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Right To Play welcomes the Government of Canada’s Together for Learning campaign to mobilize support for refugee and displaced learners

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Right To Play is celebrating the launch of the Together for Learning campaign, an initiative led by Global Affairs Canada in collaboration with the Canadian International Education Policy Working Group (CIEPWG). In 2019, under the leadership of the Honourable Karina Gould, Minister for International Development, the Government of Canada committed to lead an international campaign to protect the right to education for refugee and displaced learners. Refugee and displaced children – particularly girls – face the greatest obstacles to accessing education in a safe and nurturing learning environment.

The Together for Learning campaign will promote quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for refugee and displaced children and youth by strengthening political will and programming in this regard. Perhaps the most exciting element of the campaign launch was the introduction of the newly formed Refugee Education Council. This group of 15 incredible education advocates and community leaders have come together to ensure that the political and programmatic decisions taken by the Government of Canada are informed by the voices of those with lived experience — refugee children, youth, parents and teachers themselves. If done right, this model of engagement can be a gold standard for donors, INGOs and other partners to meaningfully include the knowledge and advice of those directly impacted by displacement and ensuring those voices are elevated and integrated into decision-making processes.

“The launch of the Together for Learning campaign comes at a time when the need for increased political and financial support for education is needed now more than ever”, said Jennifer Slawich, Director, Stakeholder Engagement at Right To Play. “One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly one billion learners are still out of school. That’s in addition to the 75 million children and youth who were already out of school in crisis-affected countries. The pandemic has exacerbated gaps in access to quality education for refugee and displaced learners – and the reality is, those gaps are likely to still exist even when COVID-19 is in our review mirror. Canadian leadership is desperately needed to ensure that educational needs of refugee and displaced learners are not forgotten during the pandemic and beyond.”

In times of crisis, schools are often the first public service to be suspended and the last to be resumed. COVID-19 has exacerbated the already precarious circumstances faced by children who are living in conflict and crisis, putting them at greater risk of illness, child labour, violence and other forms of exploitation. When children and young people are out of school, their mental health, learning and development also suffers. Without an education in a safe and nurturing learning environment, children and young people lose a sense of belonging and are denied the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to reach their full potential. This is especially true for girls.

To ensure the continuity and quality of education for all, Canadian leadership and innovation is both timely and welcome. In order to address these urgent and unmet needs, Canada must also deliver on its commitment to spend an additional $150 million annually for three years dedicated to the Together for Learning campaign. These funds will ensure that more refugee and displaced children get access to the quality education they need and deserve.[i] This commitment builds upon Canada’s leadership at the Group of Seven (G7) meeting in Charlevoix, where Canada’s $400mn investment leveraged over $4 billion from G7 and other partners for educating children living in crisis.

Drawing on our 20 years of experience, Right To Play has been taking action to keep children healthy and safe, learning, and mentally strong, including those impacted by conflict and crisis. For example, with support from the Government of Canada, through Global Affairs Canada, Right To Play is improving access to education for girls and children with disabilities who have become refugees due to ethnic violence in Burundi. Active in refugee camps in Tanzania and returnee communities in Burundi, the My Education, My Future program empowers primary school-aged children to overcome educational barriers by building their life-skills, resilience, and social cohesion using playful learning. We also work with teachers to create safe and nurturing environments where girls and children with disabilities can learn and receive support. We look forward to continuing to work with Global Affairs Canada on the successful delivery of the campaign to reach more children and youth and to ensure their rights to be protected, educated and empowered.

Jennifer Slawich is the Director, Stakeholder Engagement for Right To Play International. Right To Play is a global organization that protects, educates and empowers children to rise above adversity through the power of play. We reached 12 million children around the world last year through in person and remote methods in some of the most difficult and dangerous places on earth to help them stay in school and graduate, resist exploitation and overcome prejudice, prevent disease, and heal from war and abuse.

The Canadian International Education Policy Working Group is a is a coalition of international development, humanitarian and advocacy organizations working to support policies and programs to improve access to safe, inclusive, quality education for all children and youth. CIEPWG is currently co-Chaired by Right To Play and UNICEF Canada.