Rising to the challenge: Protecting refugee children’s education amid fragility, conflict and violence

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refugee children in national education systems Integrating refugee children in national education systems and ensuring the quality of their education is critical for refugee and host communities. Copyright: Justinas/Adobe Stock

The global surge in fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) is destroying access to education for millions of refugee children worldwide. Of the 13.7 million children who are refugees or asylum-seekers—displaced from their homes by crises and violence—almost half are out of school. And child displacement is spreading fast. The global number of child refugees more than doubled from 2005 to 2021, and grew by 132 percent between 2010 and 2021 alone.

As many of these children live in protracted crises, spending long periods, if not their entire schooling years, in displacement, integrating them into national education systems and ensuring the quality of their education is of paramount importance for these children and their host communities.

Lessons from supporting refugee students

Today on World Refugee Day, we reflect on the urgent challenge of supporting refugees as part of the World Bank’s commitment to protecting education of children amid fragility, conflict and violence, and outline lessons learned from our work supporting these populations.

  • Institutionalizing refugee integration promotes student success. Having clear national policies of inclusion and targeted supports for refugee students have been cited as best practices to ensure the academic success of refugees. In Turkiye, more than one million K-12 Syrian children and youth have been integrated into government schools and are benefitting from general education system investments, including from a World Bank-supported project to improve the country’s digital education platform and blended approaches (digital and face-to face) to teaching and learning. Turkiyeowes the success of its student integration model to: the phased, gradual transition of Syrian refugee students from Temporary Education Centers to mainstream schools; a legal framework that granted protected status to many refugees and safeguards access to education for Syrian learners; and the provision of targeted supports, such as Turkish language assistance, nutrition and psychosocial support, and a plan to transition from the Syrian to the Turkish curriculum.
  • Transitioning humanitarian schools into government schools supports inclusion. Countries like Sudan and Chad have supported refugee integration by gradually transitioning non-formal schools to government management, and certifying or hiring teachers for these schools. In Uganda, which hosts the largest refugee population in Africa and has inclusive policies toward refugees, the World Bank is supporting the transition of schools from humanitarian service providers to government systems to ensure sustainability. A World Bank-supported program that promotes effective fiscal decentralization and management in education among local governments is helping to ensure that refugee children are counted in per-student education grants allocated to local governments, and incentivizes the recruitment and deployment of teachers in schools previously managed by humanitarian partners. In other countries, school management transitions are upheld by clear governance and oversight structures, consistent funding for teachers, and ongoing collaboration with non-state partners.
  • Capacity-development for teachers and schools helps address refugee needs: It is critical to build the capacity of teachers and schools to successfully lead integrated classrooms and deliver quality instruction. Since 2018, a World Bank project in Cameroon has supported the government in hiring over 9,000 primary school teachers—prioritizing zones that host refugees and internally displaced people—and training almost 60,000 teachers in effective pedagogies and topics such as education in emergencies, gender-based violence and psychosocial support. The project also supports school grants as well as financial management trainings for school management councils in refugee-hosting areas, which have been effective at promoting the devolution of financial power to schools and supporting decision-making grounded on local priorities, ultimately benefiting refugee students.
  • Social and emotional learning programs promote wellbeing and better learning among refugees: Refugee students have unique socioemotional needs often driven by experiences of adversity and trauma. Embedding social and emotional learning (SEL) into education for refugees can help improve mental health, promote inclusion and belonging, improve retention, and develop key SEL skills that boost learning. In Jordan, where the government has committed to integrating Syrian refugee children into the formal education system, the World Bank has supported the expansion of pre-primary education, as well as a SEL program that targets lower secondary schools (both including Syrian refugees). Results have shown that the program effectively promoted a 'growth mindset' among both refugees and Jordanian students, reinforcing their belief that intelligence is not a fixed trait and that they can do well in school through effort and practice.

A holistic approach is needed

This support to refugees and their host communities is a central part of our broader approach to supporting education in FCV settings, which includes promoting peace and preventing violent conflict, remaining engaged during crisis situations and supporting transitions out of fragility.

Our approach is holistic–working across sectors to address diverse needs—and often conducted in mission-driven partnerships that capitalize on the strong presence and technical know-how of partners. For instance, in Yemen, the World Bank works with UNICEF, the World Food Program, Save the Children and others to remain engaged during the active conflict. The Restoring Education and Learning Project reaches over 600,000 children in the most vulnerable districts, through interventions that include school feeding, rehabilitation of infrastructure, and teacher training and performance-based teacher payments, with each project partner leveraging their comparative advantages to support different interventions.

Our work in FCV settings also seeks to use education to prevent interpersonal violence and conflict. In Sri Lanka, which experienced a protracted, ethnic-based civil war, a World Bank project supports effective approaches to teaching civics and history in ways that promote respect for diversity and social inclusion.

By 2030, more than half of the poor and two-thirds of the extreme poor—an alarming number— will live in situations of fragility, conflict, and violence. Our success will increasingly be determined by our ability to effectively protect the education of the most vulnerable children. This will continue to be a central part of our commitment to ensure that all children can achieve their full potential with access to a quality education.

This blog benefitted from contributions by Melissa Merchant, Joel Reyes, Barbara K. Magezi Ndamira, Benjamin Reese, Mouhamadou Moustapha Lo, and Dina Abu-Ghaida.


Raja Bentaouet Kattan

Advisor to the Education Global Practice

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