Education in Conflict and Refugee Education

By: Stephanie Blochinger


Consider these statistics:

  • There are over 65 million people globally that are internally displaced, seeking asylum or are classified as refugees according to a UNHCR report.
  • 54% of of refugees come from three countries – Somalia, Afghanistan and and Syria.
  • 1 in 11 children worldwide are out of school.

The number of people fleeing their homes due to war, prosecution and conflict are growing at exponential rates. How can the international education community play a role in helping refugee students and scholars access educational opportunities in their new environments?

As part of International Education Week 2016, yPIE, Basic Education Coalition and George Washington University’s student International Education Association (IEA), hosted a panel discussion, “Issue in Focus: Education in Conflict and Refugee Education.” The panel discussed current challenges, responses and best practices when addressing education in conflict environments.

Speakers at the event included:

  • Lisa Deters, Senior Advisor, United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Fathi El-Ashry, Senior Associate, Literacy Instruction, Creative Associates
  • Bernhard Streitwieser, Assistant Professor, George Washington University
  • Amy West, Principal Project Specialist, American Institutes for Research (AIR)


What were the key takeaways from our speakers?

  1. There is a move away from a camp-oriented response to an urban-centric response.

Refugee supported used to be camp-oriented. There would be coordinated responses with other aid organizations who had permission from local governments to work in the area, but with the freedom to design educational responses as they saw fit. Nowadays, refugees are settling in urban areas and crossing multiple borders which makes designing responses more complex as organizations are having to navigate national education systems, set curriculums and accreditation.

  1. Social cohesion is the new buzzword.

This is an area that has not been fully unpacked yet, but it is a big factor when there are host environments in which there are a lot of tensions and may not always be welcoming. Refugees are often hosted in vulnerable communities which already face similar issues faced by refugee communities (i.e. access to health facilities, access to education, gender-based violence, etc.). Ultimately it’s not about one community. It’s about mutual integration in an area where resources are scarce and the challenges are similar. Adding trauma on top of this adds new complexities in terms of health and well-being.

  1. Teacher retention in emergency and refugee settings is a problem.

Teacher development is hard because standards need to be harmonized and teachers come from different contexts. Refugee teachers aren’t being utilized to the extent possible because of the right to work in other countries. Sometimes the teaching to refugee children is provided by the state and local teachers are used. For programs funded through organizations like the UN, development practitioners are oftentimes providing the education to students without having trained as a teacher.

  1. Language skills are important.

At all levels of education, from early childhood through to tertiary education, language is a challenge for refugee populations. The solutions are often through engagement with the local community. Research has consistently shown that you need to start learning in your mother tongue and then you can move into other languages because you are able to associate words. When different groups of people are coming together and they all speak different languages, educational responses need to be different. At the tertiary level, Germany is leading the way in terms of refugee resettlement. Tens of thousand refugee students will be attending German universities in the coming years, and they will all need to go through asylum processing, language testing and credentialing to enroll in German universities. Because the German government legally cannot provide language training to students going through the asylum process, local community groups are stepping in and training these students in the language skills they need to succeed at a German education.

These takeaways are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to education in cfullsizerenderonflict and for refugees. International educational organizations are doing amazing work in this space in order to provide youth the education they need to drive our future. If you missed the event, you can watch a livestream here.

yPIE would like to thank our speakers for their amazing insight into this timely issue as well as our cohosts for making this event a possibility, and our audience for thoughtful questions and discussion!


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