Worlds of Education


UNATU’s experience supporting teachers in refugee areas

published 17 December 2021 updated 21 December 2021
written by:

Uganda is considered the top refugee-hosting country in Africa and one of the top five hosting countries in the world. Statistics reveal that close to 1.5 million refugees live in Uganda.

Uganda has enacted a number of laws and regulations that give refugees the right to work, move freely and also access the same social services as any other Ugandans such as health care and education. In fact, a number of refugees have over time, integrated within the Uganda communities outside the settlement camps.

However, despite the favourable host environment, refugees still grapple with a number of issues; key among these is access to quality education.

Under the BRICE project which is meant to improve the resilience of learners and teachers in targeted areas in southern Sudan and Uganda through increased enrolment rates and promotions, decrease in dropout rates and ensuring that teachers and learners are better prepared to withstand shocks, stress and uncertainties, Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU) partners with other organizations such as OXFAM, EI, FAWE, AVSI, and LHGI.

UNATU has for the past four years been working with teachers, learners and other education stakeholders in Palabek Refugee camp in Lamwo district located in Northern Uganda. Our biggest contribution has been advocacy for the issues affecting education in the refugee settlement camps within the project areas.

“As UNATU, we advocated for a one-stop centre which handles all matters concerning teacher recruitment, deployment, confirmation and discipline.”

A number of education issues have been identified such as; Access to quality education whereby some of the schools within the nearest proximity of the refugee camp are not able to accommodate the numbers and therefore some form of ‘school’ has to be established within. Such schools are usually faced with teacher shortages because very few people are willing to work under such hard conditions.

Under UNHCR, a number of Civil Society Organizations have come up to support the education process. For example, some organizations hire and pay teachers but the terms of employment differ from one organization to the other. Unfortunately, this lack of uniformity in employment has led to some teachers being exploited while others are working under precarious contracts and can be hired and fired at will. As UNATU, in order to have this issue addressed, we advocated for a one-stop centre which handles all matters concerning teacher recruitment, deployment, confirmation and discipline. This would mean that all teachers including those working in refugee camps will be recruited, deployed and paid under the same terms and conditions.

We have also mobilized teachers in the refugee areas and taken them through the Teachers Professional code of conduct as a way of ensuring that they continue to act within the provisions of the law and are well conversant with their professional responsibilities as teachers.

UNATU has also mobilized Civil Society Organizations employing teachers in the refugee settlement areas to pool resources such that the teachers they employ are all remunerated equally and work under the same terms and conditions to avoid conflict.

One of the issues that we are still grappling with is certification of qualified refugee teachers who seek employment in the host communities. These are currently not certified to teach and yet they support in terms of mother tongue language teaching. This is an advocacy issue that UNATU is seriously pursing with the relevant authorities.

Another issue noted is hostility from some of the natives who at times feel that their needs are not being met whilst the refugees are receiving all the necessary support. There is an urgent need to ensure that support given to refugees in a way also trickles down to the natives.

One of the most urgent needs for the refugees is a strategy whereby not only the host countries offer support but all governments commit resources such that the refugees are able to live worthwhile lives. It is important to remember that the refugees need to feel loved and supported to be able to overcome some of the trauma of war and other emergencies that made them flee their homeland. To be able to create such conducive environments requires a lot of money that host countries alone may not be able to offer.

It is therefore high time that the Global Compact on refugees is fully implemented. This will compel all countries to pool resources together such that when refugees settle in a particular country, all other nations pool resources together to support the work being done by the host country.


The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.