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Article 05/10/2023

Teaching and thriving in refugee settings: creating an enabling environment

The work of teachers is crucial in any education system, but in refugee settings, their role is particularly significant. These teachers are sometimes the only educational resource available for learners in these vulnerable settings and may also provide critical socio-emotional support for refugee learners. In this article, the first in a series on durable solutions to the challenges faced by teachers in refugee settings, we explore the importance and implications of fostering an enabling environment for these teachers.

Background to the project

Over the past five years, EDT has worked with IIEP-UNESCO on a multi-country research initiative, funded by Dubai Cares. This project, which has drawn on the experiences of teachers from Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda – many of whom were refugees themselves – has sought to provide research-informed policy recommendations for more effective teacher management in refugee settings. Such insights are crucial to improving conditions for teachers and to impact the learning of millions of young people around the world.  The project was designed to support UNESCO Member States and other partners in responding to the call set out in the Incheon Declaration & Framework for Action for the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 41 ‘to ensure that teachers (…) are empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems’. 

Three country case studies, focused on Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, have been produced. Each country report is accompanied by a policy brief and short film. As the research concludes, together with IIEP-UNESCO, we are highlighting some key recommendations to enable governments and development partners to move towards fulfilling the Djibouti Declaration Plan of Action on Refugee Education, adopted by IGAD in 2017, to ‘strengthen regional frameworks to promote the inclusion of refugee teachers, and their professional development and certification, in national education systems’ (2017, p.2).2  

To address teacher management comprehensively, our recommendations have been categorised into three areas, which will be discussed in subsequent articles in this series. These are: teacher recruitment and deployment; teacher training and professional development; job conditions, supervision and appraisal and career pathways. We have also put forward recommendations on the crucial systems-level preconditions for effective teacher management in refugee settings.  

Here, we discuss our first recommendation on fostering an enabling environment for teacher management in refugee settings, with a focus on increasing inclusion of refugee teachers and learners within national systems, and the collaboration needed to ensure adequate support for host communities.  


Inclusion within national systems

Countries have historically adopted differing approaches towards managing the education of refugees, from parallel systems in which refugee education is led by non-government partners, to refugees attending government schools alongside non-refugee children. As a result, the inclusion of refugees into the national education system varies significantly from one country to another. These different degrees of refugee inclusion are rooted in legal structures that go beyond education and frame the inclusion of refugees in national systems.3 

In countries where there is a parallel system in place, such as Kenya, progress towards inclusion involves a shift from teacher management by international delivery partners towards stronger government ownership and management of schools attended by refugee learners. In countries where some progress toward inclusion has been made, such as Uganda, further advancement may involve the creation of a more enabling environment for refugees to access teaching qualifications. One representative of a central-level ministry of education said: “The idea of inclusion is multi-sectoral. We are currently working on the concept of inclusion to ensure we do not have parallel systems in management of refugee education. The aim is to ensure refugee education is integrated into the national education system.”


Collaboration to support host communities

The majority of refugees are hosted in low- and middle-income countries, often in remote and disadvantaged regions. Consequently, responsibility for providing education to refugee children often falls on host communities – whose infrastructures are, in most cases, already overstretched and poorly equipped. To enable host countries to provide access to quality education for host and refugee children the international community must fulfil the commitments outlined in the Global Compact on Refugees, “to operationalize the principles of burden- and responsibility-sharing to better protect and assist refugees and support host countries and communities.” (GCR, 2017, para. 5).  

In this context, recommendations aimed at improving education including teacher management in refugee settings must consider the educational needs of both the refugee and host community and strive at fair burden-sharing among the international community. This approach calls for systematic collaboration between governments (at the national and sub-national level) and key stakeholders including (but not limited to) donors, UN agencies, education partners and non-governmental organisations involved in teacher management in refugee settings, with due consideration of how the actors, as well as their roles and responsibilities, may differ across countries. The recommendations should therefore be used as a starting point to start collaborative conversations around achieving durable solutions for refugees. 


Authored by Helen West (Principal Consultant, Education Development Trust) with Candyce Billy and Katja Hinz from IIEP-UNESCO . This article is part of a series of articles on teacher management in refugee settings. 

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