Beyond Access to Quality Education

By Nyoka Joseph
What challenges do educators face providing quality education for refugees in the Kakuma camp in Kenya? Kakuma Refugee Camp, located in the northwest region of Kenya near the South-Sudanese border, currently hosts over 45,000 registered school aged refugee children. In 2003 the Government of Kenya introduced the Free Primary Education (FPE) policy, which not only increased access to public schools to all children at all levels but included refugee children as part of that initiative.  The 2012 Joint Assessment of the Education Sector in Kakuma Refugee Camp reported a 78.9% and 10.9% Gross Enrollment rate of primary schools and secondary schools respectively.  


One significant challenge to quality education in Kakuma, as in most refugee camps, is a lack of funding and as a result a lack of material resources. Limited access to physical facilities is apparent, given the fifteen primary schools (one of which is a community school) and two secondary schools available in the camp. Access to resources such as: – desks, books, sanitation facilities and teaching materials act as another barrier to providing quality education.


Beyond the inadequate facilities and resources there is a shortage of qualified teachers and teacher training programs, whereby 80% of teachers have no qualifications. Many of the teachers, refugees themselves, have received low quality education and so providing quality instruction to their students is a challenge.  Their statuses as refugees can also mean high turnovers as teachers seek other employment due to low wages. The Headteacher at Fuji Primary School stated that “you might be a teacher today but either you go outside or you get another job because in the camp they pay many different. So if you feel an organization failing maybe the incentive [inaudible] So it is not like public where a teacher can be in that school for long”.


When combined, overcrowded schools and a shortage of trained teachers, results in large teacher pupil ratio which has been known to impact delivery of quality education. In an interview with a class seven teacher at Fuji primary school in Kakuma, he stated that “Yeah, we have some challenges. Challenges. The issue of teachers to pupils. Like in one class you can get even 200 pupils. The ratio is high. It’s a challenge. You might be explaining and others are making noise. It’s a challenge. Others, it’s insufficient. Each and every pupil should be having almost all the subjects, books of all the subjects, but some have none. So there’s no way you can give them homework, say page 107. There’s homework, go and do it at home. But the majority of them do not have the books.”


The data that was collected through the joint International Rescue Committee (IRC) and University of Nairobi research project revealed an extra layer of challenges for two specific populations in the camps, girls and unaccompanied minors. Therefore affirming the importance of disaggregating data for refugee populations is significant, as it allows specific issues of vulnerable groups within an already disadvantaged population to be targeted.


The Headteacher at Fuji Primary school spoke of the challenges that girls faced regarding some of their cultural obligations and the reality of having to be forced into early marriage, stating that “when you look at in lower classes and you think the number of girls alright, but come into upper [inaudible] married 14” he makes the point that the challenge is not often in the younger girls participation in school but in the participation of the adolescent female student. It was also clear that some of the female pupils interviewed had responsibilities that took priority over continuing and completing their studies at home.  Educating girls is not given urgency in families and their low enrollment and high drop-out rates is evidence given by the Joint Assessment Report that supports the analysis. The class eight Math teacher stated that “you find that they, the education of girls is also in danger. Because, you find that most of the girls that being there are doing a lot of activities at home. So they don’t have enough time for studies”.


Unaccompanied minors had to deal with issues of trying to navigate life in the camps on their own or in groups. Many are responsible for collecting their own food rations and registration with UNHCR and therefore are absent from school.  At Fuji Primary school, the class eight Math teacher is quoted as saying that “because we have minors those who have no parents, they live alone. It is hard sometimes when the [inaudible] for the food, they don’t attend classes. [inaudible] So it is also a challenge, Most of the children have no family so when it come to a time of any distribution going on, you find that they don’t come to school. That too is a challenge” The Headteacher at Kismayo Community school reiterated that students’ nutrition is not sufficient and noticed that they are not able to fully participate in classes because they are not receiving enough nourishment day to day.


As important as it is to provide quality education in Kakuma or any refugee camp as a matter of fact, it is equally as important to address issues that prevent or delay all refugees from being able to not only access that education but fully participate in their right to be educated.  The discussion has to move beyond access or access to quality education, but also focus on ability to participate in the access to quality education and the challenges that it can present.



* Nyoka Joseph
M.Ed. Candidate, Comparative and International Education
Teachers College, Columbia University

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