Citations | Refugee Education

Education for Refugees, from Preschool to Professorship

Global emergencies like war, natural disaster, and health pandemics have uprooted families and disrupted education at all levels as displaced students have been deprived of access to schools. Students in early childhood, primary, secondary, and higher education as well as teachers, professors, and other educational professionals have experienced delayed educational and professional development during times of crisis, disabling dreams and prospects for the future. Whether in Malaysia, Greece, or Lebanon, displaced communities have struggled to adjust to lost livelihoods, new cultures, and uncertain futures.

As the average duration of displacement has dramatically increased over the last three decades, international humanitarian organizations have been pressed to develop long-term programs and partnerships to replace short-term emergency educational provision. These challenges have been compounded by the disproportionate burden of education in emergencies shouldered by developing countries, where refugee populations vastly outnumber those in high-income countries. Over time, the educational pipeline has come to look less like a pipe than a funnel, with progressive exclusion and decreasing resources constraining opportunity as refugee children age. Workarounds developed in earlier stages have at times installed barriers for students at more advanced education stages as credentialing standardization and selective admissions disadvantage students from newly developed, temporary, and informal educational institutions outside of the national curriculum.

From connected learning hubs in refugee camps in Kenya to elementary classrooms in Canada, technological innovation and international coordination have worked to connect displaced students to well-resourced institutions and support educational continuity through crises. Meanwhile, new momentum in the development of transnational platforms for educational financing, advising, and service delivery has reinvigorated the global education community and increased commitment to education for all, regardless of circumstance. Here is a look at select recent news, features, and open research on and resources for global refugee education and scholar protection:

Ongoing Emergencies
Pre-Primary, Primary & Secondary Education

With half and three-quarters of primary and secondary school–aged refugee children out of school, respectively, children displaced by conflict increasingly find themselves falling behind during critical development stages. Children in refugee camps can attend UNHCR-coordinated schools, but for the half of the refugee population located in urban areas, potential students are dependent on public infrastructure and resource-sharing for schooling. Massive influxes of refugees have forced countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Malaysia to develop workarounds to alleviate overcrowding and increase available seats, including double-shifted schedules and informal schools. For the lucky fraction of refugee families resettled in high-income countries, their relocation often places them at the center of contentious local and national debates on security and cultural integration.

Higher Education

As a medium of emergency response, international higher education systems are well-equipped to mobilize resources and facilitate learning for the millions of college-aged students displaced by conflict and disaster. Refugee students require targeted programming to develop proficiency in the language of instruction when lacking and a network of support structures including financial aid, counseling services, flexible instruction and performance evaluation, and career guidance able to chart school-to-work pathways sensitive to complex immigration contingencies. But while digital, distance, residential, and blended-learning educational services have created the conditions for rapid-response educational service delivery in emergencies, the lack of coordinated financing structures, patchwork credentialing systems, and institutional conservatism have left colleges and universities scrambling to catch up to a rapidly escalating crisis.


Academics and other intellectuals often face heightened vulnerability during periods of unrest as political forces looking to consolidate power attack individuals and institutions perceived as ideological threats. The need for coordinated systems to extract threatened scholars from conflict-ridden regions has led to the establishment of funds, fellowships, and visiting professorships at higher education institutions, providing haven for endangered professionals while allowing them to continue in their careers and contribute to capacity-building for hoped-for returns. Nevertheless, protracted conflict increases concerns of a permanent “brain drain” from afflicted regions as new lives and professional paths are forged abroad.

Global Funds, Organizations & Resources

In the period of rapid internationalization that accompanied global warfare in the 20th century, numerous transnational resources emerged to coordinate effects on opposite sides of the mobility divide: massive waves of involuntary migration and increased educational mobility. Capacity-building has been a joint project of the public and private sectors, driven by special projects, NGOs, and supranational organizations supporting students, scholars, and institutions alike.

*Commentary pieces. Presence in collection does not entail endorsement of the opinions represented.