An open-air class in Ifo Camp, Dadaab, Kenya. (Photo: Yayoi Segi-Vltchek/UNESCO Nairobi)

For refugees in Kenya, ‘education is the only thing we can take home’

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By Pauline Rose, senior policy analyst, Education for All Global Monitoring Report

In many ways, Kenya is an example of an African success story in education. According to the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, growth in the number of children attending school has accelerated, the gender gap has narrowed and it is one of the few countries in the region expected to achieve the Education for All goal of halving adult illiteracy by 2015. Efforts are being made to ensure education quality does not suffer as the number entering school expands. The Kenyan government should be commended for its efforts in all of these areas.

The government should also be praised for the leadership and commitment it has shown in reaching the marginalized. After last year’s Global Monitoring Report was published, Kenya produced a policy framework on nomadic education. “The government of Kenya takes these Global Monitoring Reports seriously, and endeavours to act on their recommendations,” Minister of State for Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands, Honourable Mohamed Elmi, said at the launch of the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report in Nairobi on March 1.

Despite this progress, one marginalized group has remained beyond the radar: displaced people. Kenya is host to some of the largest refugee populations on the continent. The government is unable to stretch its limited resources to support their education, and education is not seen as a priority by international agencies in humanitarian situations – just 2% of humanitarian aid overall is allocated to education. This is part of the hidden crisis documented in the 2011 Global Monitoring Report.

In Kenya at least, there are signs of hope that the crisis is being recognized. At the Nairobi launch of the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, the Minister of Education, Honourable Professor Sam Ongeri, commented that Kenya had not been a stranger to the challenges posed by conflict, noting the importance of re-establishing education quickly following the post-election violence in the country in 2007. He also recognized the education challenges faced by those who had fled from conflicts in neighbouring countries to seek refuge in Kenya. Speaking of the Dadaab camps in northeastern Kenya, home to some refugees for as long as for 20 years, Mohamed Elmi noted: “Dadaab suffers from overcrowded classrooms, insufficient trained teachers, and too few opportunities for secondary-age students.”

The challenges are indeed immense. The number of Somalis entering Kenya grows daily, but the resources available for education have not kept pace. “Education is the only thing we can take home,” refugees I met when I visited Dadaab last year told me. But their hopes and aspirations are not being met. Over the past five years, enrolment rates have declined dramatically, with only half of the primary school age group able to access school in 2010. Last year, the UN refugee agency received only one-fifth of the funding it requested for education. The agency’s 2011 appeal for Kenya identifies education as one of “the most pressing unmet needs.”

Recognition by the Kenyan government of the challenges faced by refugees is an important first step in filling these unmet needs. The next step will be to ensure that refugee education is incorporated within the government’s strategic planning, and that pressure is put on aid donors to make sufficient funds available on a multiyear basis. If Kenya achieves this, it will be sending a signal that the world is at last listening to the hopes and aspirations of refugees for education. It will also be setting a good example to the other countries facing similar challenges – just as it has already done through its commitment to supporting nomadic education.




  1. Am happy for your initiative and pray for you God to help your programs to be successful.Be sure am with the same ambition but totally have not received any assistance from the Government or any other advisory board.In case you may need my ideas i can forward my proposal to you.Thank you and Lord bless you for all you are doing

    1. Thank you for this article and all the wonderful information it contains, both on the progress being made by the Kenyans as a whole as well as newly recognized need for expanding their education out to the refugee population. However, outside of proposed plan of action, I feel what is missing from this is a broader understanding of why educational needs are trivialized. What need are being met instead of allowing for formal education? I would be interested to hear what the government programs consider more important than the education process. I see where a nomadic existence might be a large argument against supporting education. A lot of money, time, and effort will go into educating someone who might not be there the next day, and sporadic education is not much more effective than none at all.

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