Education protects refugee children and youth from forced recruitment into armed groups, child labour, sexual exploitation and child marriage. Education also strengthens community resilience.
Education empowers by giving refugees the knowledge and skills to live productive, fulfilling and independent lives.
Education enlightens refugees, enabling them to learn about themselves and the world around them, while striving to rebuild their lives and communities. Educated children and youth stand a greater chance of becoming adults who can participate effectively in civil society in all contexts. In other words, education makes the difference between inclusion or marginalisation, self-reliance or dependency, rebuilding a life or remaining in a situation of loss and despair.
Education plays a central role in UNHCR’s refugee protection and durable solutions mandate. Protecting refugees means ensuring that their rights, security, and welfare are recognized and safeguarded in accordance with international standards, and their nondiscriminatory right to assistance and services, including education, is realized. UNHCR’s position is therefore that since refugees share the same rights to education as nationals, they should have access to national education programmes at all levels rather than in refugee-exclusive systems that are not sustainable, not appropriately monitored, or not able to guarantee timely certification that can lead to continued education during asylum.
Refugee Education in Israel
In Israel, education is mandatory for all children between ages 3-17, regardless of their nationality, pursuant to the Compulsory Education Law. Refugee children have access to the national elementary and secondary education system under the same conditions as Israeli nationals. For most asylum-seeking children, the situation is rather different, as explained below.
Early Childhood Education and Care
Early childhood education would be very beneficial for refugee and asylum-seeking children since the support, facilities, and care provided, as well as their social contact with other children of their age, would help them feel safe and secure, develop confidence, promote their early language learning, and build their communication and social skills. Moreover, young children’s access to early education would facilitate their parents’ access to the labour market and their self-sufficiency. Investing in early childhood education would therefore improve the children’s cognitive, socioemotional and educational results, as well as the whole family’s social inclusion and integration. Research, especially in economics, illustrates clearly that such investments are wise, both economically and socially.
Mandatory pre-school education from the age of three years is offered free of charge at public schools in Israel. During the 2019-2020 school year, a total of 2,380 refugee and asylum-seeking children aged 3-6 years were attending pre-school education at 66 kindergartens in Tel Aviv. Some of these kindergartens are exclusively for refugee and asylum-seeking children. Segregated education has also been a problem in several other municipalities hosting fewer children, e.g. Petah Tikvah, Netanya, Eilat.
Children under three years old are not covered by the Compulsory Education Law. Refugee and asylum-seeking children may attend private nursery schools for a fee, but the fees are not affordable for many parents and they are therefore not able to provide proper early childhood education for their children. Most of these parents therefore place their children in sub-par frameworks known as “pirate babysitters.” These facilities are not supervised and their conditions are generally poor, leading to developmental delays and life-risking situations for the children.
In 2015, there was a government decision to fund four new daycare centres for children of this age group in Tel Aviv-Yafo, in collaboration with the philanthropic sector. As a result, 56 million shekels were allocated for this task by the Government (resolution 2487, dated April 8, 2015 – Hebrew). To date, three of these day-cares have been opened and are operating successfully.
Primary and Secondary Education
Some 2,300 asylum-seeking children are reported attending primary (1,700) and secondary education (600) in segregated schools in South Tel Aviv. With some 1,300 students (grades 1-12), Bialik Rogozin is the biggest school. The three other smaller schools are Hayarden (1st-6th grade), Keshet (1st-5th grades), and Gvanim (1st-3rd grades).
Many children at these schools are reported to have significant learning gaps and delays, mainly as a result of poor quality early childhood education. The schools’ limited capacity to effectively respond to the special needs of this population often result in children graduating primary school with inadequate basic learning skills. The lack of adequate academic support through extra-curricular programming and tutoring to successfully complete secondary school, which is the gateway to further education and improved employment opportunities, deals a crushing blow to a young refugee’s dreams of a brighter future.
Higher education is what turns students into leaders. By harnessing young refugees’ creativity, energy, and idealism, it positions them to become role models and furnishes them with the means to amplify their voices and enable rapid generational change. Yet in Israel and pretty much around the world, too many eligible young refugees and asylum-seekers do not have the opportunity to go to university. For them, tertiary education is indeed the exception, not the norm. Despite their potential, so many university-ready young refugee men and women are denied the opportunity education can provide.
Even if they meet all academic prerequisites for higher education, many other barriers intervene and deal a crushing blow to their dreams of a brighter future: cost, language barriers, lack of documentation, non-acceptance of prior learning achievements, and restricted access to certain study programmes, to name but a few.
It is only if the government and higher education institutions work together to address these barriers that young refugees and asylum-seekers will be able to unlock their potential. Student loans, grants, and scholarships are tangible measures. They can extend opportunities for those who cannot access a university through online learning platforms, where digital programmes are combined with teaching and mentoring.
Businesses also have an important role to play: they can offer internships, apprenticeships, training, and job opportunities to refugees and asylum-seekers. And the support of the public is crucial in lobbying the government, in helping refugees learn new languages and skills, and in volunteering with NGOs that support refugees and asylum-seekers.
Vocational Education and Training
Vocational training is a practical investment for the future. It allows the individual to gain specific skills with a view to obtaining employment. As such, vocational training is a highly useful service to offer refugees and asylum-seekers at the earliest point possible, as it can be a motivating form of outreach to persons who would otherwise be excluded or marginalized. Often, however, refugees and asylum-seekers are not aware of the existence of mainstream vocational training schemes available in the country, and NGO programmes or outreach schemes to systematically provide information and guidance are few and far between. From the Government side, there are no career services offered to refugees and asylum-seekers to discuss their interests, capabilities, and job prospects, and provide them with an understanding of the labour market and the social and economic environment. Therefore, vocational training opportunities are very much limited in both scope and scale.
UNHCR collaborates with several local NGOs and associations that provide vocational training and language learning, e.g. the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), Community Education Center (CEC) of Levinsky Library, Schoolhouse, African Students Organization (ASO), etc. Their vocational education and training programmes make a significant contribution in helping asylum-seekers upgrade the skills they have or acquire new ones in occupational fields the market demands.
Scholarships for refugees
According to UNHCR global statistics, only 3 percent of refugees worldwide have access to higher education. If you are a refugee or asylum-seeker striving for higher education, you may consult the following UNHCR platform for information on a certified, well-recognized study or scholarship programme that fits your needs.
Supporting the educators of diverse classrooms
Teaching multicultural classrooms can be challenging for educators, and they need special support and guidance in order to respond to the different needs of asylum-seeking and refugee children. Quality teaching materials which the teachers can use to help pupils make sense of forced displacement in all its complexity are all the more important at a time of intensified public debate about asylum and migration and greater media to these issues. UNHCR has produced several teaching resources, for example:
Visit our Teaching Materials section for educational resources for teaching about refugees.
Documents and Resources
- Statement by UNHCR Israel Head Representative Damtew Dessalegne at the African Students Organization ‘Building Bridges Between Israel and Africa’ conference (2019)
- A Framework for the Protection of Children (2012) – English | Hebrew