In late October, we participated in a UNHCR-led workshop on refugee education in Rwanda, and as part of the event, we had the opportunity to visit two refugee camps: Kigeme and Mugombwa.
In both camps, first to greet us with warm smiles were children and elders, while others looked at our buses from the many perches offered by the hilly landscape. As far as the eye could see were rows of cement houses with tin roofs, giving a sense of of normalcy for the many people who have escaped violence in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Against this backdrop came to mind Filippo Grandi’s profound words: “Refugees have skills, ideas, hopes and dreams… They are also tough, resilient and creative, with the energy and drive to shape their own destinies, given the chance.”
Learning together on how to plan for refugee education
UNHCR estimates that globally, there are 25.4 million refugees and approximately 53% are under the age of 18.
Faced with this reality and appreciating the unique role that education plays in ensuring refugees are given a chance, UNHCR organized a series of workshops designed to familiarize planning staff in ministries of Education with the opportunities presented by including refugees in their education systems, in the context of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and the international commitments reflected there and in the Global Compact on Refugees.
The workshops also aimed at building the capacity of UNHCR staff to understand and participate in national planning processes related to education. Facilitators and presenters from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), UNICEF and the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) have also supported these workshops.
7 African countries exchange their experiences
The third workshop in the series was held in last October in Kigali and brought together over 50 participants representing the government, UNHCR, UNICEF and civil society from Djibouti, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, and Zambia.
Driven by the belief that it is imperative for refugee children to have opportunities to continue their education, GPE signed a memorandum of understanding with UNHCR in May 2016. The purpose was to strengthen collaboration to support education for refugee children and youth, which brings a sense of normalcy and hope for those affected by crises and the children of the surrounding communities in host countries.
GPE works with host countries to find ways to include these issues in national education sector plans, budgets, programming and monitoring.
A positive example of this is Djibouti, where UNHCR has become a member of the local education group. The ministry of Education is working to develop a strategy on refugees. The country also included data on refugee children for the first time in its education sector plan (2017-2020).
The workshop in Kigali, hosted by Rwanda’s Ministry of Education, provided a valuable opportunity for participants to share knowledge and experience about what has worked in including refugee populations in education planning.
In the refugee camps, we visited two schools practicing the full integration of refugee children: Kigeme and Mugombwa Primary Schools. All participants were inspired and energized by the success of integration in Rwanda. After interactions with the students and teachers of these two school’s participants were convinced that integration is possible as they felt like they were seeing it first-hand. The government of Rwanda has a policy of inclusion of refugee children and practices full integration into the national school system.
4 critical areas for successful integration of refugee children
The workshop is part of UNHCR and other partners’ wider efforts to work together to advance practical action on refugee education. The four critical points that emerged from the workshop are:
- Data and evidence are key: Participants gained an increased understanding of the critical role of data in defining the challenges surrounding refugee integration. Participants also learned about the information and data that the government holds across line ministries. The workshop highlighted existing critical data on refugees and information gaps in the 7 participating countries. The event supported creating partnerships to strengthen the evidence base on inclusive education and on refugees specifically through studies, analyses, and data collection.
- Engaging in planning and monitoring processes: The workshop helped UNHCR officers in country offices to better understand national-level planning processes in the education sector. In addition, the workshop unpacked the role of GPE in these processes and UNHCR’s potential entry points to strengthen engagement in them. Participants reflected on concrete ways by which UNHCR country offices and civil society groups supporting refugees can more deliberately engage with local education groups to ensure timely inputs into planning through joint sector reviews, sector analyses, and education sector plan development.
- Learning from good practice: The field visit to schools serving large refugee populations and to the nearby refugee camps provided practical insights on the implementation of policy at school-level, and strengths and gaps in linking decentralized implementation to national-level planning and monitoring processes. The field visit motivated participants to try and find solutions to the many challenges surrounding refugee situations in their own countries.
- Building partnerships: Discussions pointed to the need for strengthened and new partnerships in inclusive education, particularly for refugee children. Development partners and civil society groups agreed to map out existing support to school-aged refugee populations and particularly noting areas that demonstrate overlap to avoid duplication of efforts and leverage potential synergies. Development partners and the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) also provided overviews of resources available to countries on inclusive education for refugee children, including links to tools and materials.
The workshops are an opportunity for GPE partner countries to receive targeted technical guidance on stronger incorporation of refugee issues in sector analyses, plans, and programs. GPE currently provides grants for sector plan development and implementation to Bangladesh, the Central African Republic, Chad, and Uganda that cover the inclusion of refugee education needs in the planning and implementation of national strategies.
In many ways, the workshop reinforced how important it is to adopt a forward-looking approach on refugee issues across the globe so as to ensure that countries will find ways to gradually transition refugees from humanitarian assistance to development support, and thus contribute to the success of host countries.