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Chapter 4 Sectoral responses



The Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) defines education in emergencies as ‘quality, inclusive learning opportunities for all ages in situations of crisis, including early childhood development, primary, secondary, non-formal, technical, vocational, higher and adult education. Education in emergencies provides physical, psychosocial, and cognitive protection that can sustain and save lives’.+INEE, Strategic Framework, forthcoming. The need is substantial: the Global Education Cluster estimates that 58 million primary school age children and 20 million of secondary school age are currently out of education due to conflict.+UNESCO, Migration, Displacement and Education: Building Bridges, Not Walls, Global Education Monitoring Report (Paris: UNESCO, 2018) ( Girls in refugee situations are usually the worst affected.+See for example UNHCR, Her Turn: It’s Time to Make Refugee Girls’ Education a Priority, UNHCR, 2019 ( According to UNHCR estimates, only 50% of refugee children have access to primary education, and 22% secondary.+UNHCR, Missing Out: Refugee Education in Crises (Geneva: UNHCR, 2016) ( In Lebanon, ‘more than half of [Syrian] refugee children in the age group 3–18 are still out of school, mainly adolescents and youth’.+UNHCR, ‘Education’ (

This Good Practice Review, while finding a large amount of information on education in conflict and emergencies,+See for example the INEE online toolkit (, which includes resources, information, the INEE Minimum Standards for Education and related materials on education in emergency programmes. unearthed very little specifically directed at cities, or concerned with naturally triggered disasters in urban areas. In fact, according to one study, currently ‘no global policy instrument or document has carefully considered the unique educational needs of urban refugees’.+M. Mendenhall, S. G. Russell and E. Buckner, Urban Refugee Education: Strengthening Policies and Practices for Access, Quality and Inclusion (New York: Columbia University, 2017) ( That said, with the majority of IDPs and refugees living in urban areas, much of the good practice discussed in this section is relevant to urban areas.

This section+This section benefited in particular from the inputs of Dr Francine Menashy, Associate Professor in the Department of Leadership in Education at the University of Massachusetts. identifies good practice and challenges in protracted displacement settings and discusses education in armed conflict settings. The section ends by identifying the need for psychosocial support (PSS) in education in emergencies. The section links with a number of others, in particular protection (Section 4.7), WASH (Section 4.4) and forced displacement (Section 1.3).

4.6.1 Good practice in displacement settings

Students who are refugees or internally displaced and live in urban environments need to be integrated into existing public systems of education, presenting numerous challenges relating to overcrowding, teacher shortages and discrimination.+UNICEF, State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World (Geneva: UNICEF, 2012) (, pp. 28–30. In situations of migration, existing services can quickly become overwhelmed. In Lebanon, for example, the government has established a shift system in its largely urban public schools to accommodate nearly 500,000 Syrian refugee school-age children (this is further discussed in Box 4.17).+UNHCR, ‘Operational Portal: Syria Regional Refugee Response’ (

UNHCR’s advice on good practice in protracted displacement settings includes:

  • Take a holistic approach – if building schools, coordinate this with infrastructure (such as water and sanitation), teacher training and the provision of materials.
  • Provide and/or advocate for free primary education.
  • Do not set up parallel education structures.
  • Lobby decision-makers to recognise foreign school certificates to enable refugee children and adolescents to enroll.
  • Where possible set up support classes, for example for learning a new (local) language and remedial classes.
  • Integrate interventions into existing education systems.

Other elements of good practice include:

  • ‘Explore options for leveraging teaching expertise among refugee populations. Amidst the teacher shortages in many countries, including those affected by conflict and/or hosting refugees, national governments should be encouraged to find ways to identify and leverage teaching expertise among refugee populations … Recognize and strengthen teacher qualifications for integration, repatriation and resettlement.’
  • Apply ‘psychosocial well-being approaches that teachers can use to both provide their learners with additional social-emotional support and help them identify when students might need help that exceeds teachers’ knowledge and abilities’.
  • Apply ‘language teaching methods that allow teachers to support second language acquisition and learning among students entering a classroom with a new and unfamiliar language of instruction’.
  • ‘Provide opportunities for communities to stay apprised of and influence the policy making process, including establishing synergies between community-led efforts and formal education’.+Mendenhall, Russell and Buckner, Urban Refugee Education. See also M. Mendenhall, S. Gomez and E. Varni, ‘Teaching Amidst Conflict and Displacement: Persistent Challenges and Promising Practices for Refugee, Internally Displaced and National Teachers’, paper commissioned for UNESCO, Migration, Displacement and Education.

Coordination between sectors is crucial.+See also the section on coordination in the INEE Minimum Standards, pp. 31–34. UNHCR notes that ‘coordination between workers in the education, protection, shelter, water and sanitation, health and psychosocial sectors is important in establishing learner-friendly, safe spaces’.+UNHCR, Designing Appropriate Interventions in Urban Settings: Health, Education, Livelihoods, and Registration for Urban Refugees and Returnees (Geneva: UNHCR, 2009) (  The case study on Syrian refugee children and education in Lebanon in Box 4.17 illustrates the importance of a coordinated response between agencies and government authorities.

Box 4.17 Coordinated efforts to support Syrian refugee children in Lebanon’s schools

In Lebanon, ‘more than 221,000 Syrian refugee children aged 3–18 years enrolled in both morning and afternoon shifts during the 2017/2018 school year (of which 71 per cent in the latter shift). Around 57 per cent of refugee children in the age group 6–14 are enrolled in public school. To accommodate this increase … [the Ministry of Education and Higher Education] MEHE initially opened 376 second shift schools, of which 350 schools remain open and at capacity.

