Trinidad and Tobago + 5 more

UNHCR MCO Panama | Thematic Notes | 2021: Education - The gateway toward sustainable futures for forcibly displaced people


Education as a protection mechanism can

  • Keep children safe from child exploitation and abuse.

  • Avoid recruitment of children and youth by gangs or other criminal organizations.

  • Reduce risks of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), teenage pregnancy, and child marriage.

  • Provide children and youth with safe spaces to learn and grow up among peers.

  • Promote social integration and peaceful coexistence.

  • Support the development of livelihoods, selfreliance, and resilience.


Forced displacement creates a barrier for children to access education in new communities or countries. Administrative, language, cultural and practical hurdles often make it difficult for displaced children to enrol or stay in school across Central America and the Caribbean.

On top of this, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered closure of schools, non-formal learning programmes, after-school centres, and universities in all countries under the Panama Multi-Country Office (MCO). Three out of every five children in the world who lost a school year during the pandemic live in Latin America and the Caribbean. On average, schools in region have been completely closed for 158 days from March 2020 to February 2021, far more than the global estimate (95 days). The most vulnerable children and youth, and those who cannot access distance education are more likely to never return to school, and even become at-risk of child marriage and/or labour, gang recruitment, GBV, and teenage pregnancy. To mitigate the impact of school closures, Governments strive to reinforce access to quality distance learning and urgently start implementing blended learning models. Yet, refugees and other displaced populations have had to prioritize other lifethreatening needs within their expenditure plans.

Education is fundamentally protective. The lack of access to education exacerbates the vulnerabilities and risks for displaced children and youth. For refugees and asylum-seekers education is the path to rebuilding their lives. Early childhood programmes and pre-school education enhance development and reinforce psycho-emotional resilience. Primary and secondary education levels build literacy and solidify other relevant skills and capacities. Completion of these education levels facilitates access to technical or higher education, which represents the steppingstone towards employment. Additionally, Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) further supports the development of livelihoods, self-reliance, and socioeconomic resilience. Finally, language training promotes social integration and access to services, including lower-level education for children and youth.

UNHCR, therefore, places great importance on the inclusion of displaced children and youth in national education systems. In this sense, UNHCR advocates for States’ commitment to give refugee children and youth access to the full range of educational opportunities – from pre-primary to higher, as well as TVET, and non-formal education that leads to recognized certification, at the same level of nationals. By supporting and strengthening education opportunities for both displaced and local children and youth across all countries; to build stronger and more inclusive communities.


In Aruba and Curaçao, UNHCR provided support to 78 Venezuelan children through the back-to-school cash-based assistance packages, which included the costs of enrolment and insurance fees, school supplies and transportation costs.

In Guyana, UNHCR provided English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to 286 refugees and migrants, and assisted 28 students with schoolrelated materials, including digital devices for remote education access. Additionally, 34 teachers received training on language teaching methodology and academic material development through capacity building workshops.

At the beginning of 2021, UNHCR and partners trained 100 teachers in Panama on psycho-emotional tools for the gradual return to school and to accompany children and their families in this process. Moreover, 70 children received tablets to facilitate access to remote or blended education, and 75 families benefitted from cash interventions for school supplies.

In Trinidad and Tobago, more than 1,050 refugees, asylum-seekers, and other eligible children access distance accredited education services through Equal Place (EP). As of July 2021, UNHCR delivered 400 tablets to support the EP online modality and facilitate access and daily participation for all children.

Financial gaps

With additional funding and support, UNHCR could strengthen access to regular quality learning opportunities that help children and adults learn, thrive and develop their potential, build individual and collective resilience, and contribute to peaceful coexistence.

UNHCR seeks to support governments and foster the conditions, partnerships, collaboration, and approaches that lead to refugee, asylum-seeker, other displaced persons, and their host communities to access inclusive education and training in national systems. These include primary, secondary, and tertiary education; and skills-training programmes that lead to certified professional and TVET education access.