Educating refugee children in Greece

An avoidable tragedy

After medical care, shelter, food and clothing, the children who have survived the dangerous journey from their own countries to Greece in the past two years need above all else, to resume their education.

This hasn’t been easy, as Rory Fox, from the British Educational charity, EdLumino, reports.

Back to school?

The school programme for refugee children in Greece began in October 2016 accompanied by a series of media announcements.  Aljazeera reported: First school bell rings for refugee children in Greece whilst the BBC focused on the fact that Refugee children in Greece face protest on first day of school. The impression given to the world was that this was the start of getting all the refugee children into full time schooling.

The reality is that less than 10% of the refugee children were able to start school in October and the situation remained patchy at best at the end of 2016. The provision varies from classes offered in schools during the day when refugees join Greek children, to a few hours of extra classes in school after the Greek children have gone home. Most of the refugee children got a very thin educational gruel, which EU parents would be extremely unlikely to accept as adequate for their own children.

Informal programmes

Alongside ‘official’ attempts at educating the children, there are a number of informal educational programmes taking place inside the camps themselves. Some of these are of high quality, but others raise questions.

In one camp an NGO had raised funding to provide 3 (paid) teachers. The teachers preferred to work as a single team, so all 3 teachers worked together to teach groups of 30 children, with a 1:10 teacher: pupil ratio.  Not the best use of the available resources. In another camp I watched an English (ESOL) lesson given by a teacher. In the course of an hour the 12 and 13 year old refugee children learned 5 new words of English. Some of the children had essentially finished the entire lesson in the first 10 minutes.  The teaching was inefficient, having a much lower impact than would normally be expected.

Funding not lacking

Funding is not the problem. According to the EU: MANAGING THE REFUGEE CRISIS EU Financial Support to Greece some 352 million Euros have recently been given to Greece. This is additional to the 509 million allocated (2014-2020) for more general migration issues and it is in addition to the 700 million Euros allocated (2016-2018) from the EU Emergency Humanitarian Support fund. There is a total commitment from the EU alone, of roughly one and a half billion Euros. And it does not take account of the many other NGOs at work supporting refugees, drawing their own funding streams from philanthropists, wealth funds and International Aid budgets.

Despite the resources going into the camps, educational outcomes continue to be limited. In May 2016 the NGO Save the Children noted that child refugees in Greece have been out of school for an average of one and a half years.

What then, is the problem?

There are two main reasons why we are still seeing these types of inefficiencies and quality deficits. Firstly, because the kind of general children’s charities (NGOs) which raise funds effectively to put teachers in the field, do not typically have the educational management expertise to get the most efficient and highest quality educational outcomes for the children.

Secondly, a clear line of accountability for the educational outcomes of the children in the camps is lacking, which is having devastating consequences. The remit to provide education lies with a hazy combination of Greek officials and the NGOs running the camps.  Quality outcomes in this context are difficult to find.

In some camps I also saw an inadvertent and unintended ‘competition’ between formal state provided education, and the informal educational support provided by NGOs. Several NGOs set up educational programmes in camps whilst awaiting the formal state education to be provided. When the formal education came on stream, they remained to provide ‘extra’ support to groups of children who are starting to get a formal education from the state, whilst children in other camps have no educational provision at all.

Teenage girls face particular difficulties. They are less likely to travel out of the camp for any educational provision, when there is an alternative available within the camp, even if that alternative is of lower quality and for fewer hours. Several girls make it clear that they would prefer to leave the camp and go to school, but parents find it convenient to keep them in camp, so they can then continue with the baby-sitting and household chores.

Long term consequences for older children

One of the most troubling aspects of the situation confronting the refugee children in Greece, is that the official planning to get refugee children into schools only applies to children up to the age of 15. For the older children, there is simply no plan.

The lack of coordination is disappointing and ultimately short-sighted. If the refugee children settle in Europe then their lack of qualifications will mean that they run the risk of being unemployable and consigned to a life on benefits. If they return to their own countries, they will become part of the potential problem of instability there, uneducated, unemployable and so unable to contribute to the rebuilding of their countries.

Wherever the oldest teenage children end up, they need to be educated – now.


Tragedy follows tragedy

It’s a desperately sad educational outcome for children who have already suffered humanitarian tragedy.

Day by day they are watching their hopes and aspirations slipping further and further away, and no one seems to be able to help them.


Rory Fox

Rory Fox has been an educational leader in the UK for over 25 years. He has led education initiatives in prisons, private and state schools. He is CEO of the educational charity Edlumino Education Aid, which is currently working in refugee camps to provide qualified teachers for refugee children and helping NGOs working with refugees develop the educational aspects of their services.

If you would like to find out more about edumino, donate to their fundraising or get involved, see

For a longer version of this article see the original posted by Rory in the EdLumino website:

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