Focus on secondary school education in refugee camps

Sitting behind his desk, partly hidden behind a pile papers he is marking, Barnabus Bugera, a bespectacled Burundian refugee, is everything you would imagine of a schoolteacher.

Patiently explaining the details of the dilemmas refugee children face once they finish primary school, the former politician and diplomat fits his "new" role perfectly.

Bugera's passion is educating children. And, having set up and run the first secondary school for Burundian refugees in western Tanzania in 1996, he exudes confidence of a bright future for thousands of refugees who previously had few opportunities after completing primary school.

"There were frustrations for students who finished primary school but had nowhere to go," he told IRIN on 3 October.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides education in the camps, but only has the mandate and the money to do so at the primary level.

"So we, as parents and teachers, started a school," he said.

Then, he added, they received help from charitable organisations but with that managed to educate only some 400 students. The Refugee Education Trust got involved in 2001, he said, and now up to 200 new students were enrolled each year.

Filling a gap

The trust, an initiative of former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, was set up in 2001. It aims to carry on from where UNHCR stops in funding education for refugees in developing countries. While not providing the service itself, the trust’s role is to coordinate and help to provide the funding for different implementing partners in the various emergencies.

Although relatively new in existence, the trust has been running a couple of pilot programmes in Tanzania and Pakistan and is hoping to double the number of refugees attending secondary school in five years.

The Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service is the implementing partner that has been supporting Bugera's school in Kanembwa Camp, in Kibondo. The service’s project coordinator, Jesse Kamstra, said the new initiative should bring added momentum to education for refugees.

The school, he said, had stagnated at about 400 students but with funding from the trust the future looked "very promising".

"We will be able to double that number," he said.

Kanembwa is one of four post-primary schools for refugees in Kibondo, a district that hosts over 150,000 Burundians.

"Previously, it was just church-based organisations that would provide money for secondary education," he added.

Assistance for teachers and pupils

The trust estimates that there are at least 1.5 million refugee children between the ages of 12 and 17 worldwide. It said that only 3 percent of them had access to education yet their generation would be called upon to lead their war-torn countries in the future.

Working with a budget of €3 million (US $3.48 million) over the next three years, the trust will assist in the construction of some classrooms, libraries and latrines and the provision of pedagogical materials but the focus will be on subsidising the cost of education, both for children and the teachers. The organisation will be helping 700 teachers, providing training as well as some material support and, it is hoped, every pupil will be subsidised by at least $1 each month.

Added to this, the trust will build district education service centres, resource facilities that would be outside the camps so that the refugee affected populations would be able to benefit from the scheme, its managing director, Zeynud Gunduz, told IRIN on 9 October.

She was in Tanzania assessing the needs in the refugee camps. She said that while the trust aimed to increase the numbers of students in the camps this year from 17,000 to 25,000, it would ensure that "quality was not compromised".

She added the question of access also needed examination. Due to the cultural norms, she said, only 4,000 of the 17,000 students were girls.

"It has improved over the last two years, but we need to more access for girls," she said.

Preparing for the future

Bearing in mind the need to provide educational qualifications that would be accepted in Burundi once the students are repatriated, the trust follows the Burundi or Democratic Republic of Congo syllabus.

Although the refugee camps offered few opportunities to young educated adults, Bugera said, the impact of receiving a secondary school level of instruction was of enormous benefit to them.

"We have had 15 go to universities in Tanzania and some have braved it and gone to study in Burundi," he said.

Others, he added, were employed by humanitarian organisations working in the camps or, in order to resolve the staff shortage, got straight into teaching.

But, beyond academic education, Bugera said the secondary schools were playing an important role in peace-building and conflict resolution.

"Any student at school is a bonus because it means that they are not going home to get involved in the fighting. Those who have gone went because they did not get this opportunity.

"But also, once they go home, this education will help them gain acceptance in the new Burundi. There will be some antagonism between those that stayed [in Burundi] and those that fled, but at least they will not just be asking for help. They will be a benefit to society," he said.

Corporate involvement

Meanwhile, while Gunduz said that there was room for improvement, she said funding for these improvements should not be too difficult to find because of the changing dynamics of global business.

She said having come from the corporate world before joining the trust; she could see that this was a great opportunity for more involvement from the corporate sector.

"Corporations are talking about being citizens of the world and they can't simply provide support for their local communities," she said, "They need to support people worldwide and there is nothing better that contributing towards education."