Ensuring equal opportunities for refugee and host community children in Ethiopia

Gambella Region, Ethiopia

By Amanda Westfall
Pal Biel Jany, 15, grade 4,  wants to be the future president of South Sudan. He goes to school in Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp, Gambella Region.
UNICEFEthiopia/2018/Mersha

23 January 2019

Refugee primary school teacher Changkuoth Ter Wal explains the importance of investing in new schools and teacher training diploma programmes. With  US$15 million from the Education Cannot Wait (ECW) fund, new schools and trained teachers are on the rise in the refugee-hosting regions of Gambella and Benishangal-Gumuz.  

Like most children in Tierkidi Refugee Camp in Gambella, Ethiopia, 15-year-old Pal Biel Jany fled from violence in South Sudan five years ago. He left his entire immediate family behind and currently lives with his aunt in the camp. 

Pal has been displaced and separated from his parents and siblings for nearly one-third of his life. For refugee children, especially those experiencing traumatic displacement processes, it is imperative that they find stability and support – and schools can play a significant role.

Pal is lucky to have Changkuoth Ter Wal as his fourth-grade teacher at Teirkidi #3 Primary School. Changkuoth was never given the opportunity to attend formal training for teaching, (like most refugee teachers who hold no professional diplomas and only participate in short trainings offered at the camp). Nevertheless, he is determined to improve the conditions for the next generation.

Changkuoth, Ter, 26, is a grade 4 science teacher at the Tierkidi School No. 3, Refugee Camp
UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha
Changkuoth, Ter, 26, is a grade 4 science teacher at the the Tierkidi School No. 3, Refugee Camp.

“I can see how education is good for the community and the children. In South Sudan and here in the camps, there are more illiterate people than educated.”

But the situation changed last summer when he was given an opportunity of a life time. He and 343 other refugees were told they would be able to attend college and pursue teaching diplomas. Now, they can finally become professional teachers and improve the quality of education for refugee children.

In addition to investing in teachers, the refugee camps are benefitting from the construction of new schools and classrooms. Primary and secondary school access is still low (at a 75 per cent and 12.5 per cent Gross Enrollment Ratio for Gambella region) and class congestion is extremely high (primary school student/teacher ratio is 106:1). With the expansion of learning spaces and investments in teacher training, the hope is to bring more children to school, reduce congestion, and improve the delivery of education.

The new schools are part of a US$15 million two-year investment by ECW which includes the construction of three new inclusive model secondary schools, 41 classrooms in eight secondary schools, 84 classrooms in four primary schools, and the provision of classroom furniture (desks, chairs, chalkboards) in Benishangul-Gumuz and Gambella regions that are host to mostly South Sudanese refugees.

But the support goes further than construction, since infrastructure alone may increase access to schools, but doesn’t guarantee quality of teaching in the schools. The project also supports teacher training through diploma programmes (like what Changkuoth attends) as well as provides teaching and learning materials.

Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp, Gambella Region. UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha
UNICEFEthiopia/2018/Mersha
Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp, Gambella Region.
Students learning in Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp, Gambella Region.
UNICEFEthiopia/2018/Mersha
Students learning in Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp, Gambella Region.

Equal opportunities for refugees and host communities

Pal’s camp sits within three kilometers  of the neighboring ‘host’ Ethiopian community. Like their refugee peers, the host community also struggles with poverty and low quality and access to education. The ECW-supported project brings equal opportunities for education to both host and refugee children and introduces integrated services through the construction of new secondary schools where both refugee and host children can learn together in government-run schools overseen by the Ministry of Education.

Moving from temporary to stable

Classrooms like those currently at Tierkidi #3 were first constructed as temporary solutions when it was uncertain how long the refugees would stay in Ethiopia. the temporary low-cost structures were made of wood and metal sheets that could be destroyed by harsh weather but as the conflict continues in South Sudan, services can no longer be viewed as short-term solutions. Changuoth explains, 

“The [temporary] school may fall down because of rain and wind so we are very excited with the new classrooms [permanent structures built from concrete bricks]. There will be so many advantages. When the students hit the metal sheets, it makes loud sounds and disturbs the children who are learning inside. With the new buildings this won’t happen.”

The impact of the investment

Pal’s family trusts in him to gain a good education so he can help his younger siblings one day. For this reason, his family agreed that he lives with his aunt in Tierkidi camp since there are no educational opportunities in South Sudan where his immediate family still lives. As Pal explains,

I have to work hard to complete my education so I can support my two younger brothers and three younger sisters who are still in South Sudan and can’t go to school.”

Through the investment in construction, teacher training, and provision of teaching/learning materials, Pal and an expected 12,000 other children from refugee camps and surrounding host communities will enjoy an improved quality of education.

Pal Biel Jany, 15, grade 4, goes to school in Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp, Gambella Region.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha
Pal Biel Jany, 15, grade 4, goes to school in Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp, Gambella Region.