Planning for refugee inclusion in Burundi’s educational system

19 June 2024

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©Claire Thibault/IIEP-UNESCO
A school in a refugee camp in Burundi.

How to include refugees in national education systems? Why must inclusion be gradual?

In Burundi, a landlocked country in East Africa, the situation of refugees continues to evolve. Despite its scarce resources, Burundi hosts more than 87,500 refugees, with more than half of them under 18, primarily from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Furthermore, many Burundian refugees are also returning home under the assisted voluntary repatriation program, making the establishment of a sustainable and inclusive education system even more crucial. Between September 2017 and August 2023, UNHCR recorded the return of about 220,000 Burundians, 72.5% of whom were under 18 years old at the time of their repatriation.

Currently, most refugees in Burundi live in five camps and are educated in a parallel education system, separate from that of national students. These educational systems for refugee learners, which follow the curriculum and language of instruction from their country of origin, are often less sustainable.

Change is on the horizon

in response to these challenges, a collaborative effort is underway to build a sustainable learning environment for all, including refugees, host communities, and returnees. This follows the government’s commitment at the 2023 Global Refugee Forum to integrate its refugee populations and returnees into the national education system.

The Ministry of National Education and Scientific Research (MENRS) has established a technical committee, including relevant ministries, IIEP-UNESCO, UNHCR, UNICEF, and the Jesuit Refugee Services, to develop a costed strategy for achieving educational inclusion.

The Permanent Secretary of the MENRS has also visited the five refugee camps to identify effective local solutions for transitioning from a parallel to an inclusive education system.

Starting the process towards inclusion

Inclusive education offers many benefits for both refugees and host communities. It enhances resilience, promotes social cohesion, and can reduce long-term costs. Inclusive education is particularly important in the current context of prolonged crises, such as those experienced by young refugee learners in Burundi.

Implementing inclusive education is a process that requires a carefully crafted strategy to ensure a smooth transition. In Burundi, its progressive implementation should span over five years.

For learners, a gradual transition is essential to avoid abrupt changes between curricula and languages of instruction. Operationally, a phased transition allows national authorities to gradually integrate this parallel education system and plan accordingly, whether it involves building and renovating schools to meet national standards, improving teacher qualifications, or integrating refugee teachers into the public workforce.

Inclusion should also benefit host communities. For instance, local infrastructure should be strengthened, particularly post-primary schools near the camps. In the Kavumu refugee camp in northern Burundi, new facilities for technical training and a boarding school that can accommodate Burundian students should also be established. These measures would also foster social cohesion by allowing host communities and refugees to attend school together.

Bringing partners together with technical expertise

By involving central and local authorities, relevant ministries, refugee representatives, school administrators, teachers, students, parents, and technical and financial partners, IIEP helps identify needs in terms of access, quality, and governance for inclusion.

We then collaboratively find solutions to address educational challenges (curriculum and language changes), operational issues (infrastructure, class size, teacher training, and school management), and political considerations (gaining support through alignment with national priorities).

This results in a detailed operational strategy and roadmap for the Ministry and partners for implementing inclusion and serves as a valuable tool for mobilizing the financial resources needed for successful implementation.

Planning for refugee inclusion in Burundi’s educational system | Planifier l'intégration des réfugiés dans le système éducatif burundais