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Teacher management in refugee settings

Teachers are the key to success in any education system. In refugee settings, the role of teachers is particularly significant, as they can provide crucial continuity and socio-emotional support. They are sometimes the only educational resource available to students. Yet little is known about who are the teachers working in refugee-hosting communities. How are they recruited, trained and supported? IIEP-UNESCO and Education Development Trust are working together to provide research-informed policy recommendations for better management of teachers working with refugee children.

Nearly 80 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced. This unprecedented figure includes 26 million refugees, over half of whom are under 18 years of age. For the education systems involved, the challenges are immense, including with regard to teachers. Often belonging to the affected communities themselves, they are exposed to social, health, and financial insecurity – and have limited professional opportunities.

This programme is being conducted in refugee hosting areas in several countries in East Africa and the Middle East.


Why research teachers working in refugee settings?

Barely 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 crisis, but also because teachers are rights-holders themselves as members of affected communities and potentially powerful agents of positive policy reform.

While there is a promising environment that encourages the integration of refugee children into education systems, policies regarding their teachers are not always clearly defined. In collaboration with governments and other partners, IIEP develops research-informed policy recommendations for effective teacher management in refugee settings.

Leonora MacEwen – Programme specialist at IIEP-UNESCO


A ‘whole society approach’

Policy solutions need to pay attention to the dynamics and context of the displacement crisis, focusing on teachers in refugee settings rather than teachers of refugees. Not only is the displacement crisis dynamic, with receiving countries becoming sending countries and vice versa, but the threat of the current climate crisis will likely lead to new displacement crises in the coming years. Further, sometimes host communities are more vulnerable than refugee communities are, especially if they reside in remote locations, or come from a nomadic population. This emphasizes the need for a whole-society approach, championed by advocates for the global Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and Global Compact for Refugees of the United Nations.

This research seeks to support UNESCO Member States in responding to the call set out in the Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4 "to ensure that teachers (…) are empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems."

Research question about teachers in refugee settings

This programme aims to:

  • build an understanding of who is teaching at the primary-level in refugee settings and how they are managed.
  • work with governments and partners to develop research-informed policy guidance on effective teacher management in refugee settings.

→ Research question:
What promising policies and practices exist for the management of primary teachers in refugee settings, and where are there potential areas for further policy development?


Our methodology & research areas

Developed over several years, this programme is collaborative and iterative. It is based on a mixed-methods approach to research, including:

  • Surveys and focus groups of teachers working with refugees,
  • Semi-structured interviews with UN representatives, government officials, and members of the education community in each country studied, at regional, local or school levels,
  • Analyses of existing data and regulatory documents.

This research covers four countries and includes case study reports and policy briefs for each of them:


A short film 'We teach here' shares the lives of three South Sudanese primary school teachers working in refugee camps in the Gambella region of Ethiopia. Using phone cameras to film themselves, the teachers share their stories and the essential role they play in shaping the future of young refugees, under challenging and fast-changing circumstances.

How will our research help IIEP's audiences and partners?

Technical support
This research contributes to strengthening IIEP's expertise in crisis-sensitive educational planning.

By providing new knowledge on the profile and management of teachers in contexts of crisis and displacement, this research will also contribute to raising awareness among decision-makers in ministries responsible for education and/or refugees about good teacher management practices in host communities and, more generally, to ensuring quality education in refugee settings.

This research is intended to contribute to the improvement of cognitive and non-cognitive educational outcomes in refugee-hosting areas through better teacher management and planning. Conducted in collaboration with Education Development Trust, with the support of the Ministries of Education, UN agencies, and other partners in the countries studied, this programme is financially supported by:
- UNICEF Ethiopia,
- Dubai Cares,
- European Commission’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (EU-FPI),
- Open Society Foundations Education Support Program (OSF).

Research partners to date include McCourt School of Public Policy, PRIN International, IPSOS Kenya, Integrated International, and Research PLUS.

This research project specifically addresses IIEP's Priority No. 3 for the period 2018-2021.

Learn more about IIEP's 2018-2021 strategy.


Our documents and publications

Explore our work related to the programme Teacher Management in Refugee Settings.

Literature review

Final reports

Case studies

Policy briefs