2022 saw a total of 108 million people displaced globally, including 35.3 million refugees. The school-age refugee population increased from 10 million to 14.8 million, of which an estimated 51% do not attend school, leaving more than 7 million children out of education. A 2023 UNHCR report covering 70 host countries provides the clearest picture to date of refugee access to education during the 2021-2022 academic year; average gross enrolment rates reveal that 38% of eligible refugees access preschool level, 65% of primary-age refugees access primary level, 41% access secondary level, and only 6% access tertiary level. Although the figures suggest changes in enrollment from the 2022 report, direct comparisons are difficult due to the inclusion of more countries this year. However, data on refugees from Ukraine were not included in the analysis.

Efforts to achieve gender equality

Overall, there is gender equity among refugee students, with similar access rates for males and females. Disaggregated data reveals average enrolment rates in primary school of 63% for males and 61% for females, and in secondary school of 36% for males and 35% for females. Although there is average equality, inequalities persist among recipient countries. Senegal and Gabon stand out with notable gaps: in Senegal, enrolment is 53% for women and 36% for men, while in Gabon, it is 100% for boys and 78% for girls. The need to address specific challenges to achieve equitable education is evident.  

Barriers to education access continue

There are notable disparities in educational access rates between refugees and national averages at both the primary and secondary levels. At the primary level, overall enrolment rates for men and women, including over-age learners, reach 103% and 101%, but for refugees, only 63% and 61%. At the secondary level, these differences persist, with enrollment rates for refugees reaching less than half of the global average. Detailed analysis in major receiving countries such as Peru, Colombia and Bangladesh shows differences of 80, 80 and 74 percentage points respectively. Middle- and high-income countries with large displaced populations, such as Türkiye, Colombia and Peru, have enrollment rates above 100%, while for refugees they are significantly lower; in Colombia, they are one-fifth of the rates for the local population.

A changing landscape?

Secondary enrolment of refugee children is significantly lower than in primary; the gap between refugees and non-refugees persists, although the latest figure, 41%, improves from 37% previously. Türkiye shows a notable increase from 27% to 60%, while in Pakistan it fluctuated from 5% to 1%, then to 3%. In Colombia, enrolment of persons with international protection fell to 22%, down from 30% the previous year.

The question of quality

Enrolling refugees in schools is a first step, but it is crucial to assess the quality of the education they receive. There are indications that refugee students can excel if given adequate opportunities. Although few refugees take national exams, those who do have remarkable pass rates, in some cases exceeding the national average.

According to data collected, 78% of refugee students who sit for primary level exams pass, while for lower and upper secondary education, the rates are 71% and 61%, respectively. At the primary level, males have higher pass rates than females, at 83% and 78%, respectively.

In the DRC, 96% of refugees taking national exams at the primary level pass, significantly exceeding the national figure of 71%.

The quality of teaching is a crucial factor that affects learning. Although ideal pupil-teacher ratios vary by age, it is suggested that younger children and students from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from lower ratios. Some countries have alarmingly high ratios, such as Uganda, with an average of 73 refugee students per teacher.

In addition, there are marked differences in pupil-teacher ratios between refugee and national averages in some cases. For example, in Burundi, the national average is 43 pupils per teacher, while for refugees it is 62. These indicators highlight the need to address the quality of education for refugee students and improve teaching conditions.

In a few weeks UNHCR will provide the 2023 report and we will publish the most relevant data.

[Translated from Spanish]

Proofreading: Bethany Hughes

25th January 2024

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