How to improve the quality of education in refugee camps? Qualify the teachers.

In Ethiopia, refugee incentive teachers are on their way to obtaining professional teaching diplomas.

By Amanda Westfall 

On 17 August, South Sudanese and Sudanese refugees Anur, Sami, James, Abdalaziz, and Poch went to college for the first time. They are part of the first group of 42 refugees on their way to becoming professional teachers.

As agents of change for their communities, they will use their new skills to improve the quality of education for refugee children. Abdalaziz Ramada, Sami Balla, and James Jawalla have been refugees for 7 years. Anur Ismael has been a refugee for 20 years. Poch Jackson Petov has been a refugee for 25 years, his entire life.

All five fled the conflict in Sudan and South Sudan. All five lost loved ones, families and friends. Some, like Poch and James, have survived as refugees with no family at all –either lost or killed in the conflict.

All are known as ‘refugees’ to their friends, to Ethiopian host communities, the Ethiopian government, and to the world. With this status they cannot legally work in Ethiopia and have had limited opportunities for college or university to enhance their skills and become professionals… Until now.

In July this year, 42 refugee incentive teachers in Benishangul-Gumuz region were given an opportunity of a life time. Abdalaziz, James, Amur, Sami, Poch, and 37 others were enrolled in the region’s teachers’ college. The refugees rode a bus for eight hours, moved onto the GilGel-Beles College of Teachers Education campus, and are currently studying for their teaching diplomas.

For refugee teachers, long-term opportunities for skills development have been nearly non-existent, since trainings are typically offered as short courses, giving them the minimum skills to educate refugee children. Therefore, and not surprisingly, only 33 per cent of those who teach in primary schools in the region are qualified professional teachers who hold teaching diplomas. This means that the majority of refugee children are receiving their primary education from unqualified personnel, many of whom have not even completed secondary school (23 per cent).

However, the Ethiopian Government has made a commitment to improve the situation for refugees and give them opportunities to integrate within Ethiopian society, as demonstrated by the government’s nine pledges to support refugees and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework process in Ethiopia. They understand that it is crucial to provide opportunities to refugees for career growth, especially in the teaching sector, so that the quality of education in the camps can improve and that children have better education, better opportunities, and better skills to make positive contributions to their communities – whether in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, or where ever they end up in the future.

A Desire for More Opportunities

South Sudanese refugees and current college students, Poch Jackson Petov and Hamid Abdallah Hamad in front of Gilgel-BelesCollege of Teacher Education. © UNICEF Ethiopia 2018 Amanda Westfall
South Sudanese refugees and current college students, Poch Jackson Petov and Hamid Abdallah Hamad in front of Gilgel-Beles College of Teacher Education. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Amanda Westfall

The opportunity arose because of an ambition to expand knowledge. In 2017, Poch, along with his colleagues demanded more opportunities. In the camps, all they earn is 700 Ethiopian Birr per month (about US$25) to ‘volunteer’ full time as teachers in primary schools. With no chances to go to college, become professionals, and earn a decent wage, something had to change.

“We had a meeting with school principals. We asked them, ‘Why can’t we get training to improve our skills?’ We are stuck in one position. Then we waited. Finally, [the opportunity] came and we have a partner to help us continue education.” (Poch)

Because of his ambition to expand his knowledge, as well as his understanding of the Ethiopian language, Amharic, Poch is the group’s student representative at the college. And he fought a hard life to reach this status. After his father was killed in the conflict in South Sudan, his mother fled to a refugee camp in Ethiopia while he was still in the womb. When he was in Grade 2, a conflict broke out in the camp and he was separated from his mother, never to see her again. With incredible determination, he managed to learn Amharic, gain a full primary and secondary education, and become an incentive teacher (in addition to being the best football goal keeper in Sherkole Camp). But just being a ‘volunteer teacher’ with no relevant qualifications was not enough.

Dreams for College Become Reality

In early 2018, UNICEF, UNHCR, and the Ethiopian Government, along with financial support from Education Cannot Wait, made dreams become reality. Posh, Anur, Sami, James, Abdalaziz, the 37 others from the Benishangul-Gumuz Region, and 301 others from Gambella Region were going to college.

In total, the programme brings 343 refugees to study and learn with their fellow ‘host’ Ethiopian students. The courses are taught in English, and they can choose which track to study, from Generalist, to Physical Education, Integrated Sciences, Math, Social Science, or English. They are provided with a full scholarship, which includes education, room and board, health care, and transport services to/from the college or camps. The regional government and colleges support with training, learning and integration at the school, while UNICEF, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and UNHCR coordinate, finance, and manage the project.

