Why is teaching about refugees more important than ever?
The number of people fleeing war, violence and persecution stands at the highest level since the end of World War II. Half of the world’s refugees are children!
Are you an inclusive school?
For these young people, going back to school is being back in a safe place, a place of learning and a place where they can build a future for themselves. Schools hosting refugee children provide a welcoming environment and protect these children from many risks they may face when they are outside of school. But how do you go about creating a welcoming and inclusive school environment for refugee children?
It all starts with knowing a few basics, involving the whole school community and getting to know each other. UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, provides some free teaching tools to help you out. Over half of the world’s nearly 26 million refugees are children. Many will spend their entire childhoods away from home, sometimes separated from their families. They may have witnessed or experienced violent acts and, in exile, are at risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or military recruitment.
The numbers are staggering!
Many refugee children are missing out on education as a result of being displaced. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has 7.1 million refugee children of school age under its mandate. Of those, more than half, 3.7 million, are out of school. UNHCR figures show that worldwide, on average, 91 per cent of children go to primary school. For refugee children, that’s only 63 per cent. In secondary school, the situation is worse. On average 84 per cent of the world’s children of secondary school age are enrolled in a school. For refugee children, this is only 24 per cent.
UNHCR has created the Words Matter series of explainers for teachers, as well as this Facts and Figures section with lots of teacher sheets you can use when teaching about the topic of refugees, asylum and migration. If you want to get deeper into the subject, you can use this catalogue of age-appropriate UNHCR Teaching Materials to organize lessons and whole school activities to teach about and welcome refugee children.
Out of school? Access to further education is limited…
For many refugee children, being out of school for a long time also means they cannot enrol in higher education. Only 3 per cent of refugees go to university or another higher education institution. This means they often do not get the degrees necessary to pursue a career. Many schools in the UK and elsewhere in Europe are welcoming refugee children and are doing an excellent job in providing a welcoming environment for these refugee children. Some teachers and schools are still left with questions on pedagogical approaches and school practices, especially when they have no experience with hosting refugee children.
Using a common-sense approach will go a very long way. Refugee children are ordinary children, they have just lived through extraordinary times. They have the same curiosity, the same energy and the same hunger to learn like other children. In a teaching context, however, it is worth taking a step back and having a look at their specific situation in order to create a welcoming and safe learning environment they need.
Are you familiar with refugee terminology?
UNHCR believe getting to know the basics is very important. Refugees, asylum and migration are very complex topics:
- A refugee is not a migrant.
- An asylum-seeker is not a refugee.
- And what about internally displaced persons?
- Where do refugees come from? Where do they go? And who helps them?
Making yourself familiar with this terminology and teaching pupils sharing a classroom with refugees will already do a lot to make your class understand the situation of refugee children. For those teachers working directly with refugee children, we’ve also developed a Guide on Stress and Trauma and a Language Acquisition Guidebook – and some more information in the Including Refugees section of our Teaching About Refugees website.
Many of UNHCR’s teaching approaches on refugees are based on answering basic questions, getting to know pupils and their social and emotional development throughout primary and secondary education. Teachers will definitely find them useful.