The right to quality education for everyone has always been at the top of our agenda and the situation of refugees in Europe, but also worldwide, is of great concern to us. Advocating for equal access and quality education for refugees is a priority for OBESSU at the moment. Besides our advocacy work, we are also encouraging school students to take action on local, regional and national levels with our Seeds for Integration funding project.

Similarly, Education International, the global representative organisation for teachers, has been working on the topic on an even bigger scale. They organised a conference in Stockholm (Sweden) on the 21st and 22nd of November with the title Education for Refugee Children – Fast Track to Equal Opportunities and Integration with over 200 participants from 50 education unions from 38 countries. The education authorities of Sweden, Greece, Jordan and the Netherlands were present, but also representatives of UNESCO, UNHCR, OECD, ILO, ETUC together with other key stakeholders. OBESSU was one of these guests, representing the voice of school students in the debate.

There were various workshops over the two days where the highly diverse group of education and refugee experts and stakeholders came together in smaller formations to develop key policy proposals for the ground. Three key areas were addressed: access to education, integration in the education system and combating intolerance and hate.

Access to education
Current numbers on refugees access to education are alarming. Only 50% attend primary school, 25% secondary and only 1% tertiary education, as mentioned during the conference. While the fact that most refugees reside in poor countries outside Europe explains these statistics to some extent, access to education has also been a big problem in Europe. The conference participants shared varying experiences, where transit countries face particular challenges in ensuring that refugee children receive education. The central role of national public school systems was highlighted, which is crucial to provide first language learning support. Furthermore, participants agreed on the importance of flexible curricula to accommodate for the needs of newly arrived refugees who are potentially planning to move to another country. The recognition of qualifications obtained in different countries is another crucial point to ensure learners flexibility.

Integration in the education system
Once refugees are in education systems, their education must go beyond language learning support. Hanan Al-Hroub, a teacher from Palestine who received the Global Teacher Award, shared her teaching approach which highlights the importance of paying attention not just to academic but also social and psychological needs of students from conflict areas. Learner-focused, interactive curricula which provide holistic education are crucial. Teachers in classrooms can have an outstanding impact, when provided with sufficient funding and flexibility for such additional support.

Andreas Schleicher from the OECD presented findings pointing to the importance of social integration of refugees in society. Currently there is a worrying performance gap between migrant and native students. Second generation immigrants might do worse than the first in education which highlights the need for a long-term approach to integration in order to have successful participation in school systems.

One proposal that was the outcome of a workshop is that governments need to work harder to ensure social and economic rights of all young people. Access towelfare services is crucial to prevent early school leaving and social exclusion, and this can be best provided when closely integrated in the education systems. OBESSU strongly agrees with this demand, which is a focus area of our work.

Combating intolerance and hate
Addressing growing xenophobia through global citizenship education is key matter. All people need to learn the practice of human rights and solidarity from a young age in order to become active, responsible global citizens who stand up against hate, intolerance and injustice. This is crucial for creating a welcoming atmosphere in classrooms too. Importantly, this must be practiced through democratic engagement of young people.

We are particularly happy that the participants at the conference agreed on the importance of listening to needs of the young people affected. The presence and active involvement of two refugee students, the European Students’ Union (ESU) and us, it is a great sign of taking this pledge seriously.

Overall, this conference showed the benefits of different education stakeholders working together to address the challenges we face. It successfully highlighted the crucial role of education to address the challenges associated with the current humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and its effects on Europe. As Fred Van Leeuwen put it in his opening speech, “Education is not the only solution but there is no solution without education to peace and humanity”. We couldn’t agree more.

Find a video about the teacher Hanan Al-Hroub here.

For any further information, feel free to contact the OBESSU Board at board@obessu.org

Written by Larissa Nenning, OBESSU Board member