African teacher unions plan strategies to ensure refugees’ education

published 13 September 2017 updated 6 December 2021

Education International’s General Secretary has reaffirmed the need for education unions, in Africa and the world over, to continue efforts towards the achievement of the refugees’ right to access quality education.

“What brings us together here in Addis is our deep concern about the fate of forcibly displaced children,” and discuss “how to realise the right to quality education for perhaps the most vulnerable among the most marginalised,” noted Education International (EI) General Secretary in his opening remarks at the EI Africa Region Workshop on Refugee Education held from 13-15 September in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The very soul of the teaching profession, he reminded, is “the desire to build equity in the classroom, in the school, and yes, in society at large”.

He also explained that this workshop will build on the conclusions of last year’s conference in Stockholm, Sweden, which addressed ways to meet the educational needs of refugee children and to assist teachers and education unions to help meet those needs.

Education International, he said, is worried about the ever growing numbers of forced migrants, about their suffering, about the living hell that they have experienced, and about their ordeals and trauma. In the face of this unprecedented human tragedy, the global union federation is “disturbed by the reluctance of governments to respect international conventions and to address the root causes of forced migration”.

Noting that, from the day of its creation, EI has been in the forefront of the global struggle for quality education for all and equal opportunities, reaching out to the most marginalised, van Leeuwen acknowledged progress done and stressed that in 2015, the UN decided that there must be free primary and secondary education for all children by 2030. In that same year, the UN Refugee and Migrant Summit promised that member states would guarantee access to education of all forcibly displaced children within their national borders.

Top African education leaders explore ways to ensure access of refugee and forcibly displaced children to education

The main purpose of the Addis Ababa’ workshop, van Leeuwen insisted, is to explore ways to ensure access of refugee and forcibly displaced children to education, to our national school systems, and to enable refugee teachers to teach and discuss professional challenges at school and classroom levels.

Highlighting that the schooling of children of forced migrants, documented or not, is a joint responsibility of government, civil society, parents, students, organised labour and the teaching profession, he went on to clarify that, although the number of refugees in Western countries is the largest in many decades, most refugees are not found in Europe and North America, but in developing countries, i.e. some 88 % of  the 65.3 million forcibly displaced persons.

Recognising that countries in Africa bear the burden of refugees and internally displaced peoples, van Leeuwen qualified the workshop “a political statement”: “We must continue exposing the failure of our governments to deal with the root causes of mass movements of persons fleeing their homelands. It is impossible to watch the horrible, brutal events in the conflict areas on this continent without yearning for the political will to address those conflicts. We are seeing a deadly combination of doing little to resolve conflicts combined with not wanting to accept those who are running for their lives.”

Education unions must stick to their core values

It is crucial, the EI leader said, that education unions of Africa and of the world stick to their core values, and stand up for the right to education of the most marginalised, because “education is not the only solution, but there is no solution without education”.

He also reminded that teaching unions’ role in Africa is and the world over is to: remind governments of their responsibility to guarantee the right to education for all children and youth, including forced migrants; ensure better education facilities in refugee camps; assist members, classroom teachers, and parents, to welcome children in the classrooms and schools of our regular school systems; and provide educators with professional development on this issue.

Education International, van Leeuwen insisted, will support its member organisation with their advocacy work in the international community, and will also try to obtain funding for programs which trade unions may wish to undertake in favour of refugees.

The 50 African education leaders will go on exploring ways of mitigating the negative impact of the refugee status during the workshop, discussing ways on how education unions can work within their own structures and with other stakeholders and government and intergovernmental agencies to overcome education  challenges facing refugees, promoting the rights to teach of refugee teachers and education support personnel in host countries, and providing professional development to education personnel working with refugees and displaced population.

Please click here to go to the EI's Migrant Teacher Rights Portal.