New UNESCO Report reveals the strain of refugees on education systems in sub-Saharan Africa


The 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report highlights numerous pioneering initiatives being taken by Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda for the education of refugees.

The new 2019 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report by UNESCO on migration and displacement documents the progress and challenges in educating refugees around the world. Sub-Saharan Africa houses almost a third of all refugees in the world, along with millions of internally displaced people, both of which the Report shows are putting huge strains on already struggling education systems.

Entitled Building bridges, not walls, the GEM Report celebrates the political will for change as outlined in the Horn of Africa’s Djibouti Declaration and highlights numerous pioneering initiatives in some countries. Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, together housing over half of the region’s refugees and 12% of the world’s refugees, are championed in particular for their positive approach to support the education of forcibly displaced children and youth. They join countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan in their ambitions to sit refugees side-by-side by nationals in school.

The Report also points at countries where a greater effort is required to integrate refugee children into national systems of education, as in the U.R of Tanzania. There is a need for lessons to be shared by the EAC (East African Community) countries to ensure refugees are not denied their right to an education.

Refugees often arrive with low education levels stretching host countries’ already limited resources. In Chad, among 6-14 year old refugees from the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Sudan, 30% were illiterate. Refugees from South Sudan in Uganda settle in the poor West Nile sub region, where the secondary net attendance rate was 9% in 2016 – less than half the national rate.

Displacement impacts heavily on the quality of education. In Kenyan refugee camps, schools must comply with Ministry of Education minimum standards and guidelines yet average pupil/teacher ratios in Dadaab reached 120:1 in pre-primary and 56:1 in primary. On average, six students shared a desk and four shared a textbook in English, mathematics, science and social studies.

Many teachers in displacement settings lack formal training. In Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, only 8% of primary teachers were certified national teachers, and 6 out of 10 refugee teachers were untrained. While Chad offers professional pathways for refugee teachers in its public schools, refugee teachers’ qualifications often remain unrecognized, as among the South Sudanese in Uganda. Training is also crucial for helping teachers manage multilingual classrooms. In Uganda, instructional content is translated within the classroom, slowing the teaching process.

Countries need to improve training for refugees on the language of instruction, without which students can end up placed in lower grades, putting pressure on teachers and overcrowding classrooms as seen among Burundian refugees in Rwanda. Linguistic differences also make friendships more difficult and can lead to discrimination, resulting in school-drop out and children joining gangs, as found among adolescent Congolese and Somali refugees in Uganda.

Refugee influxes require additional teachers. In Uganda, an extra 7,000 primary school teachers are needed to educate refugees, with the cost of primary teacher salaries in refugee settlements estimated to be US$15 million over the next three years.

“Large movements of people have huge implications for education systems” said Manos Antoninis, Director of the GEM Report. “Many sub-Saharan African countries are leading the way globally for managing this challenge. Yet others are struggling and require international support to cope with the strain. Regional efforts to share positive examples are also needed to help those falling behind to catch up”.

Globally, only a third of the funding gap for refugee education has been filled. In the region, only 4% of the education humanitarian appeal is currently funded in Burundi, 3% in Chad, 6% in Cameroon, and 10% in both the Central African Republic and Ethiopia. The Report emphasizes that humanitarian aid alone will never fill the gap and points to Uganda as a blueprint for best practice by bringing humanitarian and development partners together to fund its education plan, including refugees.

Humanitarian and refugee response plans are not accurately reflecting some core education priorities. Although one in six displaced people are under the age of five, plans in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Somalia and Ethiopia had no mention of early childhood education.


Protect the right to education of migrants and displaced people
Include migrants and displaced people in the national education system
Understand and plan for the education needs of migrants and displaced people
Represent migration and displacement histories in education accurately to challenge prejudices
Prepare teachers of migrants and refugees to address diversity and hardship
Harness the potential of migrants and displaced people through skills and qualifications recognition
Support education needs of migrants and displaced people in humanitarian and development aid.

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