When armed conflicts or political instability send people fleeing from countries across the world, children leave behind not only their homes but also in many cases their education.
That is the focus of a new report Thursday from the U.N. refugee agency, which says 3.7 million children under its mandate do not have access to a school.
The situation gets worse as the kids get older, dropping from 50 percent at primary school age to 22 percent at secondary school age. According to U.N. data, 1 percent of refugees go to a university compared to 34 percent of the global population.
“Refugee education is sorely neglected, when it is one of the few opportunities we have to transform and build the next generation so they can change the fortunes of the tens of millions of forcibly displaced people globally,” said UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi.
The challenge of providing refugees with an education is made more difficult by the expanding population and a lack of necessary funding.
According to the U.N., the population of school-age children grew by 30 percent in 2014, a number requiring an extra 20,000 teachers. Host nations that in many cases already struggle to provide basic services for refugees must also find a place to hold classes as well as supplies. Often the kids are behind in their studies after missing several years of school and do not speak the local language.
“As the international community considers how best to deal with the refugee crisis, it is essential that we think beyond basic survival,” Grandi said. “Education enables refugees to positively shape the future of both their countries of asylum and their home countries when they one day return.”
Refugees from Syria have been a global focus as the conflict there continues in its sixth year and countries from neighboring Turkey to those across Europe have been forced to figure out how to respond to those who have fled the fighting.
The U.N. says there are about 1.7 million Syrian refugees who should be in school, but 900,000 of them are not.
The world body has asked global donors for $4.54 billion this year to aid Syrian refugees. Funding for education makes up $662 million of that request, and as of June the U.N. had collected only 39 percent of that total.
In 2015, the same program saw most of its education funding arrive in the final two months of the year, which the U.N. said hurt the ability of host countries to make effective long-term plans for schooling.
Thursday’s report calls for donors to commit to providing predictable, multi-year funding to help those countries better plan for providing teachers and supplies. It also urges the host governments to include refugees in their national education systems instead of alternative schools that cannot be monitored or certified in the same way to ensure their effectiveness.
The report highlights the overall benefits of education, saying it helps kids avoid child labor and recruitment by armed groups, and that not providing schooling only continues cycles of conflict and leads to more people being displaced.
“There is solid evidence that quality education gives children a place of safety and can also reduce child marriage, child labor, exploitative and dangerous work, and teenage pregnancy,” the report says.