As he does every morning, Ragueh welcomes children at Nelson Mandela school in the refugee village of Ali Addeh. Teachers like Ragueh, who himself was a refugee student, are vital to Djibouti’s effort to reach vulnerable students and those outside the traditional education system.
Globally in 2017, refugees were five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children. COVID-19 has widened that gap and placed additional strains on education systems, with vulnerable groups at higher risk of dropping out and refugees significantly more likely not to be in school. It is widely recognized that integrating refugee children into education systems not only helps them become self-sufficient, but also creates vital links with host communities. Djibouti has understood this well. In 2017, it became one of the first countries to implement a more inclusive approach to refugees, both regionally and through the Global Compact on Refugees, to find durable education solutions for refugees and host communities. Today, despite all challenges, Djibouti is one of the few countries that has managed to keep enrolment steady and bring more refugee children into school despite having the 6th highest proportion of refugees and asylum seekers for its population size.
As happened the world over, COVID-19 tested the resilience of schools in Djibouti over the past two years.
But the pandemic also created opportunities for education systems to adapt to new forms of learning and to reach students who were otherwise excluded. Djibouti’s Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training responded rapidly to COVID-19, closing schools from April to August 2020 and expanding distance learning by using multiple channels of online, TV, and radio programs to facilitate learning for students with different levels of access to devices. Based on discussions with parent and refugee groups, and with the support of the World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), and Education Above All, the Ministry prioritized getting books, school kits, and school meals to vulnerable children to ensure they continued to learn and return to classrooms. Since reopening, schools have continued targeted support to refugees via parent literacy programs to equip caregivers with tools to encourage children to read and continue learning at home. Building on this experience of inclusive outreach, Djibouti is strengthening the resilience of schools and the education system to respond to current and future shocks.
Supporting the return of students to school is only part of the challenge as the full impact of school closures is just beginning to be understood. This is in addition to the average 3-4 years of school that UNHCR estimates refugee children are missing after displacement, according to the recent Global Cost of Inclusive Refugee Education report. It is therefore crucial for schools to support their re-entry and to address obstacles such as having to catch-up in school while learning a new language.
The World Bank and its partners are committed to support Djibouti in expanding access to quality and inclusive education, beyond the COVID-19 pandemic emergency efforts. Through the Expanding Opportunities for Learning project, Djibouti has already taken measures to improve learning for all children. For example, the country has been supporting refugee learning through translating the national curriculum into English and Arabic so that students can learn in the language of their previous schooling, and specialized pedagogical training for teachers in refugee schools. In addition, the curriculum certification aims to recognize previous schooling in Kenyan refugee camps and offers refugee students the opportunity to sit the Djibouti Baccalaureate exam at the end of high school.
Adapting education is essential to allow refugee students, like Ragueh in the past, to continue their education and develop skills across different languages of instruction. This is part of a longer-term inclusion strategy where refugees have the same legal right as other children to access schools, healthcare facilities, and job opportunities. It’s a key step in refugees’ journey towards economic self-sufficiency, engaging with host communities, and regaining a sense of purpose after the trauma of displacement.
Djibouti’s positive progress in sustaining enrolment levels and education for refugees during these challenging times demonstrates the benefits of political commitment and a focus on inclusion. As the number of refugees increases in the region, early lessons from Djibouti show what can be done to bring more refugee children into schools and, like Ragueh who after college returned to Ali Addeh as teaching director, help them become the next generation of productive workers.