Best Practices for Running Schools in Refugee Camps

Special Focus : Opportunity and Resilience in the Face of Displacement
Access and Inclusion November 17, 2016

The disruption of education for Syrian children has been one of the worst consequences of the six- year conflict. Years of schooling lost directly correlate to poorer employment prospects and increased social disadvantages in years to come.

The Jusoor program is one of a few NGO initiatives that directly address this huge need by providing non-formal education to Out of School Syrian children, to familiarise them with the Lebanese curriculum, and learn enough English to be able to be placed in the appropriate grade in Lebanese schools. Teaching in emergency situations is different from teaching in formal schools. Therefore, we try to hire teachers who have had some training or experience in emergency education. The most effective way to reach out to teachers is to spread news among the targeted community. 

Using trained Syrian teachers, a sequenced language program and child-centred learning methods, Jusoor is able to educate nearly 1300 students a year in its 3 schools. Remedial help is provided for children struggling to make up for the years of school they have missed. Jusoor invests in training its teachers so that they are able to provide the best practices in education for the refugee students. News of our training spread throughout the local NGOs that are working on education for Syrian refugees. As a result, Jusoor was asked to run similar workshops for other NGOs. In this article, I will share on the best practices we follow to set up schools in refugee camps.

Before starting an education program in a refugee camp, we conduct a needs analysis to gather appropriate information that guides us in identifying age groups of the children, location, and curriculum for the school. This is carried out through interviews with parents of refugee children, the children themselves, the community, principals and teachers. Data is collected from areas that host a large amount of refugee population.  The best way to get access to such information is to check the UNHCR mapping of refugees.

After analysing the data, a steering committee is formed in order to establish goals, purposes, age groups, and curriculum content of the program. The steering committee is usually comprised of a finance specialist, an educationist, a member of the community, a psychologist, a health specialist, and a lawyer. The reason behind the diversity of the steering committee is to cover all aspects of the program that might arise such as legal issues, accreditation, curriculum modification, psychosocial wellbeing, maintenance, communication with local authorities, and fundraising.

It is recommended for the steering committee to include an education sub-committee, which will be in charge of the educational program of the school.

Once a needs analysis has been conducted, a plan of action that includes the timeframe, a number of students, a number of teachers, curriculum to be followed, goals and values of the schools, roles and responsibilities of staff members, evaluation and student assessments, as well as financial needs is written. 

One of the key factors we consider is getting a suitable location. It is important for the location be in an area that hosts a large number of refugee families to enable of easy access of students to schools. The building of the school does not have to be designed as a normal school setting; it could be a house, a tent, a shed, or an old factory.

Nonetheless, there are basic needs that have to be available. The number of classrooms should be in accordance with the number of students, and the size of the classrooms have to be big enough to accommodate no more than 25 students giving enough room for movement and activities. Bathrooms (preferably Arabic bathrooms) with running water, sufficient lighting for teachers’ room and if possible a multi-purpose area that could be used as a library, or for one to one teaching as well as enough boards to display student activities are also necessary.

The next step is usually hiring personnel for the school. Before doing this, the educational sub-committee decides on whether they want to run a homeroom teacher based school or a subject-room based school. When making this decision, we consider the targeted age group, as it is preferable for younger age groups for example, to have homeroom teachers.

Each school has a principal and a supervisor. The principal has to be empowered enough to make decisions on the day-to-day running of the school. Another essential person to hire is a counsellor because most refugee children have suffered from trauma and need help to cope with the emotional and psychological well-being. For NGOs that have schools in more than one location, an experienced academic director is needed in order to observe and implement changes during the course of the year.

Once the teachers have been hired, training begins immediately before the school starts. When designing the schedule the age group of students is taken into consideration. At Jusoor educational centre, we run two shifts for the following reasons;

1.    To accommodate as many students as possible.

2.    To give working students a chance to receive education. (i.e. some students work in the morning so they can attend the afternoon shift).

3.     To accommodate kindergarten students in the morning shift so that they do not have to come to school in the afternoon, as it is tiring for them.

4.     To accommodate students who are living in far areas from the school in the afternoon shift, as they do not need to get up very early.

Delivering education to refugees is an important task that is not always easy. It is therefore important to take necessary step in setting up the schools.