A Chance for Generational Change

These refugee student-teachers are part of a new movement of change for the refugee communities. With new skills in teaching methodology, classroom management, and course-specific instruction, their knowledge will be passed on to the children in the camps.

As James and Sami explain, “I am proud of this programme. It will enable me to improve the knowledge of my community.” (James)

“Now, we can go back with the diploma and say we are teachers and we are professionals! I now have pride to work at the school.” (Sami)

With their new diplomas, Posh, Anur, Sami, James and Abdalaziz explained that they want to go back to the camps and use their new skills to improve the quality of education for their communities.

As the first group to enjoy this opportunity, they now set an example for future refugee student-teachers, so that each year the quality of education for refugee children continues to improve with an increase in more qualified teachers.

Against all Odds, South Sudanese Refugees find a way to access education

By Amanda Westfall

On 19 December, 2017, Nyawal John, a South Sudanese 17-year-old girl says that her goal in life is to be educated. After escaping conflict in her village in South Sudan, she is doing whatever it takes to access education in Ethiopia.

Their villages are ravaged as they flee conflict and leave family, livelihoods and education behind. They travel for months, sometimes without food, water, or shelter, to arrive in a new country that offers the basic services required for survival. But when the South Sudanese people spend year after year waiting for the conflict in their country to subside, the time keeps ticking on their education.

Nyawal John, 17, who arrived in Tsore Refugee camp in Benishangul-Gumuz, Ethiopia two years ago, has gone almost three years without formal education. As a young teen, she had to leave almost everything behind in South Sudan – even her parents, who she hasn’t heard from since fleeing, not knowing if they are alive today or not.

Tsore Refugee Settlement offers pre-primary and primary school, but unfortunately, there is currently no secondary school available for Nyawal who says that she should be attending 9th grade right now.

But this did not stop Nyawal in her ambitions for education. She first started working as a translator at the camp health centre. However, she felt detached from education so decided to be a teacher in the camp’s pre-primary school, which is where she is currently working.

At the school, she teaches a total of 85 four-year-old children each day where she is exposed to new UNICEF-supported teaching and learning materials and capacity building programmes. She is able to use the various skills and materials to improve her teaching and also help her gain new knowledge for her own educational growth.

The main thing Nyawal wants right now is to learn. “I need to get knowledge. In the future what I want is to finish my education … If there is a place in my country for this I will be there. But iff it is here, I will be here.”

Nyawal dreams of being a computer scientist one day. When she was a young teenager in South Sudan, her father bought her a computer from Rwanda, which she cherished and managed to carry with her as she fled to Ethiopia. Unfortunately, because of financial needs she had to sell it once she arrived. Still, she has managed to continue practising by going to Tsore’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs office weekly to use their computers.

Education for Refugee and Host Community Children Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia
Education for Refugee and Host Community Children in Tsore Zone pre school Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia Tsore Zone A Pre School, Assosa. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Tadesse

From site to site in the camp there is an ardent yearn for education. Kemal Olika, an Ethiopian teacher in the refugee primary school in the camp says it best, “Without any training and just by their confidence, they [refugee teachers] still teach and strive for education. I appreciate them. Even the [refugee] students’ respect is very high. South Sudanese respect the teachers. They listen. They really want to learn.”

At the settlement, UNICEF supports the refugee children’s aspirations for education. Through an integration programme with the host-Ethiopian communities, UNICEF supports teacher training programmes and extra-curricular activities including; materials and equipment for sport, play and learning – so that refugees can benefit from their host country’s education system. In addition, UNICEF supports the construction of new classrooms to ease the congestion in schools and advocates for construction of secondary schools for older students, like Nyawal.

When forced away from everything she knows – her home, parents, schooling, and cherished computer – against all the odds, Nyawal continues to strive for education.

A child’s example demonstrates the need for integrating educational services for refugees and host communities in western Ethiopia.

By Amanda Westfall

On 21 December 2017, eight-year-old Ethiopian Sefadin Yisak speaks about his friend on the hill, Adam, a nine-year-old, South Sudanese refugee boy. When boundaries, legal restrictions and cultural differences can divide communities, it is the children who remind us of the great importance of social integration.

