Becoming Who We AreStories of Refugee Education
Education is a human right.
Accessing the full education cycle – from early childhood through to higher education – allows young refugees to develop knowledge and skills, pursue sustainable futures and contribute to their host and home communities.
However, pre-COVID figures show that 48% of all school age refugee children are out of school.
COVID and related school closures threaten to worsen the situation and reverse hard won gains in refugee education, with many refugee learners in danger of not returning after schools reopen.
Literacy and numeracy skills learned at primary and secondary form the basis of lifelong learning, enabling refugee children and youth to continually build their knowledge and competencies in order to thrive.
However data shows that young people in conflict-affected countries are 30% less likely to complete primary school and half as likely to complete secondary school.
Barriers to access and retention in education for refugee learners include:
- lack of infrastructure (especially in remote areas where refugees are often settled)
- low availability of qualified teachers
- language barriers
- issues with certification
- high cost of education, and
Aisha and Amir
They are senior students at Kounoungou high school in Chad.
Inclusion of refugee children and youth in national education systems is crucial to ensuring that all refugee learners have equitable access to the full cycle of certified education, for a brighter future.
While refugee boys and girls face multiple challenges to fulfilling their right to education, particularly at the post-primary level, significantly fewer refugee girls are enrolled in secondary education than boys.
Globally, there are only around 7 refugee girls for every 10 refugee boys enrolled in secondary.
According to a World Bank study, each additional year of school can raise a girl’s future earning power by up to 20%. An educated woman is also more likely to send her own children to school.
COVID has disrupted the education of millions of refugee learners.
Ensuring refugee learners have equitable access to these programmes – including through the inclusion of offline and low-tech offerings – is crucial. Many schools and learners lack the connectivity, hardware and learning support to benefit from online learning.
Last year, her school was closed for nine months due to Covid. Rachel had to stay home in the camp and could not study properly.
Rachel is now taking a computer literacy course in Dzaleka camp, in Malawi, offered by UNHCR and its partner JRS.
Rachel wants to become a doctor. However, she has a long and winding road ahead to get back on track.
Rachel and her best friend Mecreena are taking the IT course together.
Higher education is a critical link between learning and earning, allowing young people to thrive and transition to the pursuit of sustainable futures.
Bello's motivation knows no bounds.
In addition to his academic achievements, he is a founding member of Chad Innovation, an inclusive business incubator, was the President of N’Djamena's refugee student association, has worked at UNHCR's computer center... the list goes on. He currently lives in Chad's capital city of N'Djamena.
At night, Bello works as the manager of a busy bakery in N'Djamena, handling the financial and commercial operations of the business.
Durable and Far-Reaching Solutions
Refugee education is an investment with life-, community- and world-changing returns.
The full cycle of education helps to develop critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills that are applicable to daily life. It can also foster social cohesion, provide life-saving knowledge, improve health outcomes for families and address psychosocial needs.
Resources & Credits
Resources & Credits
'Coming Together For Refugee Education' – Education Report 2020
Refugee Education 2030: A Strategy for Refugee Inclusion (.pdf)
'Aiming Higher' Crowdfunding Campaign
Photographs, reporting, audio and web design by Antoine Tardy and text by Charlotte Jenner, for UNHCR.
© 2021 UNHCR – All rights reserved.
Kounoungou camp, ChadZara & Mahamat"It was my parents' wish that I be educated. I will send my children to school like I was sent to school myself."
Every morning on school days, Zara is able to drop off Mahamat at a nursery attached to the camp’s high-school.
There are more than 20 such nurseries across 12 camps in eastern Chad, helping mothers to continue their education or careers as teachers.
Dadaad Camp, KenyaMark“I don’t want my children to be like me. They must surpass me in learning. I want them to have more opportunities and greater liberty to make their own choices”
In this photograph, he is 54. He was 25 when he fled Uganda.
“I remained almost 30 years without learning anything new. I was in a state of mental hibernation. It was like I was asleep for eternity. But learning woke me up.”
Dakar, SenegalYvonne & GraceYvonne and Grace are mother and daughter and share a love of learning. They are refugees from Rwanda living in Senegal, and both are former DAFI scholars.
“Education is the foundation of everything and preserves your dignity. Today I work, I pay my rent, I finance the education of my child, I can give a little something to my parents, I am respected.”
Kiziba Camp, RwandaJonas“I come from a large, non-educated family. Seeing what education can do for families and communities is my biggest drive.”
He is the very first refugee graduate in medicine not only in Kiziba but in the whole of Rwanda.
Beirut, LebanonWalaa“My husband always tells me how important it is for me, for our children and our society that I keep on with my studies. He tells me that if I am educated, I can be more independent and have more means to support our family.”
“Volunteering in homework support is one of the most important things I have done. There are many benefits to it: it gives me more experience on a personal level, especially on how to teach children; I can also help children who are really in need. It is my way of giving back to the community.”
Lilongwe, MalawiLeah"Refugees can be assisted but they can also assist."
“I used to get sick frequently when I was a kid. With the help of nurses and doctors, I'm still alive today. There might be some other children who are going to survive just because of my help.”
Kigeme camp, RwandaJustin“My parents supported me to attend secondary school in Kigali.”
At the time, Justin was just about to start his Nursing studies at the Kigali Health Institute, on a DAFI scholarship.
Kigeme camp, RwandaJean“I did not have a lot of resources to support my son but I have always explained to him the importance of education.”
At the time of this photograph, Jean was just about to start studying Civil Engineering at the University of Rwanda, on a DAFI scholarship.
Zaatari camp, JordanAsma'a“I was studying English Literature at Damascus University, but we were forced to flee in 2012 due to the war. For almost four years, I stayed home. My father used to be an English teacher so he would home-school me. But I was very pessimistic about my future. Receiving the DAFI scholarship was a huge relief. We danced all day! It means that I’ll have a brighter future. For me and my family. And for the next generation of Syrians.”
Lilongwe, MalawiCheri“In my family, we had many generations of poverty. I want to go as far as possible in my studies to break this cycle and to create positive change.”
Cheri recently graduated with a bachelor's in Public Health, on a DAFI scholarship.
List of needs
- More university opportunities for successful high-school students
- Cultural and sports activities and media training
- Special attention to secondary education
- Connected Education opportunities, tools and resources for Connected Higher Education, including connectivity & smart devices
- University opportunities in foreign countries for top students
- School uniforms
- Scientific and educational laboratories
- Libraries, cultural books
- Fans and air conditioners in classrooms
Enhakole is a secondary student in Kampala, Uganda.
They are members of a girls’ club in Kounoungou camp, in Chad.
There are currently 50 girls who are part of the club – 30 in Milé camp and 20 in Kounoungou camp – who are working together to raise awareness and inspire other girls to pursue their education and claim their rights.