Blog post by Ruth Naylor, Senior International Consultant, Education Development Trust

Sonita, a 25-year-old graphic designer and an Afghan refugee, explains that country's culture to other young Afghans at their school in Iran in 2015. 

Sonita, a 25-year-old graphic designer and an Afghan refugee, explains that country's culture to other young Afghans at their school in Iran in 2015. 

The global population of those displaced by war and persecution is the biggest it has ever been, and similar in size to the population of the UK. For millions of refugee children, education can provide safety and hope for a better future, but the chronic shortage of trained teachers prevents many of them from getting the quality education they deserve. In many of the contexts where UNHCR works, including situations in Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda, Chad, the situation is getting worse, with teacher training and recruitment unable to keep up with the influx of new refugees. These situations saw a decrease in the percentage of qualified teachers in 2015 (see here).

Ethiopia. Teacher Lim Bol from South Sudan wants to become a medical doctor.

Ethiopia. Teacher Lim Bol from South Sudan wants to become a medical doctor.

There is a paradox around this shortage: if refugee populations are roughly representative of civilian populations, one might assume that there would be proportionate numbers of trained teachers among them.  For refugees from places like South Sudan and Somalia, the assumption does not hold so well since there were very few trained teachers among the populations before they were forced to flee. But one might still expect that the multiple teacher training programmes provided by UN agencies, NGOs and other organisations would have gone some way to addressing the shortage. So where have all the teachers gone?

A temporary elementary in Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe district in Northern Uganda

A temporary elementary in Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe district in Northern Uganda

Barry Sesnan asked this question in five years ago (see here). And it remains just as pertinent today. From his years of experience in refugee and IDP settlements, Sesnan saw through the “sticking plaster” logic of: “there’s a shortage of trained teachers, therefore we need more teacher training”.  Whilst it’s true that teacher training is urgently needed, it’s also the case that there are many capable, trained and some qualified refugee teachers who are not teaching. Why not? Because refugee teachers are rarely paid a salary: laws around employment of refugees, issues around teacher certification and, most significantly, lack of funds mean that refugee teachers, however well qualified by their own national standards, are often unable to get salaried employment as a teacher in a refugee settlement. The lucky ones might get paid “incentives”, but these are minimal, and contracts short, often limited to six month humanitarian aid funding cycles or less.  In an IDP camp I visited in South Sudan last year, even the lorry unloaders earned more than teachers. So, it’s understandable that qualified teachers will seek better paid, more reliable employment elsewhere …the humanitarian aid sector is always looking for capable employees. And thus the conveyor belt of refugee teacher training continues… providing short term teacher training for short term, poorly paid teaching positions, for teachers forced to look for work elsewhere when the project funding runs out.

Nour teaches homework support lessons to a group of Young Syrians inside a makeshift school in Saida, Lebanon.

Nour teaches homework support lessons to a group of Young Syrians inside a makeshift school in Saida, Lebanon.

Until we better understand and address issues around employment and retention of refugee teachers, the shortage of trained teachers, able to teach refugees in their own language, will remain a barrier to education for millions of refugee children. That’s why Education Development Trust is joining IIEP-UNESCO in a research project to gain a deeper understanding of teacher management policies, programmes and practices in refugee contexts [see here].