Education unions join international efforts to ensure refugees’ rights in and through education

published 18 December 2019 updated 23 July 2024

Education international has seized the opportunity of the first ever Global Refugee Forum to reaffirm the crucial role education can play in the context of forced displacement, and to urge governments, UN agencies and all stakeholders to ensure displaced teachers and students’ rights in and through education.

The Global Refugee Forum, held from 17-18 December in Geneva, Switzerland, was the first of its kind and comes at the end of a chaotic decade marked by conflict and natural disasters that have contributed to the rise in the number of refugees to over 25 million people worldwide. Education was among the six main themes discussed during the Forum and including arrangements for burden and responsibility-sharing; jobs and livelihoods; energy and infrastructure; solutions; and protection capacity.

Following-up on the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees, the Global Refugee Forum represented an opportunity to translate the principle of international responsibility-sharing into concrete action. The Forum brought the international community together to announce new measures to:

  • Support host countries;
  • Enhance refugee self-reliance;
  • Expand access to third-country solutions; and
  • Support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.

The Forum received pledges and contributions calling on States, refugees, development actors, the private sector, UN entities, civil society organisations, academics and faith leaders, among others, to play a part.

“EI pledges to mobilise its 400 member organisations, with a collective membership of 32.5 million educators across all levels of education, to make schools and all education institutions truly inclusive and welcoming to refugees,” EI’s Dennis Sinyolo stated, addressing the Forum.

He went on saying that EI “will continue to provide capacity building for union leaders and educators, provide tools for refugees and migrants and assess progress towards implementation of the Global Compact in education”.

Education International, he underlined, is calling on Governments, the UN and partners to:

  • Ensure the accreditation and recognition of refugee teachers’ qualifications;
  • Ensure the training and professional development of refugee and local teachers;
  • Guarantee the inclusion of refugee children and youth in the formal education systems of host countries within the first three months following their arrival. Please, do not offer an alternative inferior track to refugees.
  • Develop, finance and implement comprehensive policies to guarantee refugee teachers’ right to teach and children’s right to learn.

On 16 December, during a pre-forum Spotlight Session on “Teachers shoulder the burden: Improving support in crisis contexts”, co-organised by EI, the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) and the Columbia University, Sinyolo emphasised the challenges that particularly affect refugee teachers:

  • Lack of recognition of their qualifications, skills and competences;
  • Precarious employment;
  • Absence of adequate training and professional development opportunities (this last one facing local teachers teaching refugee children and youth, as well).

Sinyolo deplored that “there is a lot of brain waste and loss of talent as refugee teachers end up doing nothing or something else in order to make ends meet. It is therefore important for host governments to accredit and recognise the qualifications of refugee teachers.” He also underlined the paramount importance for host country governments of ensuring decent salaries and working conditions for refugee teachers.

He insisted that the new UNESCO Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications, adopted in November this year, is an important instrument than can facilitate the validation, accreditation and recognition of refugee teachers’ qualifications.

“In-service training and upgrading programmes of good quality can help refugee and displaced teachers to improve their skills and competences,” Sinyolo went on noting, mentioning the example of EI and Oxfam Novib’s Quality Educators for All programme (Quality-Ed) in Mali and Northern Uganda.

He also reminded that education unions engage in social dialogue with governments and undertake advocacy activities promoting the rights of all teachers, including refugees. Most recently, EI and affiliated unions in eight countries in Europe and two countries in Africa have been conducting capacity building programmes for refugee and local teachers.

The EI European Region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and the European Federation of Education Employers (EFEE) just concluded a two-year joint project entitled “European Sectoral Social Partners in Education promoting effective integration of migrants and refugees in education”.

More broadly, the session emphasised the crucial role played by teachers in such contexts: INEE Director Dean Brooke stressed that “even in crisis contexts, teachers organise, bring children together and teach. They make a difference and protect those children. Let’s raise their profile and the profile of headmasters who keep schools opened in difficult circumstances.”

The EI toolkit developed to help education unions and educators to promote the rights of refugee teachers and children in and through education is available here.

A blog post by EI’s General Secretary, David Edwards, calling for immediate and sustainable action can be found here.