Donors fall $1 billion short in their commitment to education for Syrian refugees

Muhanad*, aged 11, from Syria, in school in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, close to the border with Syria. (Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development)

The new school year for Syrian children is set to start in two months. But fighting, which has displaced more than 11 million people, is also keeping roughly 1 million refugee children out of school. Most of a $1.4 billion pledge in February to get those children back into school has yet to materialize, according to a new report from the U.K. charity Theirworld.

The six-year-old civil war has caused extreme hardship for Syrian children, and missing school can have lifelong consequences for individual children and on the country’s recovery after the fighting ends. With this in mind, governments and other donors pledged $12 billion at the London Conference on Supporting Syria and the Region to support Syria’s displaced population and refugees living in other countries, with $1.4 billion to ensure that every Syrian child is in school by the end of the 2016-17 school year. Only $400 million of that $1.4 billion pledge has been delivered.

“The international community has repeatedly restated a commitment to ensure there will be ‘no lost generation’ in Syria. Keeping alive the hope, opportunity and prospects of a better future that comes with education is central to that commitment. It is frankly indefensible to convene a summit that promises some of the world’s most vulnerable children an education – and then break the promise,” said Kevin Watkins, executive director of the Overseas Development Institute and lead author of the report, in a statement.

Overall, funding for the humanitarian response to the Syrian civil war is woefully short. Only 37 percent of the United Nation’s $7.7 billion appeal has been funded to date. The costs to support the 13.5 million people keep going up, and the funds available consistently fall short. For children, the crisis and lack of support mean roughly 24.5 million years of schooling were lost by the end of 2015, according to World Vision.

Abdulghafour is one example. The 10-year-old boy fled with his family from Homs to Lebanon three years ago. He and his two siblings were out of school for the first year in country. Their mother Lina learned about a nearby informal school and enrolled them the following year.

“I like going to school so I can study and learn,” he said in the report. “The year that I was out of school I wasn’t comfortable. I wasn’t learning and I felt upset. It was boring.”

Abdulghafour’s return to school lasted barely more than a year. He was taken out of school and sent to work after his father lost his job. Now, the boy works in a tailor’s shop for 12 hours a day to earn just $100 per month.

World Vision estimates that 5.4 million Syrian children still living in the country are in need of education assistance. Add in the refugee children and a funding shortfall and you have the recipe for what some are calling a lost generation if nothing is done soon. Ultimately the conflict must end to begin really solving the problem, but in the short term, delivery of pledged money is necessary to help these children before the school year begins.

“The vast loss of potential caused by the crisis in education threatens to deprive Syria of the skills it will need to rebuild a war-torn society,” Sarah Brown, president of Theirworld, said in a statement. “A whole generation of children are being robbed of their only chance to escape poverty and build a more resilient livelihood. It is crucial that pledges now turn into real delivery that sees children walking through the school gates this school year.”

Some relief came last week when the European Commission adopted a special measure to support the health and education of Syrian refugees in Turkey to the tune of €1.415 billion. Of that, about €500 million will go to education alone. In addition to getting donors to meet their $1.4 billion commitment, education advocates are pushing for $3.8 billion in pledges for an emergency education fund.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.