Children truly know no borders. To Sefadin Yisak, an Ethiopian student at Tsore Arumela Ethiopian Primary School, Adam, a South Sudanese refugee who attends primary school within the neighbouring refugee settlement, is just his good friend. Sefadin doesn’t see the differences in history, culture or in the quality of educational services. He only sees the South Sudanese refugee boy as his good friend that he met at the river over the summer. They meet and play in the water with other neighbourhood kids when they don’t have school or other chores to do.

“To Sefadin, Adam (a South Sudanese refugee) is just his good friend. He doesn’t see the differences in history, culture or educational services.”

But from an adult’s perspective, it is evident that educational services have not been equal between refugees and their host-Ethiopian communities. With the host primary school only a 15-minute walk from the refugee settlement, one can truly notice the differences.

In addition to their struggle to survive and flee from conflict, the South Sudanese refugees experience lack of quality education due to unskilled teachers, overcrowded class sizes and exclusion from the national educational system and the services it provides. On the other hand, some refugee settlements have in some cases benefited from other services, including better-constructed classrooms, play equipment and materials for teaching, while the host communities often experience a lack of funding to improve classroom infrastructure and educational materials.

Thus, these inequalities in educational provisions can create social barriers that could potentially build unnecessary tension between communities. In reality, there are more similarities between the communities than differences, such as language, food, family customs, and a passion for education.

When South Sudanese people residing in Ethiopia for multiple years (some over 20 years, some less than one year), and children from both communities – like Sefadin and Adam – show us the importance of integration, it is crucial to support this clear demand.

Sefadin says that his favourite school subject is mathematics because his 2nd grade teacher, Ahmed Mustefa, is very helpful. Ahmed explains the importance of integration with the refugee communities. He noted that the communities never lived in conflict, but that the lack of integrated services has limited the amount of authentic social interaction with the refugee community who live just a short walk away. He adds, “We are all human beings and when we live together it is better for socialization.”

“We are all human beings and when we live together it is better for socialization”

Education for Refugee and Host Community Children Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia
Children at Sefadin’s host-community primary school play on equipment provided with the support of UNICEF. The refugee settlement is visible in the top left corner, where schools also enjoy the same play equipment provided with UNICEF’s support. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Martha Tadesse

Institutions recognize the need

Institutions have started recognizing the need, and in response have begun providing services that support integration. With the support of the United States Government (US-BPRM), UNICEF has been working with partners – the Ministry of Education, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, UNHCR, and Save the Children – to bring equitable and efficient educational services that spark social cohesion for both communities.

Refugee and Ethiopian teachers join the same training programme

Ahmed’s teacher training programme is a prime example.  In his region of Benishangul-Gumuz, 149 refugee teachers and 225 host-community teachers have all taken part in the new UNICEF-developed teacher training flagship programme, Assessment for Learning. This new approach shows teachers how to implement continuous assessment techniques to better understand the learning gaps of children and respond accordingly.

It is the first of its kind – where refugee and national teachers learn the same skills at the same time. Ahmed and other teachers from both communities stayed in the same dorms for the 10-day course, learned from each other, and now feel more part of each other’s communities. Before this training, refugee and national teachers never interacted professionally. They were trained with different programmes, and in most cases, it was the refugee teachers who missed out on professional development and teacher enhancement opportunities. Now, with more equality in refugee and host-community teachers’ knowledge and skills, Ethiopian students, like Sefadin, and refugee students, like Adam, both benefit from teachers who were trained in the same teacher training programme.

Integration through sport and play

What’s most exciting about the integrated response is the development of sport and play activities. Both communities now enjoy new play equipment and learning and play materials such as balls, toys, puzzles, counting blocks, and others. Teachers are trained on the “Connect, Reflect, Apply” approach, to develop useful life skills in children. Both Sefadin and Adam now have new equipment to play and are learning the same life skills, in addition to enjoying the benefits of new solar-powered TV’s that display educational programmes.

More efforts are necessary for sustained integration

Education for Refugee and Host Community Children Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia
Sefadin and his 2nd Grade teacher, Mr. Ahmed Mustefa © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Martha Tadesse

While some refugee settlements in Ethiopia have experienced integration, in terms of students attending the same school, teacher training integration, or social cohesion through extra-curricular activities, many communities still lack support for equitable integration.

Communities have started to integrate, whether it be working for each other during harvesting season, inter-marriage, or making friendships while playing in the river. Even Sefadin’s family is now supporting Adam’s family with food provisions, like sorghum, maize and mango.

