Migrants from Syria taking their children to the school enrollment ceremony at the elementary school 'Kastanienallee' in Halle, Germany | Credit: ARCHIVE/EPA/STRINGER
Migrants from Syria taking their children to the school enrollment ceremony at the elementary school 'Kastanienallee' in Halle, Germany | Credit: ARCHIVE/EPA/STRINGER

In the past two years, school-age migrant and refugee children have missed a combined 1.5 billion days of school, according to a new report by the UNESCO. While there have been positive developments in the inclusion of refugees and migrants in the classroom, there is still vast room for improvement.

Migrant and refugee children could fill 500.000 school classrooms, according to the 2019 Global Education Monitoring report released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on November 20 .

The report - titled "Migration, displacement and education" - shows that the number of school-age children who are migrants or refugees around the world has grown by 26 percent since 2000. 

Children's battle for education 

The right of migrant and refugee children to education, even if increasingly recognized on paper, is challenged daily in classrooms and schoolyards - and denied outright by a few governments. 

"Everyone loses when the education of migrants and refugees is ignored. Education is the key to inclusion and cohesion," UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said. 

The bad news: In the two years since the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, refugees have missed 1.5 billion days of school. 

The good news: The UNESCO report found that there has been progress in the inclusion of refugees in national education systems, as seen in eight of the top ten refugee hosting countries. Champions include low income countries such as Chad, Ethiopia and Uganda. Canada and Ireland are among the global leaders in implementing inclusive education policies for immigrants. 

What does the report say in detail? 

What the report says on... 


Half of the world's forcibly displaced people are under the age of 18. Yet, many countries exclude them from their national education systems. Asylum-seeking children in detention in countries such as Australia, Hungary, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico are given limited access to education, if any. 


There are currently 36 million students with immigrant backgrounds in high income countries alone - that's equivalent to the entire school-aged population in Europe. Migrant students made up 18 percent of students in wealthy countries - up from 15 percent in 2005. At current rates, that number could rise to 22 percent by 2030. 

Immigrant children are often not given a fair chance to succeed. In 2017, in the European Union, twice as many young people born abroad left school early compared to natives.

First-generation immigrant students in OECD countries were 32 percent less likely than natives to achieve basic skills in reading, mathematics and science in 2015, according to the UNESCO report. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)  almost exclusively includes  well-developed economic powerhouses, such as the US, France and Germany. 

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