September marks the beginning of a new school year in Italy, my homeland. I vividly remember my parents buying books and everything needed to encourage and support my brother and I, throughout our learning process. I clearly remember our excitement in choosing what to wear on the first day and the joy to meet our classmates. Many of them became real friends, and we shared much more than just school lessons.
Now, my husband and I devote great attention to our daughter’s education and try to provide her with the best learning opportunities. Education is the key to personal fulfillment, whereas knowledge can expand our views and strengthen our open-mindedness.
At school we lay the foundations of our future selves and learn basic notions that will captivate our interest. Slowly, we understand our vocation, we realise that we do better in mathematics and science or that we have a special talent with art and literature. Our personal development starts at school, which is like an enlarged family, where we can pave the way for integration and build future societies.
But, education is becoming a privilege rather than a universal human right, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other legal instruments both at the global and European level. Education is a fundamental right that should also be granted to all stateless, migrant and refugee children, who should not experience discrimination or marginalisation in their access to the education system.
Nonetheless, the current reality couldn’t be more distant from what is stated by international agreements and conventions.
If we look at Rohingya children, for instance, they have usually been denied access to education and decent learning chances under the restrictive Burmese government system. In Myanmar, they used to be marginalised because of their religion, but in Bangladesh overcrowded camps are a huge obstacle to a long-term school planning. As a result, many Rohingya children have never gone to school or are forced to quit every form of education to help and support their families. Recently, MOAS joined UNICEF’s call for greater support to Rohingya children because 500,000 of them risk becoming a, “lost generation (…) who will be incapable of contributing to their society whenever they are able to return to Myanmar”.
The latest ISCG report highlights that only around “143,000 children and youth are enrolled in learning opportunities”, which means a 72% gap compared to official expectations. Funds represent a real concern with only 26% of the JRP total budget raised so far. As previously stressed for the Health Sector, which remains the less funded (only 17% as of the end of August), the catastrophic lack of funds available is a serious threat to a long-term planning and efficient solutions at all levels, as well as the undeniable evidence of indifference from the international community.
In Bangladesh, there are currently 3,500+ learning spaces, which account for 54% of the initial goal, and almost 1,900 are considered safe and are equipped with adequate sex-disaggregated WASH facilities. But, since 530,000 individuals in school age were officially targeted, the existing facilities are not able to meet the current education needs of Rohingya and Bangladeshi children living in camps and local host communities. Additionally, the monsoon season has caused landslides that damaged 110 facilities, whereas 70 were damaged by flooding.
According to the report, learning materials, spaces and innovative solutions are sorely needed, such as home-learning activities or mobile learning units. Secondly, only 2,000 adolescents (15-24y) receive proper education and life skill training.
However, educated children are precious for their community.
The neglected future of Rohingya children and of all children in war zones is a serious threat to humankind. By preventing them from thriving, we prevent our world from developing and progressing. The long-term, social cost of denying access to school can’t be precisely estimated.
Furthermore, too many children are not just marginalised and have no access to education, they also fear violence during school hours or in school surroundings. Walking to school can be extremely dangerous in some areas of the world, peer violence is on the rise and children’s exposure to physical or psychological abuse increasingly forces many of them to drop out of school.
UNICEF estimates that 151 million teenagers between 13 and 15 experience some form of peer-to-peer violence in and around school, while 171 million children live in countries where corporal punishment is accepted.
The report “An Everyday Violence” also explains how social taboos, dangerous environments, weapons at school, as well as physical, sexual or psychological violence play a major role in the growing number of school dropouts, which are an extensive obstacle to daily participation in learning activities. Moreover, UNICEF reported that in 2017 there were 509 verified attacks on school in Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Schools can’t be seen as war targets, and this alarming trend has to be stopped as soon as possible.
World leaders, NGOs and the civil society have to work together to build safe schools, as well as to increase the rate of children and adolescents receiving adequate education and training opportunities. We have to do everything possible to give children equal and valid chances to thrive and become independent, confident adults.
If we neglect children’s education, we neglect our future and the future of our world.
Regina Catrambone, director and Co-founder of MOAS