The challenges of training female teachers in refugee camps

Teacher Professional Development

Despite global efforts to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030, according to UIS data for the 2018 school year, approximately 258 million children and youth were out of school; 59 million primary school children, 62 million lower secondary school children, and 138 million upper secondary school children in total. Out of 7.4 million refugee children of school-going age, 48% are out of school. 

Those in school have continued to struggle with a shortage of trained teachers, which has had a significant impact on the achievement of SDG4. Despite notable progress in increasing refugees in classrooms, there is poor classroom management because of the large number of students versus the small number of teachers. According to anecdotal evidence from Kakuma refugee camps, a teacher may oversee 150-200 primary school students or 100-150 ECD students or as many as 50 accelerated education students. 

Many teachers in refugee contexts lack the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes for qualification. In Kenya, the minimum requirement for a P1 certificate has always been a grade C plain in secondary education but to align with Kenya’s Competency-Based Curriculum, Primary 1 certification has been replaced with a Diploma in Teacher Education where a C plus (C+) is required for admission. Most refugee teachers have less than this qualification.

According to recent data from Kakuma Refugee Camp, 85% of the teachers are refugees who work full-time as teachers despite having no formal education, let alone teaching certification. 54% of current educators have received some form of education training, while 46% have not. Most education projects in the camps have in-house training programs, but they are limited in their ability to recruit, train, and manage the number of teachers necessary to meet the needs. Furthermore, teacher training, while useful for improving skills, is fragmented, short-term, and non-certifiable by the Teachers Service Commission. As a result, under-qualified teachers provide lower-quality learning environments, which directly impacts students' motivation to stay in school. This is aggravated by the lack of female teachers in refugee camps, which has continued to contribute to a vicious cycle of fewer girls in schools and, eventually, fewer female teachers. A 2021 survey in Kenya's Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps discovered that less than 20% of refugee teachers were female, and generally, h female teachers have lower qualifications than their male counterparts. Most female teachers teach the lower grades. 

Many donors and humanitarian actors continue to prioritize primary education and having gender-neutral teacher training programs, but this fails to meet the increased demand for females to access secondary education, which helps ensure a complete education cycle that can empower refugee girls and women to enter the labor force. 

Furthermore, a major factor hindering the effective programming and implementation of gender-specific programs is a lack of data that is also gender-disaggregated. Girls and young women are currently under-represented and, despite facing some gender-specific challenges, they are frequently mis-labeled as “vulnerable” and a “minority groups”, which ignores their capacities and potential to affect their reality. 

In September 2022, the University of Nairobi will launch a Diploma in Teacher Education in Emergencies (DiTEE) with the goal of providing educators with the theoretical and practical pedagogical knowledge and skills required to become professional teachers in complex emergencies and diverse social-cultural contexts. Even when it is stated that women are encouraged to apply, and even when scholarships are available, admitting female refugee students is extremely difficult due to the admission requirements of a Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) and a P1 certificate. 

So, how can training institutions create high-quality programs that are also welcoming to underqualified female refugees? 

We must be creative. Given the need to bridge the teacher gender gap, training institutions can come up with an affirmative policy to reevaluate the admission criteria and admit refugee women with competitively “lower than normal” grades to help build the capacity of female teachers. The Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and the Global Compact on Refugees appeal to refugee-hosting countries to mainstream refugees into their education systems. These are reinforced by the Djibouti Declaration and IGAD, which aims to support the integration of refugees into national education systems, and to which Kenya is a signatory. It is simply impossible to live up to the aspirations of those declarations, both globally and regionally unless we create achievable pathways for refugee women teachers. Teacher training programs like the new Diploma in Teacher Education in Emergencies (DiTEE) need to adopt targeted admission criteria that ensure opportunities for women refugees who are or want to become teachers. Ultimately, more female teachers as role models will help inspire male and female students alike, and wil help liberate girls from the bonds of servitude and harmful cultural practices.

Dr. Loise GichuhiDr. Loise Gichuhi is an economics of education and education in emergencies specialist and a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi. She is also the INEE Country Focal Point for Kenya. Loise has extensive experience and expertise in education policy, planning and curriculum development; education in emergencies programming, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. She has recently consulted for COMESA, Equal Measures 2030/FAWE, Porticus-Africa, and UNESCO IIEP and is currently consulting on a five-year Ministry of Education/World Bank project. Additionally, she works as an Education and Livelihoods Expert with a local NGO, Education Bridge-Africa, and has done community work in marginalized counties and in informal settlement communities for over 2 decades. She is a member of various global and national advisory groups. Loise holds a PhD in Economics of Education (University of Nairobi) and a Master’s in Economics of Education (Kenyatta University). Loise is Kenyan and speaks Swahili and English.