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

Refugee education in Kenya: Language and encampment policies

By Meredith Saucier*

The focus of my group’s research has been the quality of refugee education in Kenya, both in the urban Nairobi context and at Kakuma refugee camp, keeping in mind two key government policies that affect education quality: the language policy and the refugee encampment policy. As part of this research, we also analyzed data from an IRC-led study that included class observations and interviews with teachers, pupils, and key informants in Kakuma camp and Nairobi. The preliminary findings from this analysis revealed that many organizations are working to improve education quality at both the urban and camp levels, and that they simultaneously collaborate with the Government of Kenya (GoK) and also attempt to address the challenges that may stem from the GoK’s language and encampment policies.

In order to further the discussion of the organizations at work in Nairobi and Kakuma, I would like to introduce the language and encampment policies in Kenya. In brief, GoK’s language policy as outlined in the Constitution of Kenya is that Kiswahili and English are the official languages and should be taught in schools. As a result of this policy, English is heavily valued. GoK’s encampment policy as outlined in the Refugee Act of 2006 dictates that refugees should reside in camps and that they must be documented and registered. Though urban refugee settlement has been tolerated, the GoK’s policy is still one of refugee encampment.

Kakuma Refugee Camp

There are many organizations at work in Kakuma that maintain varied relationships with the GoK. First and foremost, UNHCR, as the international body mandated to work with refugees, is the only agency mandated to administer Kakuma. UNHCR has partnered with numerous organizations for program implementation at the camp level. These organizations include World Food Program (WFP), Windle Trust International (WTI), Lutheran World Foundation (LWF) and Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS). The latter 3 organizations (WTI, LWF, JRS) were frequently cited in our data as implementers of education programs in Kakuma.

WTI provides teacher training, scholarships, English language training including proficiency certification and TOEFL testing, and girls’ education promotion through programming and teacher recruitment. WTI is committed to partnering with UNHCR to improve the quality of education in Kakuma, and also meets monthly with other implementing partners and the GoK. The Department of Refugee Affairs and the MoE must also give permission to implement programs in Kakuma, keeping implementing organizations accountable to GoK policies.

JRS implements five programs in Kakuma, including for child protection, disability inclusion, English training for teachers, scholarships and online teacher education. The JRS makes it a goal to not duplicate programs in Kakuma and offers only services that other organizations are not, though they also collaborate with partners on some programs. As UNHCR is the managing agency at Kakuma, JRS implements according to UNHCR’s global education policy and also works closely with the GoK and its policies.

LWF was the original implementing organization in Kakuma prior to UNHCR’s absorption of operations. Currently LWF runs multiple programs in Kakuma, including a school meals program, scholarships, child protection, teacher training, inclusion activities, and supplies donation. They also operate several primary and secondary schools. LWF follows UNHCR’s education strategy as well as the GoK policies. LWF also works closely with the MoE and follows the Kenyan curriculum.


In the urban context of Nairobi, UNHCR is the primary agency providing services to refugees. UNHCR’s work in Nairobi is guided by the 2009 UNHCR Urban Refugee policy, which committed the agency to “examine, understand and respond to the needs of refugees living in the Kenyan capital”. UNHCR has been able to raise refugee student enrollment rates, coordinate with Nairobi NGOs and CBOs, build a system in which refugees and asylees can be documented and registered in urban areas, and has provided education services in urban schools, such as English classes.

The primary challenge of offering services in Nairobi as compared to Kakuma is that urban refugees are more dispersed, making it more difficult for UNHCR to locate and implement programs for potential beneficiaries. To accomplish their mandate, UNHCR has partnered with NGOs and the refugee community to improve UNHCR’s access and reach in the urban refugee community. One powerful example of UNHCR’s successful partner-building is a coalition the agency formed with the City Education Department that led to a spike in refugee enrolment at the primary level. UNHCR also convened two inter-agency working groups that advocated for refugees’ access to primary education and the completion of the Refugee Act of 2006. UNHCR has formed strong relationships with NGOs and CBOs in Nairobi, allowing them to offer services to hard-to-reach beneficiaries via their collaborative strategy.

Though UNHCR has been implementing the UNHCR urban refugee policy in Nairobi, and found support in the Mayor of Nairobi as well as other local government actors, the GoK has not formally endorsed the policy nor agreed to its implementation. In a 2011 review of UNHCR’s urban refugee policy implementation, however, it was noted that the Kenyan government seemed to be taking “a number of steps” that align with UNHCR’s policy which may signal a change of perception on the case of urban refugees in Nairobi. Though this is a positive sign, it cannot go unmentioned that in December of 2012 the Kenyan government released a renewed encampment directive ordering all urban refugees to relocate to refugee camps. The GoK suspended refugee and asylee registration following the announcement, and refugees reported police harassment and detention. Ultimately, the refugee community petitioned the directive and it was later rejected in Kenya’s High Court. Though this is a victory for urban and camp-based refugees alike, it remains to be seen how committed the GoK will be toward both protecting the rights of refugees and asylees in urban areas and working toward policies to ease the burden of the ballooning Kakuma refugee population, which surpassed its 100,000 person capacity in 2012 and continues to grow.

Across these urban and camp-based programs are common ties: a focus on English instruction, including teacher training so that teachers may effectively teach English to their refugee students, and particularly in Kakuma, a struggle to meet growing class sizes with both limited supplies and poor teacher to student ratios. These programs suggest that organizations are finding ways to salve the challenges of education provision that arise from GoK’s language and encampment policies, especially considering the challenges that come with implementing in Kakuma, a setting that was initially meant to be a short-term solution and is now moving into more than two decades of operation.

*Meredith Saucier is a Masters student in the International Educational Development program and a student in the Globalization, Migration, and Education Fall 2013 course.