Improving Access to Primary Education for Children in Refugee Camps: Sylvana Story

Thursday 26 March 2020





Sylvana, 13, is a Burundian girl currently living with her parents and younger brother in Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania. “When I was in Burundi. I would see other children go to school while I had to stay at home because my father could not afford to buy me a pair of shoes. Despite all the challenges I wanted to go to school.” Sylvana narrates.

From 2015, close to 400,000 Burundian refugees fled their country due to disputed elections and extreme food insecurity seeking place of safety in the north west of Tanzania and other neighboring countries. This sudden and massive influx of refugees made it very difficult for aid and civil society organizations to meet the basic needs of the population, including the provision of education services.

Like many other children who fled to Nyarugusu, Sylvana had never been to school before. This makes it more challenging for them to directly join formal schooling in Nyarugusu run by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). These children need a bridging mechanism, a non-formal school or learning centre that can help them transition to formal education and later access more education opportunities.

“There are many children in the camp who are over school age yet they never went to school and now they cannot start formal education [following the official Burundian curriculum],” says Nathanael, head teacher at the IRC’s Uwezo primary school in Nyarugusu camp.

Sylvana is among several children in Nyarugusu who are now benefiting from an accelerated non-formal education system in the camp. The initiative is a partnership between Save the Children and the IRC. Save the Children identifies children who have never had access to formal education in the camp and supports them to access non-formal education through established centers. The education system is accelerated and takes only two years. Once these children display the minimum competency required to join formal schooling, which is administered through examinations, they are transitioned into one of the IRC’s formal schools, and placed at the appropriate grade level so that they can continue accessing regular educational opportunities.

Sylvana is now a Grade 2 student in the IRC’s Uwezo primary school, having successfully passed through Save the Children’s Ushindi non-formal learning centre. “I am very happy that I am going to school now! I like that I get to meet other children, we learn together and play different games together,” says Sylvana.

Her desire to learn is very evident. When asked what makes her happy, Sylvana is clear in her answer. “I feel very happy when I am at school and when I understand things that the teacher teaches us”.

 Sylvana is in fact so driven to learn and excel in her academics that she purposefully chose to stay in Grade 2 when she transitioned from Save the Children’s non-formal learning centre to the IRC school even though she was qualified to go directly to Grade 3.

“In my many years of teaching, I have never met a child who wants to repeat a grade but Sylvana herself requested to remain in Grade 2 so that she could improve some of her weak areas and perform well,” explains Nathanael. He added that accessing formal education can have an incredible impact on a child’s life. It helps to develop their cognitive mind and expand their knowledge and understanding on a number of issues. As a result, their capacity to plan and create their future becomes greater. “Now that Sylvana has made it to our school, her future looks bright. She is in fact a very dedicated student aspiring to become a president.

Children like Sylvana would not be able to access formal schooling without EU Humanitarian Aid, which supports the International Rescue Committee, Plan International and Save the Children to provide educational opportunities to Burundian refugees in Nyarugusu.