Tackling the global refugee education crisis

13 December 2023


©Mathilde Tréguier/IIEP-UNESCO
Le camp de Mbera, à proximité de la frontière entre le Mali et la Mauritanie.

Failing to educate refugees carries a steep cost, especially when more than half of all refugee children worldwide are out of school. This not only diminishes individual prospects but also hampers the potential for education to foster more tolerant and inclusive societies.

Addressing this global crisis demands innovative solutions, and one promising avenue is the development and implementation of costed action plans. With support from IIEP-UNESCO and UNHCR, these planning approaches enable ministries of education and partners to understand the diverse educational needs of refugees and at what cost. This is critical to accelerate the inclusive education agenda and to help governments secure vital funding for refugee education. 

A success story in Mauritania

Mauritania has had a long-standing open-door policy towards refugees. Traditionally, refugees in urban areas have had the same access to education as nationals, however, only 50% of refugees enroll in primary school and 37% in secondary school.

These challenges are amplified in the Mbera camp on the border with Mali, where enrollment rates in primary school drop to 37% for primary school and only 6% for secondary school. Refugee students in the camp have also historically followed the Malian curriculum and exams.

However, accelerating progress is now possible since the government has been openly in favor of the inclusion of refugees in the national systems, and the Ministry of Education recently led a costed action plan for the inclusion of refugees in the Mauritanian education system in 2023

To inspire planning for inclusion globally, here are three conditions that made this milestone possible.

1 . A strong policy environment

Mauritania is a signatory of several regional and international declarations and conventions in support of refugees, including the 2018 Global Compact for Refugees. In terms of education, Mauritania ratified the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which contains a specific commitment to education. A 2005 decree also specifies that refugees receive the same treatment as nationals regarding access to medical care, the labour market, social security, and education. This has set a strong foundation for planning for inclusion.

2. Planning for inclusion is part of all plans

The costed action plan for inclusion was defined alongside a broader education system reform and the development of the country’s latest education sector plan. This provided an ideal moment to improve the education system, not only for refugee learners but also for the host community. To ensure effective implementation, the financial simulation model created for the sector plan was also fully aligned with the costed action plan for inclusion.

As various planning processes were occurring at the same time, it was also possible to integrate inclusion as a cross-cutting issue across all the educational sub-sectors. This demonstrated the strong political will of the Mauritanian educational authorities to provide a conducive and integrated framework for inclusion.

3. A collective vision

Refugees are considered an integral part of Mauritanian society, and inclusion in the education sector is part of a broader campaign that extends to other sectors such as health and employment. For example, in the Mbera camp, health centres are now managed by the Mauritanian Ministry of Health and steps are being taken to give refugees greater visibility in national statistics. The education sector is therefore seen as the next stage in Mauritania’s journey to greater inclusion.

Technical and financial partners are also calling for the end of a parallel education system. With decreasing humanitarian funding and the prolonged presence of refugees and asylum seekers in Mauritania, inclusion is increasingly viewed as the path towards sustainability and resilience. Similarly, among the refugee community, there is growing consensus to join the Mauritanian system to integrate into their new home and to benefit from qualified teachers.

This collective vision led to strong national ownership, which is key to effective implementation so that inclusive policies become a reality.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog series, which will focus on the transition from the Malian curriculum to the national Mauritanian education system.