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Hungry for learning in Dadaab camps

A group of Somali refugees waits to be registered by the UNHCR in Dadaab, Kenya, October 2008. Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
A group of Somali refugees waits to be registered by the UNHCR in Dadaab, Kenya, October 2008
In one of the largest and oldest refugee settlements in the world, education is a luxury denied most of the 90,739 children who live there.

Set up at the outset of Somalia’s civil war in 1991 to accommodate 90,000 refugees, three camps near the northeastern Kenyan town of Dadaab - Hagadera, Ifo and Dagahaley - are now home to more than three times that number, and persistent conflict in Somalia, from where 95 percent of the refugees originate, means the population grows daily.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the primary school attendance rate is 43 percent while in secondary schools the rate is just 12 percent. Across the three camps, there are 19 primary schools, funded by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In addition there are 11 private, fee-paying primary and six secondary schools.

In 2010, some 2,500 refugee children sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education. Of these, barely a fifth won a place at secondary school. National statistics for Kenya are considerably higher, at 82 percent and 49 percent for primary and secondary attendance respectively. The picture is far worse in Somalia itself, where primary school enrolment is 20 percent, with fewer than 10 percent going on to secondary school, according to UNICEF.

In Dadaab, money is the main problem. Despite being classified as a fundamental human right and recognized as providing much-needed psychological, physical and cognitive protection in emergency situations, education is the most underfunded sector in humanitarian aid. According to a recent report by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), only 2 percent of total humanitarian assistance is spent on education.

In 2010, UNHCR received only 20 percent of the US$30 million required to educate refugee children. Worldwide, according to UNICEF, approximately 75 million children are not enrolled in primary school. Half of them live in countries affected by conflict.

“The international community is failing Somali refugees by not prioritizing access to education,” Elizabeth Campbell of Refugees International (RI), an advocacy group, told IRIN. “The main reasons are lack of funding and lack of trained teachers. Even if there were more funding, there is a capacity problem that will be more challenging to address.

“Also, the Kenyan authorities have made it difficult to expand educational opportunities in Dadaab by not providing additional land required to build new structures.”

According to a 2010 report by UNICEF assessing education in Dadaab’s refugee camps, primary schools are stretched far beyond the standards for quality education, with each class accommodating 80 pupils instead of the stipulated 45. The schools also “have few Kenyan qualified teachers with nine trained and 800 untrained teachers in primary, 50 untrained and 35 trained teachers in secondary school”.

''It is very difficult to manage a high school on a zero budget''
Community initiatives

Three secondary schools have been set up by refugees themselves, but they only very partially bridge the gap in educational needs and they suffer from their own resource constraints.

“It is very difficult to manage a high school on a zero budget. We ask the students to pay some money for the teachers and maintenance,” Mohamed Kasim, chairman and founder of the community-run secondary schools, told IRIN.

Another obstacle to quality education comes from a lack of materials such as laboratory apparatus and basic equipment for practical classes like science subjects. “I have never attended a laboratory class for the past three years. I am very worried about how I will handle the practical examination during the KCSE [Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education],” said Aweys, a form-four student.

The headmaster of Towfiq Community Secondary School in Ifo camp, Hassan A. Saney, said that despite the hardships, he is optimistic about his students sitting his school’s first upcoming national examination. “We are expecting to receive some laboratory equipment by mid-March and hopefully we will have done something before we sit for the final examination,” he said.

The community initiative attracted support from NGOs Windle Trust Kenya (WTK) and CARE in the form of donations toward stationery and reference books. UNHCR also brought in qualified national teachers to the community schools.

WTK said a funding crisis meant money for schooling had to go to refugee teachers serving the schools and end-of-term examination papers. In addition, each student is required to pay KSh3,300, or $38 to be fully registered for 2011 admission, which many cannot afford. “We ourselves are forced to pay this money but in reality, we cannot afford it. We have to sell the little food we are given by WFP [World Food Programme] which is not even enough,” said Farhio, a form-four student from Towfiq Community Secondary School.

Schoolteachers insist that non-payment of fees should not be a hindrance. “We never allow qualified students to leave the school because they can’t afford to pay the money but a contribution from the community is paramount for a better society,” said Abdullahi, a teacher in Dagahaley community secondary school.

Location map for the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya 200902175
Photo: Reliefweb
A grim future

Except in the unlikely event of resettlement to a third country, even those who manage to complete secondary education in Dadaab have few opportunities for employment within the camps. But as RI’s Campbell says: “I don't think that should be a reason to deny any child access to education. Some of the refugee graduates filter into urban areas or move elsewhere in the region and are able to start businesses and gain access to income and self-sufficiency.”

Refugee teachers are paid about $70 a month. While many refugees work for aid agencies in various capacities, they tend to receive meagre “incentive payments” rather than proper salaries, purportedly because of Kenya’s restrictive labour laws.

Lack of opportunity is a concern: “These idle youths turn to drugs and then indulge in criminal activities which in turn lead to insecurity problems. If something is not done I am afraid that these youth might even join the militia groups fighting back in their homes of origin,” said Liban Rashid, a youth spokesperson from Ifo camp.

In 2009, Human Rights Watch reported that Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government was also recruiting in the Dadaab camps and claimed that despite their denials, the Kenyan government was involved in the process.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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