On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau took the stage in New York and announced Canada's commitment to improving education opportunities for refugee children. Co-chairing a round table at the United Nations General Assembly's unprecedented High-Level Meeting on Refugees and Migrants, the prime minister -- a former teacher himself -- emphasized that Canada is proud of its efforts to take in refugees, but also recognizes that it must do more.
Every child deserves a quality education, but refugee children, especially girls, are the most likely to be left behind. Over half of all refugees are children. Only 50 per cent of these children are able to attend primary school; 25 per cent make it to high school; and just one per cent of these students move on to colleges and universities.
The number of refugees and displaced people is now the highest it has been since WWII, and local education systems are strained to their limits. In places such as Jordan and Lebanon--which have taken in over 1.6 million Syrian refugees -- refugee students outnumber local students in the countries' public schools. One of the main challenges is a shortage of qualified teachers. Canada, with its reputation for excellent teacher training programs, is well placed to fill this gap.
For these children, education is not a luxury; it is a life-saving human right.
The world needs more teachers, but not just any teachers. We need teachers trained specifically to work within complex humanitarian and refugee situations. Refugee children have unique needs that many teachers are unprepared to address due to a lack of proper training. Many children have significant gaps in their education history, leaving them far behind their global peers.
Violence and conflict leave psychological scars. Girls face additional obstacles, including the threat of sexual violence. For many children, the classroom provides the only opportunity to learn about health and basic safety. For these children, education is not a luxury; it is a life-saving human right.
Canadian teacher training institutes can help meet this need, and the prime minister's call, by creating a new degree program, a Bachelor of Humanitarian Education. At least in Ontario, teachers colleges currently produce far more domestic teachers than the market can absorb, which suggests an opportunity to redirect resources. Universities that offer such a degree could re-allocate a number of enrollment positions for international students who are specifically interested in a program that prepares them to work as teachers within refugee settings, such as refugee camps or cities with high refugee populations.
The curriculum of a Bachelor of Humanitarian Education would include much more than the standard teacher training classes. It would provide future teachers with training in addressing the critical challenges facing displaced children, including child trauma; gender and sexual-based violence; human rights; health; and protection. It could also provide new teachers with courses in sustainable development, and -- of course -- critical language skills.
There are many global initiatives out there that invest in refugee education. Some, such as the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) offer scholarships to refugee students to attend colleges and universities abroad. Others, such as York University's Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) program, provide training to untrained teachers already working in the field. Our proposal for a Canadian Bachelor of Humanitarian Education degree complements these initiatives and provides Canada with an opportunity to lead on the world stage.
Think back to your own time in school. Think of your kids' teachers. For those of us fortunate enough to have been educated in Canada, chances are that at one point we or our children had a teacher who played a transformational role in our lives. Great teachers do that. With the proper training, these new humanitarian teachers could help to offer the children and youth displaced by conflict, war, violence, and natural disasters the chance to realize their full potential as individuals and ultimately live meaningful lives of dignity.
This blog was adapted from CIGI paper "Preparing New Teachers to Work with Refugee Students: Proposal for a Bachelor of Humanitarian Education Program" by Jacqueline Lopour and Andrew S. Thompson.
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In this image, 12-year-old Bassam, 11-year-old Tamer, 16-year-old Lubna and 11-year-old Farah act out different jobs at the refugee camp. Many Syrian children in Lebanon's Anjar refugee camp are forced to work to help support their families.Bassam and Tamer started selling tissues after their father was injured during a shelling blitz in Syria. The brothers often work 12 hours and earn about $3 a day, and have faced abuse while on the job.Farah weeds and clears land for sowing to support her family of 10. In this photo, she and Lubna pose as factory workers peeling oranges to make tinned fruit. These laborers often work 11-hour days for as little as $8 a day."What makes me very tired is that I have to keep bending down. When we try and stand up, they ask us to bend down," she said. "We spend the whole day like this. The money they give us is not enough."Many of these working children are also forced to miss out on educational opportunities in order to work."Education is very important. I feel it is especially important for girls. When girls get education, they are respected in society," said Lubna. "Some girls even have jobs in factories. They shouldn't be working -- they should be studying."
