In the United Kingdom, education is compulsory. In fact, not getting an education is a criminal offence. Parents can be prosecuted and receive fines of up to £2500 and jail sentences of up to 3 months for not getting their child to school.
Article 14 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights enshrines the right to education, including the ‘possibility to receive free compulsory education.’
But inside and outside of Europe’s borders, millions of children do not have access to even a basic level of education. UNHCR finds that only 50% of refugee children attend primary school, and only 22% of refugee adolescents attend secondary school.
In working with Be Aware and Share on Chios this year, I was part of an incredible project providing an education for hundreds of refugees, from the ages of 6 to 20. In collaboration with Save the Children, these children could access at least a few hours of education every week.
But in May 2017, the Greek government announced its take-over of NGO services on the Aegean islands. Whilst the larger, international relief organisations left, those that remained - such as Be Aware and Share - have been left stretched to their limits.
I can personally attest to the benefits of providing education in crisis situations such as I witnessed on Chios. But so do the students. One Syrian student, who came to school at every opportunity given to him, told me how he was trying to make an opportunity out of a catastrophe. How he wanted to remember the tough and unforgiving time on Chios positively, as the time when he learnt English. And between January and June of this year, he did. As we sat on a bus returning from school to the camp, he told me all this in English, fluently.
Having left Chios, I’ve been looking into other education projects and have even considered starting my own. Whilst the Greek government provides schooling to those between 6 to 15, there remains a vital gap in education services offered to adolescents and young adults. Many of these have turned 18 in the course of their journeys, missing out on receiving high school diplomas and qualifications that are essential to gaining access to universities and jobs.
That’s why I’m excited to be joining a new education project: Sky School, a global high school for refugees. This project seeks to offer a globally accredited high school diploma to those that have missed out on the opportunity.
Partnered with the United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA), Sky School are running their first course this November. Using flexible, modular learning approaches that allow for online and on-location study, available in English and Arabic, Sky School are trialling this course, with the intent to roll out the whole diploma by September 2018.
Leveraging smart phone technology to deliver education is not, of course, a perfect substitute for learning in the kinds of safe, inclusive classrooms that teachers around the world seek to create. Yet the teenage years of thousands of current refugees will not wait for governments to act.
There is a need for bold, innovative solutions that can engage learners right now and fulfil their right to an education.
For more information, take a look at the Sky School website and subscribe to my journal for further updates as I work alongside Sky School in this exciting project!