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Investing in the crisis: Private participation in the education of Syrian refugees.

published 30 January 2020 updated 18 August 2021

By Francine Menashy and Zeena Zakharia

While education in emergencies has risen as a policy priority in the mandates of international organizations (Menashy and Dryden-Peterson, 2015), the share of total overseas development assistance to education has declined sharply in recent years, with funding persistently low in conflict-affected states (UNESCO, 2015; 2016). Within this context, private sector engagement in education has become increasingly appealing to a growing portion of the international community. Private actors have responded in turn, spurring new initiatives, funding commitments and partnership arrangements to advance the cause of educating refugee children. Such commitments are indicative of the growing role of private entities as both educational funders and providers in contexts of crisis.

This study explores the complex interrelationship between conflict and private sector participation through a case study of the education of Syrian refugees. Although private engagement in this context is evidently expanding, the exact nature and scale of this involvement has been unclear. This research seeks to better understand which private entities are engaging in the sector, the activities through which private companies and foundations support education, and the rationales and motivations that drive their involvement.

Findings show a recent surge in private sector participation in the education of Syrian refugees, where businesses and foundations are involved in a range of contexts and are involved in many different forms of engagement. They also expose areas for concern, including (1) insufficient coordination among private companies and foundations, and between the state and non-state sectors; (2) decontextualized interventions with an overemphasis on technology; (3) the potential for a rise in private school establishment at the expense of public provision; (4) the vague roles of business actors in public-policy making and global funding; and (5) tensions between humanitarian aims and profit-oriented motivations for involvement in the sector.

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