Improve access to secondary and post-secondary education

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Improve access to secondary and post-secondary education

Below is a list of questions to serve as a starting framework for the discussion in this thread:

  • What benefits does an advanced education offer for refugees in particular?
  • What obstacles might exist for refugees to complete secondary or post-secondary courses?
  • How can refugees be competitive in relation to their peers in a host country at higher levels of education?
  • Share stories of success 
Aspirations out of sync with opportunity structures

This conversation thread gets to the heart of what I see as one of the biggest challenges to refugee education policy and practice. In my experience, refugee youth and their families place high value on education and its role in constructing their futures—as individuals, as families, as communities and nations in exile. In Kakuma Refugee Camp (Kenya), where I have spent significant time in secondary classrooms and in conversation with young people about their educational goals and experiences, the trope “education is the key to life” inspires commitment to one’s schooling. However this optimistic discourse contrasts growing evidence that “education leads nowhere” for those who lack legal citizenship status and who access few chances to continue their post-secondary learning or begin professional career paths upon completion of a secondary degree. It is heart wrenching to see youth aspirations so out of sync with the opportunity structures. In my work with Kakuma youth, these gaps became a central motivator in sparking youth dialogue and organizing. Check out the Facebook page for Kakuma Youth Opportunities for Lifelong Learning to hear from youth in this context about their post-secondary aspirations and opportunities.

Integrating HE and work opportunities

In Jordan, where I am, it is hoped that the next phase of HE provision for Syrian refugees will combine education and employment opportunities. This may well include the development of remote working marketplaces to secure income from other countries, sidestepping competition with the local workforce and permit issues. HE without consideration of what comes next is just 'kicking the can down the road'

Education + employment/ work permits!

Joseph, thank you for sharing this! I read about some of these possibilities in Jordan in this article and was so inspired at the possibilities and mutual benefits of educating refugees and offering opportunities for them to integrate socially and economically-- and so distraught at the lack of these structures in most places. Kakuma had a type of "special economic zone" underway at one point, but given all the uncertainty caused by plans for the Dadaab camp closure, it seems like this plan will require some rethinking. In my conversations with youth in Kakuma, the procurement of work permits could provide such an incentive shift toward completing education and envisioning-- and enacting-- future goals that are within their reach. Some of the same questions remain around how to persuade states of the value of this approach to open these opportunities to refugee communities, though the economic possibilities are so promising. I also heard some skepticism from within refugee communities that long-term futures in exile do not match their long-term desires to resettle and repatriate, though surely some of this skeptcism comes from understanding the structural impediments to contructing sustainable futures in host countries. 

follow the money

Michelle, Joseph, your comments reminded me of two stories about the importance of expectations for education. A few years ago, three Syrian students in the Emirati-Jordanian refugee camp did amazingly well on their final high school exams (the tawjihi) -- they got something like 98 and 97 percent -- and were accepted to a university. But they couldn't afford to enroll. When other students in the camp saw this, attendance at secondary school classes fell off badly. The second story is from Palestine: a boy in the Jordan Valley (where many Palestinian families are refugees from 1948 or 1967) had dropped out of school to work (on an Israeli settlement). When I asked why, he cited the example of his older brother, who had a university degree but couldn't find a job in his field, and wound up working as an unskilled laborer. If university isn't an option, and if there is no financial pay-off for completing even a secondary education, children and families will make the rational choice that looking for work is a better option than staying in school.

There are different ways to address these issues: e.g. increasing access to tertiary education for refugees through donor-funded university scholarships, or undertaking local labor market surveys so that TVET programs can be designed to fill the needs of the local economy. But as an overall measure, I agree that recognizing that everyone has the right to work, including refugees, is critical for improving access to education.

Where donors have deep-seated reasons to support a refugee host-country's long-term stability, as with Jordan, we might see innovative projects like the Special Economic Zones, which required cheap foreign capital and free-trade access to European markets to get off the ground. With that sort of support, it is relatively easy to argue that easing restrictions on refugees' access to the formal labor market can be a win-win for the host country's economy. But even in Jordan, it can be tough to convince people that they need to open up the labor market to refugees; in particular, a lot of countries in the middle east have a demographic 'youth bulge' and soaring youth unemployment, and fear more competition.

There is some strong research showing, at least in particular cases, that refugees tend not only to contribue to local economies, but also to take jobs that locals often don't want to compete for. Another conclusion (that I think the ILO has come to) is that even if refugees do pose a threat to some locals' job opportunities, that threat can be countered by increasing the formalization of the labor market - i.e. making work permits, minimum wage, and taxes the norm, rather than a black market for labor being the norm. Added to that are reports on how education benefits the economy; I can't recall if there are studies specifically on refugee education. Could you recommend any good studies that show what the impact is of various policies on refugees' right to work, from restrictive to progressive, on local economies and employment rates?