Including refugee students in national education systems. Part 2

The importance of school meals, parents and partnerships

The Fetentaa camp runs a school canteen since April 2016 with support from the Catholic Diocese of Sunyani. Two other refugee camps with Ivorian refugees have no school canteen. Credit: UNHCR/Caroline Schmidt.

Read the first part of this blog

In Ghana, parents play a significant role in sustaining education and improving schools. School capitation grants, for example, have been reported to be too low and often late and thus parents still pay levies and fees. Parents perform an important role in decision making in the parent-teacher associations (PTAs) and school management committees (SMCs).

Parents’ role and responsibility for education

Successful inclusion of refugee students in the Ghanaian system therefore means that refugee parents also assume this role. PTAs and SMCs are set up in all three primary schools in the camps and meetings take place regularly. UNHCR and its implementing partners work closely with the Ghana Education Services (GES) to strengthen the PTAs and SMCs and the participation of refugee parents.

However, one major constraint remains: refugee parents struggle to maintain an income. While UNHCR invests in livelihoods projects, paying the PTA fees, for example, which are approximately US$0.25 per term for primary school and US$1.50 for junior high schools (JHS), can be a burden for parents.

UNHCR has paid PTA fees, provided uniforms and exercise books, and paid exam fees. Two JHS head teachers told us that this direct support had helped some refugee students achieve better results compared to their Ghanaian school mates. The reason, they said, was that they ‘could afford to attend class more regularly’.

While direct assistance has helped parents enroll their children in school without struggling to cover related costs, UNHCR sensibly works with parents to help them gradually assume financial responsibility for their children’s education in the context of its strategy for self-reliance.

A meal at school may help to improve enrollment and attendance

In order to make a living some refugees leave the camp to find work, often taking their children with them. Others leave the camp during the day and leave their children alone or with neighbors.

Three boys eating their lunch at school in Fetentaa refugee camp

The Fetentaa camp runs a school canteen since April 2016 with support from the Catholic Diocese of Sunyani. Two other refugee camps with Ivorian refugees have no school canteen.

Photo Credit: UNHCR/Caroline Schmidt

During breaks many children leave school and often do not come back because either there is no one at home to send them back, there is no food at home or it is not ready. Everybody I talked to pleaded for school meal programs.

The head teacher in Ampain explained:

“If we offered [children] food, they would not go home and we could teach the syllabus normally. I think also the parents would be less confrontational and feel more supported.”

Except for the school in Fetentaa, where a school canteen has been set up in April and may run until the end of the year with the support of the Catholic Diocese, no school meals are available for Ivorian refugee children in the two other schools.

This situation poses a real risk to their education and protection, and must be remedied. Including the three primary schools in the Ghana national school feeding program may be a sustainable solution.

The importance of partnership to realize Education 2030

Mainstreaming refugees in national social services and development programs is one part of UNHCR’s durable solutions and self-reliance strategy. Long-standing displacement situations require sensible management of communication and collaboration to facilitate the transition from a humanitarian response to a mainstreamed development approach with the persons of concern, the host government and the development partners.

This is evident for education: a sustainable solution in education in line with Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) can only be realized through partnership.

To sum up

In the short term, refugee children and youth – in and out-of-school – need to be supported to succeed in their education, by responding to immediate needs such as additional language classes and accelerated learning programs, access to reading and learning material and provision of school meals.

In the long term, refugee education rights and needs need to be visible and accounted for in national education plans.


Further Reading:

UNESCO/ UNHCR Policy Paper (May 2016): No more excuses: Provide education to all forcibly displaced people

  • UNHCR Ghana Website and Facebook
  • UNHCR Global Focus: Ghana Operation
  • Ghana National Development Planning Commission: 2014 Citizens’ Assessment Report on the Capitation Grant Scheme. “Is the Capitation Grant achieving the objective of eliminating fees and charges at the basic school level?” (PDF)
Sub-Saharan Africa: Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana


Regional Education Officer, UNHCR Regional Representation - West Africa
Caroline has been the Regional Education Officer at the UNHCR Regional Representation in West Africa since July 2015. Before she worked as Education Advisor for the German Back-Up Initiative Education in...

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