This past May, colleagues in Ghana invited me to assess the progress in the inclusion of refugee students from Côte d’Ivoire in the Ghanaian education system.
Since 2011, approximately 11,500 persons from Côte d’Ivoire have fled post-election violence to take refuge in Ghana. About 9,120 of them live in three camps (Ampain, Egyeikrom, Fetentaa) located in the Central, Western and Brong Ahafo regions while about 2,300 live in and around Accra.
Ivoirians represent about 60% of all refugees who currently live in Ghana. Among them are about 4,000 children and youth between the ages of 3 and 17 years who are in need of pre-primary, primary, or secondary education in and around the camps.
Quality and protective education a priority
UNHCR’s focus in Ghana is to find durable solutions for refugees. These include facilitated or spontaneous voluntary, safe and dignified return to Côte d’Ivoire, local integration in Ghana or resettlement to third countries based on specific criteria.
UNHCR facilitates all durable solutions, also supported by efforts from the government of Côte d’Ivoire to promote inclusive reconciliation.
From the onset of an emergency and forcible displacement to the identification of a durable solution, quality and protective education for refugee children and young people is a priority for UNHCR.
Ghana offers an interesting example for the inclusion of refugee children in a host country’s education system. Here are some recurring issues: the need to accept the strengths and weaknesses of the host country’s education system, considerations of refugee parents’ roles and economic limitations, the provision of school meals to ensure regular attendance, and the importance of partnership to ensure education is provided in line with Sustainable Development Goal 4.
From emergency to inclusion
During the emergency phase in 2011-2012, when Ivorian refugees arrived in Ghana, UNHCR Ghana, UNICEF and the Ghanaian authorities worked together to provide education to refugee children and youth to minimize interruption to their education.
In this period, refugee children studied the Ivorian curriculum in French instructed by Ivorian refugee teachers, with Ivorian textbooks procured by UNICEF. An arrangement was made with Togolese authorities to let Ivorian children take their francophone school exams under their supervision.
In 2012, UNHCR and its implementing partner, the Christian Council of Ghana, had started working with Ghana Education Service (GES) to include refugee children and youth in national schools and progressively integrate the primary schools established in the three refugee camps in the GES system. By 2013, the inclusion had started and all children were taught the Ghanaian curriculum.
Managing the curriculum and language transition at the primary and secondary level posed several challenges. Coordinating such a transition after an emergency takes time and needs sufficient and reliable funding and capacity, both on the part of the host government as well as UNHCR and its partners.
Being taught and learning in a new language has been one of the biggest challenges for refugee children. In the summer 2013 for example, accelerated English orientation courses were organized for all the primary six graduates, which helped more than 230 students to enter Junior High Schools (JHS) in various Ghanaian schools. Between 2013 and 2015 accelerated English language classes were provided for about 900 children.
Additionally textbooks and teaching material needed to be procured and the Ivorian refugee volunteer teachers needed to be replaced by trained Ghanaian teachers.1
Teachers play the most important role in supporting children to cope with such a challenging situation. But it was difficult to post and retain teachers in the camp schools, and to find teachers with knowledge of French to handle the language barrier in the classroom and in the interaction with parents.
Including children in an education system with strengths and weaknesses
Today, more than 1,200 children (nursery to primary 6) are taught in the three primary schools which are now registered community schools: 37 GES teachers teach the Ghanaian curriculum; Ghanaian textbooks are used; GES supervises the schools; each school has an assigned code under which data is reported in the Education Management Information System; and the schools receive school capitation grants.
The inclusion of refugee students in the Ghanaian system ensures the certification of their studies through accredited examinations, provides accountability for quality of teaching and learning through the national system and access to all levels of education.
Despite progress we see that language remains an issue, that the latest enrollment rate for primary education in these areas is barely 60%2, that teachers complain about the irregular student attendance and that only one third of those aged 12 to 17 participate in secondary education. (Senior secondary education is not free in Ghana and, without one of the scarce scholarships, hardly affordable for refugees.)
We also see that there are challenges that are not specific to the refugee students but equally affect Ghanaian and refugee students in public schools. For example, the shortage of textbooks is a national problem; it is not only refugee students who cannot take their textbooks home to study.
In fact, the primary and junior secondary students I talked to in the Ampain camp articulated perfectly their opinions and concerns regarding their education. It's important to note not only because they did so in English but also because it helped me understand their struggles and ambitions and the need to give them the space to voice their concerns.
The textbook-student ratio stands at 1:3 but varies from school to school. During a discussion with refugee students in Ampain, students who took their BECE this summer were especially concerned that they could not take the textbooks home to study.
Although the provision of school uniforms is part of the government’s efforts to provide free basic compulsory education for 11 years between the ages of 4 and 14, hardly any school receives enough school uniforms for all their students. A head teacher told me that he had received only 3 uniforms for 155 children last year.
In view of these challenges and UNHCR’s commitment to support host governments in protracted situations, strengthening coordination and partnership with the government of Ghana and its development partners is crucial for a successful inclusion of refugee learners and for sustainability.
1Currently, 14 refugee volunteer teachers teach the nursery/kindergarten classes. Eight Ivorian teachers have been supported to enroll in teacher training colleges in Ghana.
2Note that the movement of families to find employment makes it difficult to monitor and track where and whether the children are enrolled.