosting Syrian refugees. Many of these children are placed in parallel education systems;
- Establish or significantly expand accredited flexible learning opportunities to accommodate the affected children, particularly those who have lost a year or more of education and those that cannot be accommodated in formal schooling; and
- Develop pathways to ensure the continuation or application of education for returnees that are responsive to diverse needs and educational experiences.
Efforts are being made, however. For example, in Lebanon actions are being undertaken to standardise non-formal education with the aim of providing defined pathways to integration into the formal education system. In Syria, mapping non-formal education programmes and pathways to formal education is designed to inform Ministry policies. The GEM 2019 Arab report offers a comprehensive review of experience and insights into the interaction of migration, displacement, and education in the region, as well as case studies.
Several initiatives from outside the region may also yield some lessons for the Arab States:
- In December 2017, education ministers of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) included in their declaration a call upon all member states to “recognise and validate the qualifications of refugees and returnees across all levels of education”, which was reiterated in December 2018;
- The 2016 ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Education for Out of School Children and Youth (OOSCY) includes a commitment to ensure “lifelong learning and individual empowerment through flexible learning strategies and different pathways of learning for OOSCY, both formal and non-formal, academic and vocational skills, especially for those who are disadvantaged or marginalized.”;
- A UNESCO/Bangkok initiative, the Flexible Learning Strategies for Out of School Children programme, aims to support inclusive and quality education for every child in the region with a specific focus on the remaining and most vulnerable 5 per cent of children with no access to education. The programme includes capacity development on Innovative Approaches and Flexible Learning Strategies (FLS) for Out of School Children in Asia-Pacific Region.
Possible ways forward
It is critical to ensure that accreditation and recognition of prior learning and non-formal education becomes the norm in the Arab States, while establishing and/or maintaining accredited flexible education opportunities for the hardest to reach. Initiatives must build on regional commitments to out of school children and the accreditation of non-formal education programmes as an integral part of education systems. Regional commitments can be operationalised by:
- Building national education systems that can accommodate and recognise formal and non-formal education, which offer pathways between both to ensure lifelong learning consistent with SDG4; and
- Exploring opportunities to establish or revitalise regional frameworks for the recognition and validation of formal and non-formal education across countries in the region.