Teaching refugees in Uganda


Teaching refugees against all odds in Uganda

It’s 6am in Nakivale, Uganda. The sun is rising over the foggy fields and birds fly over the dusty roads. Andrew Safari is just getting up. He’ll feed his goats and get his motorcycle ready for the 40-kilometre journey to school.

Andrew is a teacher at Kashojwa primary school in a refugee settlement. He is also the Director of Studies and supervises all the teachers, both local teachers from Uganda like himself, and a smaller group of refugee teachers. Once he arrives at school, he brushes off all the dust he collected on his journey.

Once in the classroom, he confronts some of his day-to-day challenges. There are many pupils – 5,000 for only 54 teachers. “The enrollment is too high,” he says. Another challenge is the mixed ages of the students, some are adults even with children of their own. Many languages are spoken and there can be cultural barriers in the classroom.

Many of the teachers like him live far from the school. There are not enough on-site accommodations for everyone and sometimes, he says teachers will sleep in the classrooms.

“Despite the difficulties, I feel very passionate about teaching at a refugee school,” Andrew says. “In my experience refugees are focused and serious, learn fast in class because of the challenges they have gone through. I enjoy teaching them because there is never a dull moment.” 

Andrew’s story is part of the film series We Teach Here, produced by IIEP-UNESCO and Education Development Trust and with the support from Dubai Cares. Sharing stories like Andrew’s, as well as other teachers of refugees in Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia, gives an inside look at how teachers transform the lives of their students, themselves, and their communities.

The film also introduces Leticia Ainembabazi, who shares how she found ways to keep students learning during a long COVID-19 lockdown in Uganda. She would go door-to-door, fetching learners to teach them outdoors under the shade of a mango tree.

Teaching refugees in  Uganda

Joel Dieudonné Kikalage, a highly educated teacher in mathematics and physics originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, also shares his story. He is trying to advance in his career despite not having the right working papers as a refugee in Uganda.

“I just love to teach,” Joel says. “Knowledge is so important, and my wish is to help knowledge grow among the learners so they can build their lives just like me.”

He speaks the multiple languages heard in the settlement – Kiswahili, Lingala, Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, and others – which helps him communicate with learners from many different backgrounds. He also started an adult training centre where he teaches English. 

Teaching refugees in  Uganda

Why pay attention to teachers of refugees?

Globally, only about two thirds of refugee children are enrolled in primary school. Most of them will spend their entire childhood in exile. Responding to their educational needs will require innovative policy solutions that put teachers at the centre, not only because teachers are essential in ensuring that learning continues during a crisis, but also because teachers are rights-holders themselves as members of affected communities and potentially powerful agents of positive policy reform.

While many steps are being taken to encourage the integration of refugee children into education systems, there is less clarity on policies for their teachers. This is why IIEP-UNESCO and partners are developing research-informed policy recommendations for effective teacher management in refugee settings in East Africa.

By understanding best policy options, these vital teachers can be sufficiently supported and nurtured as they accompany their students on their learning journey.

The films are produced by Education Development Trust and the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning with funding from Dubai Cares, through their Evidence for Education in Emergencies (E-Cubed) Research Fund, managed in partnership with the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE).