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Education crisis threatens to push out-of-school Syrian refugee children into arms of militant groups such as ISIS

Written by Kevin Watkins, Steven A Zyck

Media release 
​Embargoed until Tuesday 23 September

The failure of donors to act on pledges to provide education to Syrian refugees could result in the recruitment of vulnerable children into extremist groups, warns Britain’s leading development aid think-tank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). 

In a new report to coincide with a key meeting on Syria on Wednesday attended by UN agencies and donors in New York, ODI experts criticise the failure of donor governments to fulfil long overdue pledges of assistance for the education of Syrian refugee children.

The ODI report titled ‘Living on hope, hoping for education’, says that out-of-school numbers have now risen to over half-a-million and that large populations of refugee children are living in areas where ISIS and other groups are known to be actively recruiting.

The education crisis is particularly acute in Lebanon, where just one in five school-age Syrian refugee children is in formal education, and where violence involving ISIS has recently flared. 

The report reviews donor action, with ODI highlighting what it describes as ‘a large gap between pledges and delivery’. Barely 40 percent of aid agency appeals for education among Syrian refugees has been delivered and a US$200 million a year education plan for Lebanon remains unfunded. 

As the school year begins, the report says that the financing gap could leave another 250,000 refugee children out of school. 

“Donors promised there would be no lost generation, but their inaction has guaranteed that another school year could be lost for thousands of refugee children” said the Executive Director of the ODI and report co-author Kevin Watkins.

"One year after we pledged that there would be no lost generation, the ODI report shows that a whole generation of Syrian children is losing the right to education. While some countries have done a lot, with over half a million out of school and plans for education left without finance, we are not delivering on the promise,” said the UN Special Envoy on Global Education Gordon Brown who is attending the ‘No Lost Generation’ meeting in New York.

“The danger now is that children denied an education will fall prey to recruitment by extremist groups. We must act now to provide the $200m needed to implement Lebanon's plan for refugee education," added Mr Brown. 

Syrian refugee children are now suffering a reversal in education opportunity that is without parallel in recent history. The report says closing the door on education ‘extinguishes hope and creates conditions that transmit poverty across generations, fuel social instability and undermine prospects for recovery’.

This paper calls for the full financing of education requests set out in the Regional Response Plan and of UNICEF’s education programmes. The Reach All Children with Education (RACE) strategy in Lebanon needs donor support of around $200 million annually for the next three years.


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Notes to the editors

The meeting held in New York on Wednesday 24 September is the ‘No Lost Generation’ initiative, with this week its ‘One Year On’ meeting. Held at the UNICEF headquarters in New York, the meeting will be attended by USAID, DFID, including the UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening.

To request a copy of the report or to interview the report authors Kevin Watkins or researcher fellow from ODI Steven Zyck please contact media officer Clare Price on +44 78909 791 265.