It is time to truly respond to the needs on the ground. Ahmed insisted that “we need more programmes like these for integration,” as he reflected on his new friendships he developed with refugee teachers from the training programme.  And young Sefadin adds that it would be “cool if Adam were in my class.”

When boundaries, cultural differences, and varying educational services can divide communities, it is the children – like Ethiopian Sefadin and South Sudanese Adam – who remind us of the great importance of social integration.

UNICEF continues to work with partners to implement programmes that spark integration of refugees and host communities in all five refugee-hosting regions of Ethiopia so that cross-cultural friendships, like that of Sefadin and Adam, can be supported with an equality in educational services.

Laying the foundation of future generation

A new pre-school programme is helping Ethiopian Children to get ready for school

By Demissew Bizuwerk

Mengi-Benishangul Gumuz- Ethiopia 28 September 2016 – In one of the classes at Mengi Elementary School, in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, Edidal Abdulkerim, six, and her friends sing about the five senses with melodious tone along with a small tape recorder. Before the next song starts, their teacher Abdulaziz Ahmed asks questions to make sure that the children got the message right.

The children are learning with stories, plays and songs and the expression on their faces says it all. This is their first ever school experience at the age six and seven. Perhaps, just before their critical age of learning passed by.

“It feels great to sing, write and colour,” says Edidal cracking a beautiful smile. “I have many friends here and we play together.”

Benishangul Gumuz - Education
Edidal draws with her friends in her class room. She is one of the 30 students in Mengi Elementary School who are enrolled in an eight week education programme – during a summer break- called Accelerated School Readiness (ASR) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tadesse

Edidal, is one of the 30 students in Mengi Elementary School who are enrolled in an eight week education programme – during a summer break- called Accelerated School Readiness (ASR). This new programme is designed to prepare rural children, who have not had the chance to attend any form of early childhood education, for primary education by helping them develop cognitive, behavioural as well as foundational ‘pre’ academic skills.

ASR offers 160-hours of pre-literacy and pre-numeracy learning and helps children to develop social skills.  It is an interim strategy which helps children aged between six and seven make a successful transition from home to school while formal pre-primary classes are gradually introduced across the country.

A daunting task of ensuring quality remains ahead despite Ethiopia’s significant achievement in expanding access to primary education. There are quite a number of children in early primary classes who do not acquire the minimum expected level of skills. And the numbers are alarming. The average mean score for reading skills in grade 4 for instance is found to be only 45 per cent, which is below the minimum passing mark of 50, set in the education policy[1]. And this statistics even goes lower in remote rural villages such as Mengi.

“There are many reasons which can explain this poor performance of children in rural Ethiopia,” says Maekelech Gidey, UNICEF Education Specialist “But the main one has to do with school readiness”. The country lacks adequate pre-school facilities where children can be supported and encouraged to better understand their environment and develop skills, which are vital for success in school and later in their lives.

It is only 48 per cent of Ethiopia’s 7.7 million children aged between three and six who have access to early learning[2], and many young children, especially rural girls like Edidal, were not part of this statistics.

Children who start their formal primary schooling on weak early childhood learning are more likely to fall behind their peers and consequently drop out of school too early.

It is this challenge that prompted the development of the ASR initiative.  In 2015 the programme was introduced and piloted in the Benishangul-Gumuz region after designing a well fitted curriculum and training of teachers.

Benishangul Gumuz - Education
Edidal shares a smile with her best friend Narmin in Mengi primary school. They are both enrolled in an eight week education programme – during a summer break- called Accelerated School Readiness (ASR) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tadesse

How does ASR work?

First, teachers and community leaders identify the village children in the month of May each year.  If the nearby schools have O classes already, then the children will be enrolled for eight weeks in the month of July and August. Otherwise, they will undergo the same programme during the first two month of the academic year in Grade 1.

For the ASR to succeed, it needs a dedicated teacher like Abdulaziz and the children have to attend the programme regularly. Missing even a single day of class means missing a lot in the programme.

“Some children who live far away from school skip class when it rains or when their parents go to the market early,” says Abdulaziz. “So I visit their homes to tell their parents about the advantages of this education to their children and the importance of attending class regularly.”

Intizar Abdulkerim, a seven year old who loves to learn about the environment, says her mother is sometimes reluctant to send her to school when she needs help with the household chores. “I feel sad when I stay in the house during school day,” says Intizar “every time I skip class, I lag behind my friends.”

