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.

Ethiopian Centre for Child Research

The Ethiopian Development Research Institute (EDRI) has established the Ethiopian Centre for Child Research (ECCR) in partnership with UNICEF Ethiopia and Addis Ababa University. The ECCR is inspired by the collaborative work of EDRI and Young Lives Longitudinal Research in Ethiopia as well as the Child Research and Practice Forum, which was also initiated by EDRI, Young Lives and other partners.

Located within the EDRI, ECCR is coordinated by a small team and overseen by a multi-stakeholder advisory board which includes: Addis Ababa University, Central Statistical Agency, EDRI, Education Strategy Centre, Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation, Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, Ministry of Youth and Sports, National Planning Commission, UNICEF and Young Lives Project.

The mission of the ECCR is to generate multidisciplinary child-focused research and evidence on policy and practice to inform decision and enhance programmatic capacity concerning the development, equity, wellbeing and protection for children in Ethiopia.

 Current Research Activities 

With funding from UNICEF Ethiopia, ECCR and UNICEF jointly presented the main findings from the Chronic Poverty Report at the ‘Child Poverty Conference in the Middle East and North Africa’ in Morocco on 15-17 May, 2017.

The ECCR is currently establishing partnerships and research collaborations with potential researchers and research institutes nationally and globally with initial funding support from UNICEF Ethiopia. The ECCR conducts fundraising activities to ensure the continuous functioning of the centre.

UNICEF Ethiopia has been instrumental in the establishment of the ECCR by providing start-up funding, in addition to undertaking child-focused collaborative research. While the UNICEF-EDRI partnership is expected to continue, ECCR plans to expand its scope of activities and is looking for potential funders in specific areas of child research.



UNICEF calls for an increase in education spending as new report reveals global crisis in learning

NEW YORK, 18 September 2016 – More than two-thirds of schoolchildren in low-income countries will not learn basic primary level skills in 2030 despite an ambitious goal to get every child in school and learning, according to a report launched today by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.

The Learning Generation: Investing in Education for a Changing World notes that without an urgent increase in education investments by national governments, children in low-income countries will remain trapped in intergenerational cycles of poverty and be left without the skills and knowledge they need to contribute to their societies and economies when they reach adulthood.

“Every child, in every country, in every neighbourhood, in every household, has the right not only to a seat in a classroom, but to a quality education – starting in the early years of life, the single most important stage of brain development,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “We need to invest early, invest in quality, and invest in equity – or pay the price of a generation of children condemned to grow up without the knowledge and skills they need to reach their potential.”

The report shows that more than 1.5 billion adults will have no education beyond primary school in 2030. UNICEF backs the recommendations made in the report and calls for an increase in national education expenditure from 3 per cent to 5 per cent to help address what could be a global education crisis.

Other key findings from the report:

  • Only half of primary-aged schoolchildren and little more than a quarter of secondary-aged schoolchildren in low- and middle-income countries are learning basic skills.
  • 330 million primary and secondary school students do not achieve even the most basic learning outcomes.
  • The crisis is growing as populations grow – there will be an estimated 1.4 billion school-age children in low- and middle-income countries by 2030.
  • Twice as many girls as boys will never start school.

“We face the civil rights struggle of our generation – the demand of young people for their right to education and the ticking time bomb of discontent that results from the betrayal of the hopes of half of an entire generation,” said Chair of the Education Commission and UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown. “We cannot accept another year or decade like this. The Commission aims to unlock the biggest expansion of educational opportunity in modern history.”

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Notes to Editors:

A Financing Compact for the Learning Generation: 12 recommendations to get all children learning

I.Performance – Successful education systems put results front and center

  • Set standards, track progress and make information public
  • Invest in what delivers the best results
  • Cut waste

II. Innovation – Successful education systems develop new and creative approaches to achieving results

  • Strengthen and diversify the education workforce
  • Harness technology for teaching and learning
  • Improve partnerships with non-state actors

III. Inclusion – Successful education systems reach everyone, including the most disadvantaged and marginalized

  • Prioritise the poor and early years – progressive universalism
  • Invest across sectors to tackle the factors preventing learning

IV.Finance – Successful education systems require more and better investment

  • Mobilize more and better domestic resources for education
  • Increase the international financing of education and improve its effectiveness
  • Establish a Multilateral Development Bank (MDB) investment mechanism for education
  • Ensure leadership and accountability for the Learning Generation

Ethiopia specific information:

With the interest of gauging learning outcomes as a means of measuring the quality of education, the country has institutionalised National Learning Assessments (NLA) along with early grade reading and mathematics assessment. Successive reports of the NLA showed low learning outcomes at Grades 4 and 8, signifying access to education has not been accompanied by quality.

Five national sample learning assessments for Grades 4 and 8 indicated that only half of the students at Grades 4 and 8 met the achievements expected -50 per cent- of their grade levels. The recent NLA report showed students’ achievement to be below the required level with 42.9 per cent and 43.5 per cent for the two grades respectively (National Learning Assessment, Ministry of Education: 2013).

About The International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity

The International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (The Education Commission) is a major global initiative engaging world leaders, policy makers and researchers to develop a renewed and compelling investment case and financing pathway for achieving equal educational opportunity for children and young people.

This report is the culmination of a year-long analysis involving over 30 research institutions and consultations with 300 partners across 105 countries.

The report is available at: http://report.educationcommission.org

For more information, please contact:

Georgina Thompson, UNICEF New York, Mobile: + 1 917 238 1559, gthompson@unicef.org

Alexandra Westerbeek, UNICEF Ethiopia, +251 911 255109 awesterbeek@unicef.org 



State of the World’s Children report launched in Ethiopia

SOWC 2014 IN NUMBERS coverAs we mark 25 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 2015 edition of The State of the World’s Children calls for brave and fresh thinking to address age-old problems that still affect the world’s most disadvantaged children. In particular, the report calls for innovation – and for the best and brightest solutions coming from communities to be taken to scale to benefit every child.

The report highlights the work of creative problem solvers around the world, allowing them to talk about the future in their own voice. Much of the content in the report was curated from UNICEF’s series of ‘Activate Talks,’ which have brought together innovators from around the world to highlight specific challenges and concrete actions to realize children’s rights.

The report launched today in Ethiopia by Patrizia DiGiovanni, Acting UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia and the new UNICEF Ethiopia National Ambassador, young rap star Abelone Melese, a citizen of Norway with Ethiopian origin.

Abelone Melese and Patrizia DiGiovanni, Acting UNICEF Ethiopia Representative launched the State of the World's Children Report at the Ambassadorship signing ceremony.
Abelone Melese and Patrizia DiGiovanni, Acting UNICEF Ethiopia Representative launched the State of the World’s Children Report ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Sewunet

We are requesting your support, as a key influencer on social media to help promote the report and generate greater awareness around the power of innovation to drive change for children.

We encourage you to read and share the report and videos, through this link and share your ideas through social media using the report’s main hashtag: #EVERYchild, as well as #innovation, when relevant. Also, make sure you are following @UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with our #EVERYchild messages to help spread the word!

By helping to create a global conversation around innovation as a means of reaching the most disadvantaged children, you are helping to put innovation for equity at the centre of the global agenda.