A lost generation of learners: What’s the cost?

20 June 2023


©Mathilde Tréguier/IIEP-UNESCO
A primary school in Mbera camp, at the border between Mali and Mauritania.

Around the world, refugee learners struggle to access their right to quality education. Nearly half of all refugee children – 48%  are out of school. By the time these children are supposed to enter secondary school, enrollment drops more, to only 37%. The cost of missing out on one’s education is damagingly high – for both individuals and society at large.

However, the inclusion of refugees in national education systems can make a difference and help refugee learners access their right to quality education. This is especially important as the prospects of a return to one’s home country are usually uncertain, highlighting the importance of long-term solutions. 

Inclusion requires proper planning

Planning and management can support inclusion in education. In addition, developing a costed action plan for the inclusion of refugees into national education systems can be a relevant way to accompany this transition towards inclusion. IIEP-UNESCO works with partners, such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), to put this into place, alongside other national policies and plans.

Education for refugees can reduce poverty, boost social cohesion between host and refugee communities, and open doors to new opportunities.

What is a costed action plan?

A costed action plan can help design and prioritize key interventions that are relevant and financially sustainable. This is especially important as most refugee-hosting countries – around 85% - are lower- and lower-middle income countries, according to UNHCR.

A costed action plan typically involves working with national governments, refugee and host communities, including civil society organizations, to jointly prioritize strategies, programmes, and activities for all learners, and to determine the financial cost for the inclusion of refugees in the national system.

Spotlight on the inclusion of refugees in the Mauritania education system

In Mauritania, a vast country in the Sahel region, the forcibly displaced population has now surpassed 100,000 people, amongst whom 40% are between 5-17, according to UNHCR. With a decades-old open-door policy, most refugees come from Mali, the majority of whom live in Mbera camp at the border between Mali and Mauritania. Here, refugee children often face low access to quality education, and they are taught with the Malian curriculum.

To address these challenges, IIEP is working in collaboration with UNHCR with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) / the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and EU/ECHO (European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations), alongside other partners, on a costed action plan to lay the foundation for the inclusion of refugees in the Mauritanian national education system.

This is also conducted in tandem with the country’s third National Education Sector Development Programme, which is currently being developed with the support of IIEP-UNESCO’s Office for Africa. This programme highlights the Mauritanian government’s particular emphasis on universal, equitable, and inclusive access to education, including for refugees living in the country.

Making inclusion a reality

To make this a reality, strengthening the existing education system is required to enable refugee inclusion, paving the way to mutual benefits for both refugee and host communities. IIEP’s programme specialist Mathilde Tréguier explains that the preferred route is a single, coherent approach, led by the government and supported by communities and partners.

This avoids the establishment of parallel education and training services, which are less sustainable and often of lower quality,” she says. “It also ensures social and economic inclusion from the outset, supports refugee self-reliance, and promotes the development of local economies and communities.”

Figuring out the costs and financing methods of inclusion will be based on a number of important steps, carried out by IIEP and UNHCR. The process will start with analyzing refugee needs in Mbera camp as well as host areas, defining and costing programmes and activities for each education sub-sector from pre-primary through to higher education and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), and will wrap up with the development of a monitoring and evaluating framework.

The financing of inclusion will also rely on the support of partners to accompany the transition to move from a humanitarian-funded parallel system to a government-led system, supported by both domestic and external resources. Inclusion is therefore a way to achieve the humanitarian-development nexus.

Finally, consultations will take place throughout the development of the costed action plan, with education officials, beneficiaries, and donors to make sure that the proposed measures are relevant, supported by key stakeholders, and achievable.

Mbera camp at the border between Mali and Mauritania.
©Mathilde Tréguier/IIEP-UNESCO