It looks like old habits do not go away easily. The perception of parents towards the education of their daughters still needs to be worked on. “Boys attend the programme more regularly than girls,” says Abdulaziz. “Yet my best performing students are girls,” he added pointing towards Edidal and Intizar.

Edidal and Intizar will be entering Grade 1 in the coming academic year with a solid base. The combination of play and learning activities of the ASR have inculcated the children with the necessary pre-school skills that they need to succeed further.

A preliminary assessment on the impact of the ASR has revealed that, the programme is effective in having children acquire pre-school skills in mathematics and literacy. This is a good news for experts from the region’s education bureau and UNICEF who have been working on the programme since its inception.

The ASR experience in the Benishangul-Gumuz region is also extended to Oromia region based on its cost effectiveness and impact.

While Edidal wants to become a teacher, Intizar’s dream is to be a doctor. There is still a long way to go until the young girls’ dreams are a reality. Yet, for now, the foundation of their future is laid on fertile grounds. 

[1] Ethiopian Fifth National Learning Assessment (NLA), MoE 2016

[2] MOE, Education Statistics Annual Abstract 2008/ 2015-16

Ethiopia: Vital events registration launched

By Nikodimos Alemayehu and Marie Angeline Aquino

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia. August 2016 – Ethiopia launched throughout the country on 4 August 2016 a permanent, compulsory and universal registration and certification of vital events such as birth, death, marriage and divorce.

Vital events registration kicks off in Ethiopia
(L-R) Ms. Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia , H.E Ms Elsa Tesfaye, Director General of Vital Events Registration Agency (VERA), H.E Dr Mulatu Teshome, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and H.E Mr Getachew Ambaye, Attorney General holds a symbolic certificate for birth registration. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

The inauguration ceremony took place in the presence of the Ethiopian President Dr Mulatu Teshome, UNICEF Representative Gillian Mellsop as well as representatives of other ministries and development partners.

“The Government of Ethiopia has given great emphasis to vital events registration across the country by putting the appropriate policies in place, establishing a system up to the lowest administrative level and deploying massive resources in this endeavor,” said Teshome at the ceremony. “I am confident that, with the collaboration and commitment of all stakeholders, we will succeed in the operationalization of the system, just like we have succeeded in other development sectors in the country.”

Mellsop underscored in her address the importance of the registry in protecting children and combatting child trafficking.

‘’With no proof of age and identity, Ethiopian children become a more attractive ‘commodity’ to a child trafficker, and will not even have the minimal protection that a birth certificate provides against early marriage, child labour, or detention and prosecution of the child as an adult.”

Ethiopia ranks among the lowest in sub-Saharan countries on birth registration with less than 10 per cent of children under the age of 5 with their births registered.

The issue is especially urgent because 48 per cent of the 92 million-strong population is under the age of 18 – 90 per cent of whom are unregistered. The Government has committed itself to reaching at least 50 per cent of children with registration and certification services over the next two years.

UNICEF’s support to Ethiopia’s national civil registration is based on a recognition that birth registration is an important element of ensuring the rights and protection of children.

For children, being registered at birth is key to other rights such as access to basic social services, protection, nationality and later the full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote. Moreover, not only is vital events registration essential for compiling statistics that are required to develop policies and implement social services, it is also, as Mellsop points out, “a pre-requisite in measuring equity; for monitoring trends such as child mortality, maternal health and gender equality.”

Inaugural ceremony of National Vital Events Registration in SNNPR capital Hawassa
One-month child Samrawit at a birth registration centre in Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) capital Hawassa August 6, 2016. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

UNICEF has supported the Government in putting in place a decentralized registration and certification system, which is informed by a legislative framework promulgated in August 2012.

UNICEF is a catalyst in creating this new system with support that includes the reform of the legislative framework, the development of a national strategy and its implementation across the country.

An important element of the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system is its interoperability with the health sector. On this aspect, UNICEF has worked in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Health in its efforts to formalize the interoperability, culminating in the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two ministries.

The important of involving the Health Ministry is because it already has its own well organized and decentralized network stretching across the country. This arrangement allows the health facilities found in nearly every community to manage notifications of births and deaths.

The actual registration and certification of all vital events started on 6 August 2016 at the lowest administrative level of the kebele (sub-district).

With Ethiopia’s new conventional vital events registration system in place, there are better opportunities for accelerating vital events registration in Ethiopia, and realizing one of the fundamental rights of children – the right to be registered upon birth.