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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder10. Community Services and Education
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOrganizing Community Services
View the documentHuman Resources
View the documentFamily Tracing and Reunification
View the documentGroups at Risk and Vulnerable Groups
View the documentEducation
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes


· Education programmes can help address not only the psychological and social needs of the children, but also the well being of the whole community, by helping to organize the population and by providing structure for the children and their families;

· Education programmes can provide important support to lifesaving activities;

· Every child has the right to education. Even in an emergency, start providing appropriate education as soon as possible;

· The priority is to make primary schooling available to all. Special efforts will probably be necessary to ensure the proper participation of girls in the programme;

· Refugee schools should be organized and run by the refugees themselves, to the extent possible, with proper outside support.


73. Establishing an education system is important for the well-being of the whole refugee community, as well as for the social and psychological well-being of children and young people. Setting up basic schools will give a structure and sense of normality to a dislocated and traumatized community. Refugees are dislocated not only from their homes and families but also from their community - the old community is disrupted while new community structures are only gradually evolving. Schools can be the initial community focal points, and a sense of well-being may be created if the new community is partly structured around institutions which are as familiar as schools, rather than around, for example, distribution points, registration and health centres which may be more representative of the problems of their current situation.

74. In addition, schools can be initiated and managed by the community itself much more easily than other refugee institutions, again enhancing self-esteem and self-reliance. Refugee teachers and parents often establish informal schools even in an emergency - as soon as basic needs in food water and health are met, because they recognize the importance of a school system for the reasons set out above.

Informal schools started by the refugees themselves should be supported, and can be used as a basis to begin the programme.

75. In addition to community building, other important functions of the education system in an emergency are:

i. To disseminate survival and life skills messages. Simple messages can be spread through the school system, on issues such as health, sanitation, nutrition, and looking after the local resources (fuelwood for cooking) so they do not become too rapidly depleted;

ii. To provide parents with extra time to work on family survival needs;

iii. To serve as an important protection tool in certain circumstances, e.g. through providing an alternative to military recruitment;

iv. To provide continuity of education which can help reintegration in the country of origin.

Every child has the right to education, as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

76. Detailed information on planning education programmes and on standards for refugee schools is set out in the latest edition of NHCR's Education Guidelines. These guidelines are essential reading for those establishing an education programme.

Setting up an Education Programme

77. Basic education must be provided and, although priorities in the emergency phase may mean that the full implementation of an education programme is difficult, a start must be made. An education programme should only be delayed if the emergency is clearly going to be short-lived.

The emergency education programme should provide free access to organized activities and basic education for all refugee children and young people.

78. Identify teachers from the refugee population who can organize recreational and educational activities, and identify agencies to support the development of basic education programmes.

Simple Activities

79. In the beginning, the aim is to establish a simple programme of structured recreational and simple educational activities for children and young people. This is possible even with limited educational supplies - simply gathering the children together for a set period each day and keeping them occupied is a valuable first step. Identify teachers from the refugee population who are willing to do this. The activities should support the lifesaving measures underway in other sectors by including simple messages on health, sanitation etc. appropriate for the children's level, and by providing parents with extra time to work on family survival needs. Recreational and activity materials of the type listed in Annex 3 could be used to support such a programme.

80. The initial activities should then be developed into a primary school system, based on the curriculum of the country of origin. The timing of the transition from the simple activities to the more formal primary education will depend on the evolution of the emergency. Where the school system in the country of asylum is similar to that of the country or area of origin and refugee numbers are limited, resources may be provided to local schools to enable them to accommodate refugee students, provided this is cost-effective.

Basic Education

81. A single, unified primary school system should be developed as soon as possible. Educational materials of the type described in Annex 4 can be used to establish a basic education programme. The materials on this list would meet the initial needs of 1,000 refugees, and include sufficient writing materials for two classrooms of students in the earliest stages of primary school plus one classroom for students who have completed 2 or 3 years or more of primary schooling. If each classroom is used initially for separate morning and afternoon shifts, then a total of 240 students can be catered for. Typically there would be two or more writing materials kits (of the type specified in Annex 4) per school, according to the number of classrooms on each site.

The curriculum should initially be based on that of the country or area of origin, to facilitate reintegration upon repatriation.

82. Where possible, contact should be made with the Education Ministry of the country of origin, initially to obtain school textbooks and teachers' guides and later regarding certification of education and training received by refugees and teachers. In order to open schools as early as possible, temporary shelters may be erected using plastic sheeting. The community should be mobilized to help build and maintain school buildings. Other items required for simple classroom structures, latrines etc. should be constructed, using local materials where possible.

Smaller, decentralized schools are generally preferable to large schools. Primary schools should be established within walking distance for young children.

83. Recreational and sports programmes for children and adolescents should be included as part of the education programme, and necessary space should be allocated at the time of site planning. The likelihood that additional classrooms may be needed at a later stage should likewise be borne in mind at the time of site selection and demarcation.

It is probable that young refugees will have had their formal education disrupted. There Should therefore be no limitation of entry to schooling according to the age of the children or adolescents.

84. Initial budgets should provide for the printing or photocopying of classroom materials for pupils and teachers, based on core elements of the country of origin curriculum as well as for the initial purchase of school and recreational supplies. Budgetary provision may also be necessary for the translation and reproduction of materials supporting health, environment, peace education and other messages.


Identify humanitarian agencies to be responsible for educational assistance in each location and to establish and train community education committees and parent/ teacher groups;

Identify school sites, and erect temporary shelter, ensure construction of latrines;

Provide writing and recreational materials to support community initiatives (see Annexes 3 and 4);

Convene a refugee education committee. Include refugees, local education authorities, relevant UN agencies, implementing partners and refugee educators, at appropriate (district and/or national) levels;

Consult UNHCR Headquarters and the local UNICEF office regarding availability of educational materials and school-books;

Arrange the timing of educational and recreational activities around other household and family activities to get maximum participation and cooperation of refugees;

Establish schooling in all refugee locations with refugee education advisers and teachers. Make plans for moving to a normal system of education as soon as possible;

Aim at a realistic level of service which can be sustained over the longer term;

Organize in-service training of teachers. Training should cover: school organization; basic teaching methods; review of basic subject matter; and dissemination of messages regarding health, sanitation, environmental conservation and peace;

Monitor participation of girls in educational programmes and promote girls' enrollment and attendance in school. Identify what are the root causes of non-attendance by girls. Promote recruitment and training of female teachers (at least 50 per cent);

Reintegrate out-of-school children and youth in school or non-formal education. Causes of school drop-outs and non-participation in community activities should be monitored.

85. An education specialist may be needed to advise on programme development. Liaise with UNHCR Headquarters, regarding materials and expertise available internally and through standby arrangements (see Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources, Appendix 1).

86. The provision of education may give the refugees a privilege not enjoyed by the local population of some locations. If the government is in agreement and there is a common language of instruction, it is usually appropriate to open the schools to the local population. Some assistance may be provided to national schools located very near to refugee schools.