REVERSING THE CYCLE
IN ETHIOPIA PIONEERING PROGRAMME GIVES ADVANCED EDUCATION SCHOLARSHIPS TO TRAIN REFUGEE TEACHERS
We live in a world where millions of people will live their entire lives as refugees. Living in camps, settlements and urban contexts, too often on the edge of society. These victims of conflict and crisis remain caught in a hard-to-fathom cycle of exclusion, despair and socio-economic marginalization.
For children and youth, this negative cycle is only made worse by a lack of continuous, safe and quality education, limited resources, and unqualified teachers.
Ethiopia has a long tradition of welcoming refugees. Currently it hosts Africa’s second largest refugee population and has one of the largest refugee populations in the world. Despite its generosity as a host-country, Ethiopia’s estimated 925,000 refugee population has put a strain on the country’s coping capacity to meet their needs. This is the frontlines of the refugee education crisis in Africa.
Only half of the refugee children living here have access to education. Girls are left further behind, with only 45 per cent attending school. For many of these refugee children, there are no classrooms, no books to read and few qualified teachers.
UNHCR notes that just 50 per cent of Ethiopia’s refugee schools fulfill minimum standards for safe and conducive learning environments.
But this is about to change.
The Government of Ethiopia has taken a strong stance to improve the rights and services enjoyed by refugees in the country. As part of the 2017 Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, Ethiopia has made nine pledges, including to “increase enrollment of refugee children in preschool, primary, secondary and tertiary education, without discrimination and within available resources.”
To support delivery of the response framework, and help Ethiopia achieve its goals of ending poverty and hunger, and ensuring equitable education for all by 2030 as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals, Education Cannot Wait partnered with UNICEF, UNHCR and the Government of Ethiopia to create a far-reaching US$15 million intervention that has already surpassed its goal of providing over 68,000 refugee children with quality education, quality school settings and quality teachers.
TEACHING THE TEACHERS
One promising achievement coming out of this initial two-year programme is an innovative initiative to provide advanced education to train teachers working in refugee education centers.
Only a minority of those who teach in refugee primary schools in the intervention area are qualified professional teachers holding teaching diplomas. Many of these teachers are refugees themselves. Providing advanced education for these teachers not only improves the quality of education in the camps, but it also provides a real chance to reverse the negative cycle that perpetuates poverty traps and limits opportunities for refugees young and old. In all, the project targets training for 1,000 teachers and education professionals, of whom 444 will be women.
Poch Jackson Petov has been a refugee all his life. Energetic, determined and fearless, the 25-year-old Poch has created opportunities for himself – seemingly out of nothing.
Poch’s father died in South Sudan before he was born and he was separated from his mother when he was in the second grade. He fled the violence in his home country to seek refuge in Ethiopia. Against all odds, he managed to gain a primary and secondary education and learn Amharic while living in the Sherkole Refugee Camp in Ethiopia.
Community-minded and driven, Poch became a “volunteer teacher” for the camp, making around US$25 a month to teach primary school.
“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,” said Poch.
With funding from Education Cannot Wait, scholarships were created for Poch and others to attend college. This is a key component of Ethiopia’s focus on inclusion and empowerment for refugees as outlined in the Comprehensive Response Framework to “increase enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education to all qualified refugees without discrimination and within the available resources.” The “full-ride” scholarships include education, room and board, health care, and transport between the refugee camps and the college.
Some 343 refugees are now enrolled in college through the scholarships. The courses are taught in English, and students can study along a variety of tracks from physical education and integrated sciences to math, social science and English.
“Finally, [the opportunity] came and we have a partner to help us continue education,” said Poch.
The Education Cannot Wait programme in Ethiopia has already exceeded targets for the number of children reached. Thus far over 82,000 children of the targeted 68,000 have been reached. Girls are often the most vulnerable. Of the targeted 28,000 girls, now over 32,000 have been reached with formal and non-formal education initiatives. Of the 157 classrooms targeted for support with equipment, infrastructure and classroom materials, 73 have been reached thus far, while additional infrastructures are being built.
Sami Balla is another refugee who is receiving training through the programme.
“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,” said Sami, who has been a refugee for seven years now.
With their diplomas, Posh, Sami and hundreds more like them will return to the refugee camps to use their new skills to improve the quality of education for their communities. With improved teaching skills, and renewed self-determination, these educators are pioneering a new path for refugees living in Ethiopia – and a bold example for the rest of the world on the value of education.
Based on the original story by Amanda Westfall.