Education and displaced populations: with not for

Joseph Munyambanza, a refugee from the DRC, started teaching fellow refugees in Uganda in his early teens, whilst studying at secondary school. In his keynote speech in Berlin, at “Education for a better future – creating prospects for displaced populations”, he described how he had joined with other refugee youth in his camp to form COBURWAS International Youth Organization to Transform Africa (CIYOTA) to deliver informal lessons to refugee children during their school holidays. The organisation has gone on to open nursery and primary schools, and provide hostels and scholarships to enable refugees to attend secondary school and university. The CIYOTA primary schools gained some of the top results in the area, outshining the Ugandan government schools and prompting the Ugandan Ministry of Education to recognise them as formal schools.

The capacity of grassroots organisations, run by refugees to provide quality education for refugees also came out as one of the main findings from research into education for urban refugees, led by Mary Mendenhall’s team at Teachers College Columbia, and explored during a workshop at the Berlin conference.

Joseph’s speech reminded me of grassroots organisations that I worked with early on in my career: Sudan Open Learning Organisation (SOLO) working with Internally Displaced People (IDPs) around Khartoum, Need Service Education Agency (NSEA) supporting education quality in southern Sudan (pre-independence) and Literacy and Basic Education (LABE) operating in northern Uganda. These organisations ran some of the best quality education programmes I have ever seen, working with very limited resources in very difficult contexts. SOLO started using the “school in a box” model to respond to the risk of schools being bulldozed by the Khartoum administration long before it was adopted and taken to scale by UNICEF and other international organisations.

How can the potential of these refugee and IDP led initiatives be realised in delivering quality education to the displaced populations sustainably and at scale?

One of the challenges is that they often remain under the radar. The initiatives are not well documented and have little, if any, profile on the internet. The recently published DFID topic guide on Education for Refugees and IDPs, whilst acknowledging the important role of such organisations, could provide very few references to their achievements, as they remain relatively invisible in the literature.

It can be difficult for host governments to recognise or integrate refugee-led initiatives into their national systems as there may be concerns over teacher certification, curriculum, and quality standards. In the case of IDPs, whilst the government has legal responsibility for the provision of education it may be ambivalent or even hostile to education initiatives by the IDP community, especially where government actions led to the displacement in the first place.

Grass root initiatives may be seen as a threat to International NGO and UN agency operations, or be dismissed for failing to meet minimum standards. Joseph encountered more resistance from international organisations working in his refugee camp than from the Ugandan Ministry of Education.

It is vital that the international community  works closely with host governments. But how can we also ensure that host governments, NGOs and UN agencies also work on education with displaced populations and not just education for them?

By Ruth Naylor, Education Development Trust 

This blog was originally posted on INEE on 26 November 2016. Reposted with permission.

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