Back to school: Supporting refugee education in Sri Lanka

As millions of young people across Australia prepare to go back to school this week, it’s important to remind ourselves that quality education still isn’t a right that everyone can access. For refugee children, significant barriers to education – and all the life-long skills, friends and memories that come with it – persist.

Thankfully, our local partner in Sri Lanka, the Organisation for Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation or OfERR Ceylon, is dedicated to overcoming barriers to refugee education in Sri Lanka.

Refugee education compared to wider Australia in 2022

For too many refugees, barriers to education persist – with close to half of all refugee children (48%) remaining out of school. To put these figures in perspective, a recent report showed only 9% of Australians aged 25-35 didn’t finish secondary school.

What are the barriers to education for refugees?

But even when refugees are resettled and enrolled in school, many struggle to adapt to new educational contexts. Barriers to reintegrating may include:

  • Limited understanding and resources for teachers about the unique needs of refugees
  • No educational plans developed to address refugee students.
  • Inherent difference in the education systems from country to country, leaving students unprepared for standardised testing.
  • Difficulty of obtaining official school records, which can interfere with enrollment and grade placement.
  • Sometimes refugees do not have access to education for years in the camp and are placed in a level that does not correspond to their learning level.
  • Language barriers which limit how much a student can learn and progress.
Daniyel’s* children have been supported by OfERR to enrol in school in Sri Lanka after living in India as refugees. Credit: Richard Wainwright

Helping refugee returnees in Sri Lanka to thrive at school

Working with and supporting the refugee community in India and Sri Lanka for many years, our local partner, OfERR Ceylon, have created support services to help returnee refugees overcome barriers to education.

These services include helping returnee families enroll their children in school, providing catch-up classes, language classes, and items like school bags to make the transition easier for young people.

Florina, Act for Peace’s Regional Return and Reintegration Advisor, recently met sisters Madari* and Amaya*. After spending most of their lives living in refugee camps in India, they are now going to school in Sri Lanka.

Our local partner in Sri Lanka is supporting sisters, Mandari* and Amaya*, to adapt to school and life in Sri Lanka after spending most of their childhood as refugees in India. Florina Xavier / Act for Peace

“I was interested to learn about how these sisters were settling back in, because often, when children are born in India, they feel very attached to the place and struggle to adjust to life back in Sri Lanka.

I got the chance to visit their home. I met their mum, uncles, aunts and all the extended family. It’s a really good thing they have the full family around them.”

–          Florina Xavier, Act for Peace’s Regional Return and Reintegration Advisor

Thankfully, for Madari and Amaya, the transition back to Sri Lanka has been cushioned by the support of their extended family and our local partner, OfERR Ceylon.

“Considering the difficult change they’ve gone through over the last two years, these girls are so resilient. They were so excited and very enthusiastic, both of them.”

At school, Amaya gets to play cricket which she loves. Her younger sister is also keen to follow in her footsteps.

“Women’s cricket is a growing phenomenon in Sri Lanka, so I encouraged the girls to keep playing”, Florina says.

Access to quality education and playing sports are opportunities every person deserves. Thanks to your support, our local partner in Sri Lanka is ensuring returnee refugees don’t miss out on these important experiences – and memories they will cherish forever.

*Name changed for safety reasons.

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