Hatem, 15, has been living in a refugee camp in Lebanon for four years. He saw his school get hit in an airstrike in Syria and fled, fearing his house would be targeted. Hatem says he is "sad and scared" about his destiny. He was enrolled in school for two years, but had to stop because his family couldn't afford to continue funding his education. He loved going to school -- his favorite subjects were math, English and Arabic. The teenager had planned to go to university and join the army, but those dreams are now gone. "Because I am working now and I have been off school for three years, I have missed a lot of studying and won't be able to fill the gap," Hatem said. He now sells clothes at a marketplace and practices dabke, a modern Arab folk circle dance, to keep himself busy.
Anicet, 10, fled Burundi with his grandparents almost a year ago, and currently attends a temporary learning space run by Save the Children in Tanzania's Nyarugusu refugee camp. Malaria is one of the camp's greatest killers.When Anicet grows up, he wants to be a malaria doctor. In this image, he practices his dream job while his friends act as patients and mosquitoes."I want to be a doctor so that I can help people, make a difference and save lives," said Anicet. "This would make me a very important person and it would help me get something in my life."
Many young girls and children are sent to collect firewood in the forest surrounding Nyarugusu refugee camp so their families can cook the food they receive. Women and children who venture into the woods face many dangers, including assault. Here, Esperanse, 15, shows what it is like for young girls and women to search for firewood in the forest surrounding the camp. She herself narrowly escaped an assault from three men. "There are a lot of dangers that come when we go looking for firewood. ” says Esperanse. "We can get snakebites, or even encounter men who want to abuse us. Even if we’re able to escape and run away, we have to throw down all our firewood and we lose what we came for." "My wish for the future is to have a place where I can live peacefully, a place where I can feel established, where I can feel that I'm at home, without all of these other problems," she added.
Children in Tanzania's Nyarugusu refugee camp re-enact crossing the mountains of Burundi on foot to seek refuge. Iveye, 6, is pictured on the far left carrying her 18-month-old sister, Rebecca, on her back. It took the siblings and their family five days to travel from their home to Tanzania, and the journey was far from easy."When we reached the [Burundi-Tanzania] border, the police on the Burundian side would not let me cross into Tanzania with my daughters," the girls' father, Pierre, said. "So I separated from them and snuck across the border using a secret path. When I had safely reached the other side, I came out and signaled to Iveye and her sisters." "When they saw me, they ran across the border right under the gaze of the policemen who could do nothing to stop them," he added.
Samira, 10, sitting, and Zeina, 11, standing, are best friends. Samira would like to be an actress and Zeina an artist. Both girls left Syria with their families to escape the violence. The house next to Samira's was shelled, killing the family next door. Now the girls live in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. "In Syria, when we got snow or wind, it was OK," Samira said. "But here, when the wind blows, we get a bit scared, as we're afraid the tent will get blown away."
Walaa, 11, left Syria with her pregnant mother because bombs had blown up the hospitals, schools and supermarkets in their area. They had no access food, water or health services. When she was walking home one day, Walaa saw her school explode. This picture uses Walaa's original drawing to depict the moment her school was bombed.
Here, children in Nyarugusu refugee camp show the different ways they play and express themselves in the camp's "Child Friendly Space," known as CFS. For many kids, CFS is an oasis and cocoon of safety where they can socialize with each other.Fifteen-year-old Jacob, center, dreams of becoming a professional dancer. When he realized that he and his family had to flee Burundi, he performed dance routines in his local town market until he earned enough money to pay for his and his grandparents' transport to cross into Tanzania."I feel good about myself when I dance," said Jacob. "I feel that dancing will help me achieve my goals in life."
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