Learning continues in refugee camps as schools close temporarily

Fighting for a more inclusive and equal world.

Joy Wanja Muraya
Gloria learns at home
©UNICEFKenya/KevinOtieno
19 June 2020

Today is World Refugee Day, 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how desperately we need to fight for a more inclusive and equal world: a world where no one is left behind. This year, World Refugee Day aims to remind us that everyone, including refugees, can contribute to a more just, inclusive, and equal world.

Head down, pen in hand, Gloria Amito, 13, listens carefully to the lesson crackling from the radio which hangs from a nearby tree. She writes down as much as she can while her friends do the same, seated in the shade, socially separated from each other.

With schools in Kenya closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the radio offers the only way Gloria and her friends can continue their education.

The standard seven student from South Sudan who lives in Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya has missed her favourite science lessons since the lockdowns began but is grateful she’s at least getting some schoolwork done.

“When schools closed, I missed out on interactive lessons,” says Gloria, “However, we now have a timetable when the lessons for standard seven are aired.”

The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) radio programme, aired from Atanayeche, a local FM station, has been made possible by support from Finn Church Aid (FCA) and the EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO)

Gloria and her mother
©UNICEFKenya/KevinOtieno
Gloria and her mother go through a science radio lesson at their home in Kalobeyei Settlement in Kakuma Refugee Camp.

According to the Kenyan Ministry of Education 18 million students across the East African nation have been affected by school closures since COVID-19 restrictions were put in place.

Education experts say extended periods without education can impact child wellbeing. Children from vulnerable families are at the greatest risk as parents may not send children back to school.

UNICEF Kenya Chief of Education Marilyn Hoar reiterated the importance of continuity of education while observing the public health guidelines adding that the long breaks from school can be difficult when children return to school. She noted that the children may forget some of the things they had learned due to loss of the routine and structure of regular classes.

“Many children are at high risk of dropping out of school, not returning once their school re-opens. Refugee families recognize that education is critical for their children in order for them to have further opportunities in life. UNICEF is committed to helping these refugee children continue their education,” she said.

In response to the pandemic, UNICEF is working at Kakuma in partnership with UNHCR and other stakeholders to provide a range of assistance to children. UNICEF helped ECHO and FCA provide the most vulnerable – such as refugees – with access to learning. FCA provided 500 radios to households in the Kalobeyei Settlement at the refugee camp.

With UNICEF support, FCA was also able to train 123 teachers on the Competency Based Curriculum. Another 153 teachers underwent Teachers in Crisis Context training to prepare them to work with crisis affected children.

ECHO has funded the salaries for 138 teachers (36 female) in the camp. The teachers have helped facilitate radio lessons while continuing to follow government guidelines to manage the spread of coronavirus.

In partnership with the EU Trust Fund, ECHO, Dutch Government and Later Day Saints, UNICEF has supported the construction of additional classrooms at Kakuma, gender desegregated WASH facilities, kitchens, outdoor play equipment and fencing for schools, which have together benefitted 21,000 students.

Gloria takes notes during a radio lesson.
©UNICEFKenya/KevinOtieno
Gloria takes notes during a radio lesson.

Gloria’s teacher, Seme Lukudu, who has received teaching support provided by UNICEF and its partners, says he appreciates the training as it has helped him be a better teacher to children living in difficult circumstances.

“I began teaching in 2018 as a volunteer teacher,” says Lukudu. “The training has gone a long way in helping me understand my learners and the environment they are living in.”

“I have undergone various training opportunities in areas like inclusion of children with disabilities, child-friendly schools, teaching in crisis and conflict situations, and child rights.”

Lukudu says the KICD radio lessons are a huge help to Kenyan teachers as they try to navigate the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Back at the camp, Gloria’s mother, Agnes Aketo, has taken on the role of tutor. During the radio lessons, she sometimes sits with Gloria and helps her answer questions. Gloria has also received stationery and textbooks to assist in her studies.

“The radio lessons are a great opportunity for me to assist Gloria with her schoolwork,” her mother Aketo says.

Gloria looks forward to returning to school when the pandemic comes to an end. “I miss my friends at school,” Gloria concludes in anticipation that schools will resume soon.

Teacher Seme
©UNICEFKenya/KevinOtieno
Teacher Seme takes Gloria and other learners through a radio lesson.

By Joy Wanja Muraya, UNICEF Kenya.