Review of UNHCR's Education Strategy 2012-2016

UNHCR recently released its Education Strategy for 2012-2016 and promises a greater focus upon education in its areas of work. Below are the main points of the strategy, along with discussion of the positives and drawbacks of its approach.

Key points

Action 1: More children will learn better in primary school - linked to objective 1: Improve learning achievement for refugee children in primary school
Action 2: Schools will protect children and young people - to achieve objective 2: Ensure that schools are safe learning environments for refugee children and youth
Action 3: More young people will go to secondary school - to achieve objective 3: Improve access to formal secondary opportunities for refugee youth
Action 4: More youth will follow HE courses - linked to objective 4: Improve access to HE opportunities for refugee youth
Action 5: Education will be available at every age - to achieve objective 5: Ensure opportunities for education are lifelong and available to all according to need
Action 6: Education will be part of all emergency responses - linked to objective 6: Provide education as early as possible during an emergency

Priority countries from 2012-2013: Bangladesh, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, Yemen

Positives and negatives

+ Focus upon post-primary education including HE
+ Recognising the importance of education in all emergency responses
+ Proposed capacity development of UNHCR staff to manage education programmes (UNHCR staff at present are not trained in this area)
- Objective 6 reproduces the discourse of implementing education programmes according to their current state as opposed to improving/adapting them
- All of the actions are dependent upon receiving adequate funding
- Rationale for priority countries is not publicly available (apart from the brief description in the strategy itself, which is not context-specific)
- The use of partnerships for implementing the proposed actions is not something new (at present, UNHCR rely upon education development organisations to implement education programmes)
- Although promising, none of the proposed measures are new - they have all been heard before with seemingly little impact

The development of this strategy is undoubtedly welcome. In fact some might argue it's long overdue. It seems time will tell if it is mere rhetoric or is likely to bring about significant positive impact upon the quality of education received by refugees in different contexts. I for one am going to be keeping a close eye on the outcomes - I'll do my best to keep you all posted. 

Would be great to hear your initial reactions/comments/thoughts on the strategy - you can post your comments in the box below.   


  1. Sad to see that Teacher Training keeps being forgotten. Is it not one of the only urgent matters never addressed in refugee education as it should?
    A. R.

    1. Very true Anonymous. Thanks for posting. It's an area I feel strongly about, particularly given the pressures teachers face to deliver quality education. Of course, in refugee situations, these issues are multiplied.

      I should mention that the Education Strategy does mention teacher training as part of achieving the outlined actions, however it is - sadly - in relation to the primary schooling goals for the most part. I do myself wonder when such strategies will have teacher training as one of the main action points, as opposed to being means to achieving the overall goals. Perhaps the area is in need of more advocacy campaigns?

  2. I think advocacy for teacher training is definitely needed. In northern Nigeria, not on the priority list, there are many local schools that cater to a diverse population including refugees and internally-displaced children up to secondary level but the quality of teaching is so poor, children are still illiterate at the end of 12 years of education! Clearly the focus should not just be on the presence of schools or teachers but on high quality teaching

    1. Yes, exactly. But of course there is no one solution. A combination of solutions are likely to have better impact - teacher education being one of them. What you describe in northern Nigeria is concerning, because if this is the case at primary level - the level the international community focuses on as a result of campaigns such as the Education for All (EFA) goals - then how much can we expect from the higher levels? Advocacy campaigns with actual results are a must.

  3. very interesting topic indeed. Justa starting my MA theses on that topic. Thanks for keeping up the discussion.

    1. Previous research of mine has focused on refugee education. Feel free to get in touch privately for further discussion.

  4. Where is gender in this? I think it is ridiculous to start an education strategy without recognising the discrepancy between boys and girls in education in many of the countries targeted.

    1. Thanks for your comment Brynne. You're right: gender is not one of the main action points set out by UNHCR. As with teacher training it is mentioned amongst the considerations for achieving the main goals. It is an important consideration, especially given that boys and girls in refugee situations experience issues pertaining to security for example in various ways, depending on their age.