Who teaches refugees? Policy study launches in Ethiopia

18 December 2018

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Helen West/Education Development Trust
Sherkole Refugee Camp in Ethiopia's Benishangul-Gumuz Region.

Most refugee children will spend their entire childhood in exile. Responding to their educational needs will require innovative policy solutions that put teachers at the centre. To help advance this, IIEP, together with Education Development Trust, has launched the pilot of a new policy study in Ethiopia.


Research has shown that the quality of teachers and teaching are the most important factors affecting student outcomes among those that are open to policy influence. Presumably, this also applies in refugee situations, especially given that teachers themselves are often the only educational resource available to students in times of crisis.

However, a literature review conducted earlier this year by IIEP-UNESCO and Education Development Trust (EdDevTrust) found that relatively few data are available about teachers of refugees, other than limited statistical data suggesting that qualified teachers are in short supply. The review also concluded that, with the exception of some research exploring certification and compensation in refugee contexts, there are few studies on teachers’ perspectives on key policy issues, including recruitment, deployment, professional development, and motivation.

To begin to address this evidence gap, IIEP partnered with EdDevTrust, with support from UNICEF, Open Society Foundations, and other stakeholders, to launch a multi-country policy study on the management of teachers of refugees. It aims to answer what effective and promising policies and implementation strategies exist for the management of teachers in refugee contexts, and where potential space for further policy development and successful implementation exists (Access the concept note here).

Teacher of refugee policy study launches in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has been selected as the pilot country for this research because, not only is it home to one of the largest refugee populations in Africa, but it is one of the first countries to attempt to roll out the global Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, which builds on the idea that refugees should be included in host communities. As part of this, Ethiopia has come up with a set of nine pledges for policy reform, a number of which directly affect education. These include the proposed issuing of work permits to refugees, which would apply to teachers, efforts to expand enrolment of refugee children at all levels of the school system, and attempts to build and improve essential services for refugees more broadly.

While these policy developments hold promise for improved quality and greater access to education for refugees in Ethiopia, there are often significant differences between how policies are developed and implemented. This study uses a multi-phase, mixed methods research design to explore how the proposed policy reforms are being interpreted, mediated, and struggled over at the national, regional, district, and school level.

So far, the research has included an initial analysis of policy documents, in collaboration with a group of students from the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University in the United States. In October, the first field visits took place with support from local researchers from PRIN International. The preliminary results of this first data collection mission stressed the importance of responding to context, as there are significant variations across the different regions of Ethiopia and the refugee population is far from homogeneous. A variety of policy options are required to respond to the education needs of the millions of young people who call Ethiopia home today.

Next steps

Later this year, a teacher survey tool will be refined and implemented in various parts of the country. A follow up mission to Ethiopia will take place in early 2019, which will include in-depth case studies and interviews with key stakeholders.

Teachers are more than just providers of essential services. They are themselves members of affected communities and potentially powerful agents of positive policy reform. Through this initiative, we aim to contribute to the burgeoning research that focuses on teachers in refugee contexts and to provide evidence-based policy solutions to support UNESCO Member States in responding to the call set out in the Incheon Declaration to: 'ensure that teachers and educators are empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems.'

Authored by Stephanie Bengtsson, Programme Specialist, IIEP-UNESCO. This article will also appear in our upcoming IIEP Letter on the future of the teaching profession.

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