‘UNHCR focuses on community interventions identifying out-of-school children and youth, providing counseling and awareness sessions and community-based solutions for those at risk of dropping out. It has set up support activities such as homework groups led by community volunteers, increased parental engagement through parent community groups, and assigned community volunteers to second shift schools to prevent violence and refer child protection cases and children at risk of dropping out to specialized agencies/services, aiming at increased school retention.

‘In 2017, UNHCR also started assessing MEHE schools for a rehabilitation and expansion project that will increase the capacity of approximately 24 schools during 2018, and will ensure they are equipped to provide inclusive education also for children with disabilities. International funding covers both the rehabilitation and expansion of public schools and community retention activities.

‘The Education sector partners work closely together on the annual Back to School campaign. As the Ministry of Education started providing regulated non-formal education programmes targeting out-of-school children and youth as a way of (re) integrating them in certified education, the Back to School (or Back to Learning) campaign is now continuously ongoing throughout the year. In addition to its community outreach, UNHCR uses targeted SMS and Whatsapp messages to spread information widely about available education programmes’.

Source: UNHCR, Education, 2019. See:

 4.6.2 Challenges in protracted displacement settings

Challenges to accessing a quality education in protracted displacement contexts include:

  • Public systems of education in cities may already be poorly resourced and struggle to provide quality education prior to the crisis.+UNICEF, State of the World’s Children 2012.
  • Overcrowding in public schools due to absorption of refugee students.
  • Lack of teachers, in numbers and also ability.
  • Limited materials, such as books and stationery.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of refugee education may be difficult when children enrolled in schools are no longer identified as refugees.
  • Costs for uniforms, materials and travel to and from school.
  • Registration to attend school can be hampered by a lack of relevant documentation, such as IDs and past school certificates.
  • Discrimination and xenophobia in schools.+UNHCR, Missing Out.
  • Language barriers.
  • Refugee children may need PSS (see below).+INEE, Guidance Note on Psychosocial Support: Facilitating Psychosocial Wellbeing and Social and Emotional Learning (New York: Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, 2018) (
  • Costly and lengthy school reconstruction post-disaster.
  • External pressures: school-age adolescents may also be household heads.

Education may not be an economic priority for struggling families. One report notes that:

Urban residents face a higher cost of living than those in camps or rural settings; they must rely on existing social services and make ends meet among limited livelihoods opportunities. For refugees who are struggling to provide basic needs for their families, it can prove difficult to prioritize education for their children, especially in the event that school and other fees are expected for enrollment and retention. Children may also be expected to work rather than attend school. 80% of survey respondents mentioned livelihoods as a barrier to education.+Mendenhall, Russell and Buckner, Urban Refugee Education, p. 13.

Refugee communities sometimes start their own schools, but these are often unregulated and do not provide the recognised official diplomas required for access to higher education and the workforce.

4.6.3 Education in conflict

School buildings, teachers and students can be deliberately targeted in conflict; UNESCO reports that ‘In several long-running conflicts, armed groups have used attacks on school children and teachers to “punish” participation in state institutions’.+UNESCO, The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education. Education for All Global Monitoring Report (Paris: UNESCO, 2011) ( According to the Safe Schools Declaration, a ‘political instrument through which states acknowledge the full range of challenges facing education during armed conflict and make commitments to better protect students, staff, and educational facilities in war time’:

In the majority of countries affected by conflict over the past decade, fighting forces have used schools and universities for military purposes, such as for bases, barracks, weapon stores, and detention facilities. This practice can convert educational facilities into military objectives, exposing students and staff to the potentially devastating consequences of attack. More generally, the presence of armed groups or armed forces in schools impairs efforts to ensure the continuation of education during war-time.+GCPEA, The Safe Schools Declaration: A Framework for Action (New York: Global Coalition to Prevent Education from Attack, 2015) (, p. 9.

Schools can also be closed for prolonged periods and require lengthy and costly reconstruction following disaster.

For further information on the Declaration, including case study examples, see GCPEA, The Safe Schools Declaration: A Framework for Action (New York: Global Coalition to Prevent Education from Attack, 2015) (

4.6.4 Psychosocial support in education in emergencies

The INEE advocates for the inclusion of PSS in education settings+INEE, Guidance Note on Psychosocial Support, p. 9. for the following reasons:

  • ‘Education can offer a stable routine and structure and support a sense of normality, all factors that can support children and youth in healing and developing resilience.
  • Learning spaces provide opportunities for friendship, as well as peer and adult support. These interpersonal skills and relational supports are essential for a healthy social ecology, psychosocial wellbeing, and longer-term resilience.
  • Learning spaces unite the wider community and strengthen the relational supports available for vulnerable children. Activities that engage parents, community leaders, and education authorities are critical in this regard and may also enhance social cohesion.
  • Education settings are ideal for structured play activities that help children learn, recover from distressing experiences and develop social and emotional skills.
  • Social-emotional learning supports the development of social and emotional competencies that strengthen academic performance and improve children’s ability to navigate adversity.’

For further information see INEE, Guidance Note on Psychosocial Support: Facilitating Psychosocial Wellbeing and Social and Emotional Learning (New York: Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, 2018) ( See also the INEE toolkit on PSS at

Useful resources

INEE thematic areas:

IASC Education Cluster:

INEE and the IASC Education Cluster training and capacity development materials:

INEE, Training Pack for Primary School Teachers in Crisis Contexts:

UNESCO, Migration, Displacement and Education: Building Bridges, Not Walls, Global Education Monitoring Report (Paris: UNESCO, 2018) (