Paving pathways for inclusion: 3 levers countries can use to include refugees in education systems

How political will, inter-organization collaboration and capacity building can lead to refugee inclusion in education systems of host countries.

January 30, 2024 by Artur Borkowski, UNESCO, Lily Calaycay, UNESCO, and Bindu Sunny
5 minutes read
Grace, 12, in the Primary 5 classroom at Makamba Primary School, in Uganda. Credit: GPE/Livia Barton
Grace, 12, in the Primary 5 classroom at Makamba Primary School, in Uganda.
Credit: GPE/Livia Barton

Over 36 million refugees around the globe, many of whom are school-aged children, continue to grapple with the instability that defines their new reality. Each step they take—from crossing international borders seeking safety to navigating the complex pathways toward education and local integration—is fraught with uncertainty.

With protracted crises causing prolonged periods of displacement, the inclusion of refugees within national education systems can help mitigate this uncertainty and equip them with the tools to rebuild their lives.

Still, the path to full inclusion is marked by several challenges.

Two reports by UNESCO and UNHCR analyzing data and policies in the top 35 low- and middle-income refugee-hosting countries found that while most countries (75%) grant refugees access to national education systems, policies often lack provisions to ensure longer-term, sustainable solutions.

Furthermore, refugees remain largely invisible in education statistics, especially concerning education safety and quality, due in part to an absence of questions that allow for the identification of refugees in existing data collection exercises. This hinders the effective monitoring of their educational progress and impedes the development of targeted responses to meet their educational needs.

There are 7 in-depth case studies complementing the reports by UNESCO and UNHCR that reveal the barriers and opportunities to fostering full inclusion of refugees within host countries’ education systems. They underscore the need to use both national and international systems-level levers to build more inclusive education systems for refugees, echoing the 2023 Global Refugee Forum commitments to foster greater refugee inclusion in host countries.

The case studies highlight 5 system-level levers for refugee inclusion: political will, inter-agency coordination, the capacity of national systems, financing and international cooperation. With financing and international cooperation being the focus of discussions at the 2023 forum, this blog focuses on 3 national-level levers: political will, inter-agency coordination and the capacity of national systems.

Figure: System-level levers for refugee inclusion in policy and data systems
Figure: System-level levers for refugee inclusion in policy and data systems
Authors’ elaboration.

1. Political will as the foundation of refugee-inclusive frameworks

Strong political will drives and sustains the development of governance frameworks to protect the rights of refugees, facilitating countries to develop inclusive education responses.

Political will increases the likelihood that countries go beyond meeting the immediate needs of refugees and look to provide long-term solutions. In Uganda, a long-standing political commitment to uphold the rights of refugees, reflected in the government’s ratification of international agreements and promulgation of national legislation, has led to the recent inclusion of refugees in education management information system (EMIS) reform.

On the other hand, the absence of political will may result in exclusionary policies that bar refugees from progressing through all levels of education or achieving socio-economic integration. This is especially the case in countries that are not signatories to the 1951 Convention.

For example, in Pakistan, many Afghan refugees remain undocumented and are barred from accessing higher education. Moreover, in the absence of national governance frameworks, refugees may be excluded from data systems.

While UNHCR collects some data on refugee education in Pakistan, undocumented Afghans are not included in enrollment figures. However, Education Sector Plans for 2020-2025 at the province level in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan include provisions to facilitate access to education for refugees, showing clear signs of political will to include refugees in education from a policy lens.

2. Inter-agency coordination for better data collection and cohesive solutions

Strong coordination between national agencies and different levels of government working on refugee education has enabled different systems to work together effectively to foster greater inclusion.

In Colombia, inter-agency coordination has led to cohesive policy responses through the National Observatory for Migration (Observatorio Nacional de Migraciones, ONM), which integrates data on the education, health, social services, employment and family welfare of Venezuelans.

In contrast, a lack of data-sharing between government institutions and partners can impede progress toward inclusion.

In Chad, a lack of coordination in data collection efforts and systems between ministries and non-governmental partners has led to fragmentation and discrepancies between sources despite data being collected on refugee education.

Improved interoperability between data systems—the ability of systems to exchange real-time information directly and in a standardized format—would enable better cohesion across information systems, better coverage and inclusion of refugees within them and facilitate the use of refugee data collected by various sectors in refugee-focused policy-making processes.

3. Capacity of national education systems to operationalize inclusion

Improved host country capacities (human, technical and financial) to manage large-scale refugee arrivals facilitate the implementation of inclusive policies.

Strong capacity at all levels of government can help ensure the uniform adoption of policies across territories. In Colombia, high capacity at sub-national levels has allowed for district-led education planning that contextualizes national policies within local contexts.

In contrast, weak capacity hinders not only the delivery of quality education, but also data collection and dissemination processes.

In Chad, refugee enrollment data is collected and disseminated through the Annual Statistical Yearbook. However, data collection remains paper-based, leading to challenges with data entry, verification and uptake that may exacerbate existing capacity constraints, hindering effective inclusion efforts as a result.

National actors and partners can advance the implementation of inclusive frameworks by building capacity for data collection and use at all levels of government with the support of international actors.

In Ecuador, the Ministry of Education has taken steps to strengthen data capacity by recruiting experienced personnel and developing mechanisms and tools to facilitate EMIS reporting by decentralized entities.

Pathways for inclusion

The inclusion of refugees in education systems can be facilitated by strong political will, effective inter-agency coordination and high levels of institutional capacity.

Political commitment and inter-agency cooperation are crucial for establishing comprehensive, inclusive policies and data systems and facilitating efficient resource allocation, but success ultimately hinges on host countries' capacity to respond and adapt.

Here, international support is indispensable to enhancing national capabilities to create resilient education systems, reiterating Global Refugee Forum pledges and commitments towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 to provide quality, equitable lifelong learning opportunities for all.


Read other blogs in this series on the importance to include refugee in education systems

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Thank you for this informative article about refugee children inclusion.

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