Caption: Sifa*, 10 a Congolese refugee girl in the Save the Children, Child Friendly Space in Nyakabande transit camp, Uganda.


This year we could unlock education’s unique power to help refugees – but only if we know exactly how we are going to do it and where the money is going to come from. That’s why, for World Refugee Day, Save the Children has released a new report – a practical global plan to get every refugee child into school.

Our report, Time to Act, shows that we could deliver five years of quality universal pre-primary, primary and secondary education to the 7.5 million school-age refugee children in low and middle income countries. This would cost the international community around the same as that spent on staging this year’s World Cup.

The barriers child refugees face in getting an education

Currently 3.7 million refugee children are not receiving an education at all. In fact, refugees are 5 times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children. Only 50% have access to primary education compared to a global total of 91%, and only 22% of refugee adolescents receive a secondary education.

There are many challenges refugees face in receiving a quality education that sets them up for the future. Refugee hosting countries may deny refugees entry in the national education system. And even when refugee boys and girls can access the formal system, the quality is generally poor.

Host nations frequently struggle with teaching capacity and physical space; the language barriers between learners and teachers, a curriculum which is new and the complex needs of refugees who may have experienced trauma or missed months, if not years of school.

Many of the education systems in the top ten refugee hosting countries – some of the poorest in the world – are weak and receive little support from the international community.

Why 2018 is the year to act

However, the situation is improving.

In 2016, the world’s governments unanimously adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants – a landmark political declaration to improve the way the international community responds to large movements of refugees, and to protracted refugee crises. It includes a promise that all refugee children will be in school and learning within a few months of crossing an international border.

This year, leaders will meet to adopt the Global Compact for Refugees and Migrants. The compact will include a Programme of Action that describes how states can meet their promises through contributing resources and expertise to expand and enhance the quality of national education systems.

All this means that the timing for action couldn’t be better. We challenge governments and international agencies to deliver on their promises with global, practical action as set out in the report.

Our plan calls for action in three areas

  • Inclusion: support for including refugees in national education systems.
  • Improvement: increasing efforts to ensure children are learning.
  • Investment: mobilising the funding necessary to scale up access to quality learning opportunities for refugees.

It also sets out suggestions for an accountability framework to monitor progress and ensure collaboration in the delivery of the plan.

We have estimated the financing requirements for providing five years of quality pre-primary, primary and secondary education for the 7.5 million refugee children aged 3 to 18 in low and middle-income countries. The total cost of would be $21.5 billion, of which $11.9 billion should be provided by the international community.

This equates to just $575 per child, per year with $320 to come from the international community. This is a modest investment especially given the potential gains and anticipated returns.

The UK’s role

We welcome the UK Government’s strong leadership on education in emergencies, including support for educating refugees. The recent allocations to the Girls’ Education Challenge and Global Partnership for Education will transform the lives of some of the most marginalised refugees.

We call on the UK Government to join other international stakeholders to agree a global plan to deliver quality education to the world’s 7.5 million school-age refugees. This would ensure the UK deliver’s on its promises in the DFID Education Policy to support children affected by crisis. It could also address one of the root causes of trafficking, abuse, exploitation and child labour by strengthening education and protection services for vulnerable children during displacement.

This could be done through:

  • Investments in specific refugee crises where the education response is grossly underfunded, including technical expertise to support refugees’ inclusion in national education systems.
  • Increased investment to the Education Cannot Wait fund and the forthcoming multi-year refugee education action plan in Uganda.
  • Support for refugee hosting countries to increase their teaching capacity.
  • Joining efforts to increase research and best practice on psychosocial support, and social and emotional learning in refugee settings.
  • Increasing funding and technical support for early learning interventions in refugee situations.

Time for action

Our report shows that it is well within our means to provide a quality education to every last refugee child.

The agreement of the Global Compact on Refugees and the UK’s leadership in this area offers a unique opportunity to realise this vision.

The futures of millions of vulnerable children depend on all of us getting it right. The time for action is now.

Download the Time to Act report

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