Uganda: How educational planning can support teachers of refugees

22 May 2023


©IIEP-UNESCO/Makmende Media
Joel Vieutome Kakalage, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a refugee teacher in Uganda. He also founded an adult training centre where he teaches English. 

Uganda is Africa’s largest refugee-hosting country with over 1.5 million refugees and asylum-seekers. Around 60% of the refugee population are young people, making quality and equitable education for all a primary concern for the government. With teachers sitting at the heart of education, IIEP has been exploring best practices for teacher management in refugee settings with Education Development Trust, and with support from Dubai Cares. 

At a recent workshop in Kampala, Uganda, IIEP’s Candyce Billy sat down with Vick Ikobwa in Uganda. His main role is to provide technical education support to facilitate refugee inclusion in the national system. He also focuses on increasing access to quality education for refugees through partnerships across the United Nations, NGOs, and governmental actors. 

He believes there is no such thing as education without teachers, and that addressing key challenges is imperative not only for their future but for generations to come. 

Candyce Billy: Why is it crucial to look at teacher management in Uganda today and especially in refugee contexts? 

Vick Ikobwa: Most of the refugees in Uganda, around 60 percent, are between 3 to 24 years old. This means that they are young, and education is a key priority for them. And when you talk about education, one key input is teachers. Without teachers, there is no education delivery. Therefore, given the issues around budgets and decreasing humanitarian funding for education, discussing teacher management in Uganda is a timely and welcome topic, particularly in refugee contexts. 

Candyce Billy: What are the key challenges teachers are facing in refugee settlements, especially in terms of recruitment? 

Vick Ikobwa: Overall, the humanitarian budget is insufficient to supply enough teachers to meet the national teacher-to-pupil ratio standard of one teacher to 53 students to deliver quality education. In refugee settlements, the current average ratio is one teacher to 72 students. It is worse than this in some settlements, and better in others. But this is the general picture. We cannot hire enough teachers, especially given the continuous influx of school-aged refugee children into the country. 

Furthermore, because of decreasing humanitarian funding, we are not engaging teachers on long-term contracts. Instead, most teachers are recruited on short-term one-year contracts, but we want to make this recurrent cost transition from humanitarian to more long-term, multi-year development funding. The “how” is what we want to unlock here. Finally, there are refugee teachers who are qualified but lack the required documentation to teach in Uganda.

Although the government has mechanisms in place to support refugees in getting their qualifications equated, most refugees are not aware of these mechanisms or are not able to access them due to challenges with the recognition of prior learning obtained in countries with a different language of instruction or educational system. As such, we need to work with the government to ensure that these refugee teachers get their qualifications equated to be able to teach effectively in Uganda. 

Candyce Billy: What are some of the emerging solutions that you see?

Vick Ikobwa: Teachers are a key resource, yet, as explained before, most teachers working in refugee settings under humanitarian budgets, whether nationals or refugees are recruited on one-year contracts, resulting in high turnover. One of the proposed solutions is to ensure the salaries of teachers on development partners' payrolls are aligned with the government scales. To do so, we need to explore ways to channel this funding through the government systems to the extent possible, for instance through the district local governments. Teacher employment through district local governments is more sustainable. This requires continued sustainable multi-year funding support to the government from development financing. And, as I mentioned, to attract multi-year development funding, it is essential of course to bridge the humanitarian and development nexus. It should not be a question of budget-shifting, but rather about responsibility sharing and supporting the government to meet this longer-term vision.

Vick Ikobwa is a Senior Education Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Uganda.

He is responsible for liaising with the government, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and other interlocutors in the delivery of education across the humanitarian and development divide, facilitating the inclusion of refugees and host communities in the national education system and government-led sector coordination mechanisms.