UNHCR and UNESCO, and co-hosts Canada and the United Kingdom, are convening a high-level roundtable discussion on ensuring learning and schooling continues during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond for refugees. Planned alongside the High-Level Political Forum event, participants will hear from refugee learners and graduates, and Ministers of Education from Cameroon, Pakistan and Kenya, about how their personal education experiences and national education systems have been affected by the pandemic, and how they are planning for the return to school for refugee learners. The discussion will be moderated by UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie.

Despite a relative easing of COVID-19 school closures and an increasing trend towards reopening, over one billion learners globally remain affected by school closures. Disruption to education on this scale is unprecedented. COVID-19 leaves few lives and places untouched, however its impact, including in education, is harshest for groups that are already in vulnerable situations such as refugees. Even before COVID-19 refugee children were twice as likely to be out of school than other children and despite improvements in refugee enrolment rates, only 63% of refugees are in enrolled in primary school and 24% in secondary education. The pandemic risks creating a backslide in the small gains made and creating a disaster for groups such as adolescent girls.

In recent years significant efforts have been made on the inclusion of refugee learners in national education systems, however barriers to education persist and could potentially worsen due to the pandemic. There is also the worrying possibility that discrimination and xenophobia directed at refugee populations increases, negatively affecting school enrolment and retention. This must be mitigated and addressed by responses in education. The first step to doing this is upholding and guaranteeing the right to education for refugees through ensuring all are able to learn at home and safely return to school. There are some promising signs that governments are fast-tracking the inclusion of refugees in their COVID-19 responses, demonstrating an opportunity to work on the delivery of commitments contained in the Global Compact on Refugees.

As the focus shifts from distance learning and school closure to reopening and returning to school, close attention must be paid to existing and exacerbated inequities facing refugees, especially secondary school age girls who were already only half as likely to enroll as their male peers. These conditions are anticipated to worsen. Data modelling of school closures conducted by the Malala Fund found that 10 million adolescent girls might not return to school post-COVID and recent work with UNHCR showed that 20% of the refugee girls who are in secondary school are at significant risk of never returning to school following the COVID-19 school closures. We must act now to address the inequality and dire situation facing refugee learners.

Objectives of the event

Led by UNHCR and UNESCO, convened and chaired Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and co-hosted by Canada and the United Kingdom, this high-level virtual roundtable will bring together voices of affected communities and partners to hear about the needs and responses on the ground. The roundtable is built on a recognition of the role of host governments in leading responses and the need for international solidarity in supporting planning for return to school and catching up on missed education. UNESCO, in its role as the coordinator for the Global Education Coalition, will host the event virtually which will include the following voices:

Refugee graduates who have benefited from tertiary education to be part of the COVID-19 response and can talk to the importance of education for the future.
Refugee learners from two locations
Ministers of Education: The event will include contributions from the Ministers of Education from three refugee-hosting states: Cameroon, Pakistan and Kenya.

By NO Comment 20th July 2020

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