By: Giulia McPherson, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
While the world watches as a new Congress and Administration assume power in the United States, the U.S. House of Representatives recently took an important step forward in prioritizing global access to education.
The Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development Act, or READ Act, formerly known as the Education for All Act, came close to passage in 2016. Yet, lawmakers ran out of time and the bill did not become law under the Obama Administration. With the start of a new Congress, champions for global education quickly reintroduced the bill on January 23 and the House of Representatives passed it the following day.
The READ Act was developed to help address the need for access to education for the globally displaced by ensuring that the U.S. has a comprehensive, integrated strategy that improves global educational opportunities for vulnerable children, including those affected by conflict and other emergencies; and facilitates improved coordination within the U.S. government via a Senior Coordinator of U.S. International Basic Education Assistance.
Of the six million primary and secondary school-age refugees under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 3.7 million are not in school. Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children, as the obstacles to full access to education are considerable. Yet, during emergencies and in protracted crises, schools are essential for healing and health and provide opportunity and hope for the future.
I was recently in Chad, home to more than 300,000 refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan who fled war and violence over a decade ago. With no hope in sight of return to Darfur as the region remains unstable, education is one of the only long-term solutions for refugees unsure of their futures.
In the midst of a global refugee crisis and funding stretched thin, I saw students eager to learn even without buildings, desks or books. Teachers are doing their best, with meager resources, to ensure that the next generation at least have access to education, but quality is not guaranteed. Jesuit Refugee Service is working to address this challenge by educating nearly 33,000 refugee students through preschool and primary schools in eight camps, and secondary schools in five camps.
Over the past year, JRS/USA has mobilized thousands of people across the U.S. to express their support for refugee education and continued U.S. engagement in ensuring that the most vulnerable have access to a quality education. With passage in the House of Representatives, we now look forward passage in the Senate and working with Congress and the Administration to fully realize the benefits of the READ Act, which will move us one step closer to ensuring that no one is denied the right to an education.
Giulia McPherson is the Director of Advocacy & Operations at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, based in Washington, DC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @GiuliaMcPherson.