Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

INEE Standards: issue related to refugee education

20 June 2013

by Ita Sheehy, Senior Education Officer at Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The INEE standards have proven very helpful for building the capacity of non-education expert staff and partners to recognize, plan for and document gaps in the essential package for education in the emergency phase of a refugee response, and in certain parts of stabilization and transition  phases—particularly for infrastructure issues, student:teacher ratios and other quantifiable inputs.

Where we have recently run into trouble is the issue of curriculum. UNHCR published an independent research review on refugee education in 2011. That review found that parallel education systems (home + country of asylum) in asylum contexts struggle for sustainability once the emergency phase of an operation and the funding influx an emergency phase passes. The average number of years a refugee spends in asylum is 17. More and more of situations in which UNHCR works are protracted and students struggle for continuity in their access to meaningful (and certified) educational opportunities as a result.

The role of education in providing opportunities for building resilience is well known. Access to education can only be made sustainable if children and youth can participate in a full range of either formal education or non-formal programming that provides eventual access to formal education from ages 6-18 and formal, non-formal and para-professional post-secondary education.

Below is a quick and (likely) incomplete summary of the pros & cons of home/country of asylum curricula use:

Use of the home curriculum in stabilization and transition refugee contexts


Pros Cons
Allows students to study in the language of instruction  that is in use in home country Difficulty sustaining access to materials; examinations, results, certificates and diplomas; curriculum-specific teacher supervision, support and development; teacher certification in foreign curricula for refugee pre-service teachers and consequent diminishment in training and quality over time & related issues
Provides students with access to home-country political and cultural history Post-emergency (reduced) budget used to sustain costs of maintaining foreign curricula rather than on improving quality & related issues
Ensures incentive income for willing trained and untrained refugee teachers Political issues that render presence of foreign government unwelcome/dangerous in asylum country  & related issues
Allows graduates access to career opportunities that have language-specific requirements in the home country Difficult transition to post-primary education in asylum country when available & related issues
  Diminished capacity for relevant quality supervision & related issues
  Lack of access to education-related national education appeals planning/funding
  Lost opportunity to form regional agreements on equivalencies in regions where there is frequent displacement
  Lost opportunity to provide added-value benefit to host populations/governments
  Lost opportunity to work with education partners in home country regions of return to improve system in anticipation of eventual repatriation


When the focus stays on the home curriculum, but the likelihood of swift voluntary repatriation is minimal, certain essential planning issues that have a significant impact of the quality of educational experiences over time get left unaddressed in those moments when access to funding is most hopeful. Adequate language training, immediate cooperation with MoEs for recognition of qualified refugee teachers & 1000 other things, access to national training programmes, access to development funds & coordinated attention brought to the frequently underserved areas where refugees are granted asylum, opportunities to form regional agreements . . . I haven’t had time to analyse the full spectrum, but leave it at this: presently the INEE guidelines don’t address the specific problems associated with the stabilization and transition phases of refugee displacement contexts. The root issue is curriculum, but its sub-roots are multiple and affect the quality and community-perceived value of education.

INEE training in Chad (field response)

The question is how INEE can better tailor their assessment tools to consider the question of curriculum with respect to refugees, as the guidance just isn't there, and it doesn't push actors to think long-term during emergency response.

We should always plan interventions with the idea that the situation could be protracted, and should have a vision for the type of assistance, collaboration with other actors (esp MoE) and community participation once an emergency stabilizes (ie, Year 1 scenario, Year 2, etc). Such planning is also crucial for institutional memory, which is so often lost.

With the Cluster approach, the curriculum issue is more clear cut since they are IDPs and follow the national curriculum anyway, but tools should be available for refugee situations where the curriculum issue is prescient. The INEE Guidance Notes on Teaching and Learning are useful especially in highlighting things to consider about curriculum content at the start of a crisis, but can INEE come out with tools for how to eventually plan a curriculum transition? We also need more best practices, case studies, and lessons learned on this issue. There are many experiences out there, but little documentation.