The Refugee Education Integration Policy (REIP)
The project in brief
The project is implemented by UNHCR in Iraq. It was endorsed in July 2022 by the Minister of Education, KRI and implemented in September 2022. The REIP will be gradually implemented during the next 4 academic years.
At the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the Ministry of Education (MoE) of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) set-up and managed a parallel refugee education system: a KRI curriculum and learning materials, but taught in Arabic by Syrian refugee teachers in refugee schools. This has changed in 2022 following the implementation of the REIP, which aims to provide inclusive access to education for refugee children in KRI in the local language (Kurdish).
It was endorsed in July 2022 by the Minister of Education, KRI and implemented in September 2022. The REIP will be gradually implemented during the next 4 academic years.
This has contributed to the realization of Sustainable Development Goal 4, which recognizes that education is critical to build self-reliance and resilience for refugee and host community children and youth.
The Refugee Education Integration Policy formalizes the integration of Syrian refugee children into the KRI public education system. The implementation of the REIP aims to provide and enhance access to inclusive and quality education for refugee children, increase resilience of refugees and improve the social cohesion between refugees and host communities, including being able to communicate in the same language.
Different elements facilitated the implementation of the REIP.
First, the Policy has been endorsed by the MoE and the Kurdistan Regional Governement Council of Ministers and its implementation was officially announced by the Minister of Education of KRI who stated that all refugee camps and urban schools officially became Kurdistan Regional Governement (KRG) public schools. Having an official integration policy eased the inclusion of refugees in KRG public systems.
UNHCR and education partners enhanced communication (CwC) and messaging on the REIP and social cohesion with the community through awareness campaigns, focus group discussion, door to door visit and different channels of communication (WhatsApp group, Facebook, Twitter). Since the beginning of the process, the communities have been consulted through FGDs, survey, interviews to allow them to express themselves and share their opinions about the inclusion of refugee children into the public education system. Discussions and consultations have taken place at different levels and with different stakeholders - refugees and host community children, parents and teachers, school administration, also local authorities, education partners and the MoE. The community engagement was essential to ensure the acceptance of the REIP by refugees and the local community, and to advance social cohesion through the inclusion of refugees into the public system. Otherwise, this could have exacerbated some discrimination, stigmatization and conflict between refugees and host communities’ children in school.
In coordination with the MoE, UNICEF and education partners, this year the back-to-school campaign included more messaging on the REIP and targeted refugee children. The first findings of the REIP implementation show that the CwC efforts contributed to the increase in enrollment of refugee children in KRI public schools. However, some refugee parents and teachers explained that even with the REIP, some school principals refused to enroll refugee children in public schools because of the lack of space. This highlights the importance of the need of infrastructure, the construction of new schools, the expansion of existing schools with additional classrooms and rehabilitation of WASH facilities. The switch from Arabic to Kurdish was highlighted by all as a challenge. The provision of Kurdish Language Courses (KLC) to refugee children and parents reduced the community fear and eased children’s comprehension of the new instruction language, in addition to catch-up and remedial classes already provided. Refugee teachers and school principals also received KLC and training to build and strengthen their capacity to deliver quality education to integrated classrooms.
Main activities of the Good Practice
UNHCR supports the Kurdistan Regional Government to implement the REIP to ensure that refugee and asylum seeker children in grades one to four have access to quality education on an equal basis as host community children through different activities. The Communication with Communities (CwC) and mass media communication were essential to sensitize the community about the benefit of the REIP and its full engagement. Both streams of communication contributed to the effective implementation of the REIP and to bring back more children to school. Since the announcement of the REIP’s launch, many refugee teachers complained about losing their jobs as the Kurdistan Regional Governement did not recognize their qualifications/experience. However, the MoE recruited 393 refugee teachers and offered them a lecturer contract. They all have been included in several training and capacity building sessions together with Iraqi teachers to improve their methods of teaching to ensure quality education, in addition to KLC. In fact, the shift of the language of instruction from Arabic to Kurdish has been challenging not only for refugee teachers and children, but also for parents who complained to not be able to support their children’s learning, some parents initially cited this as a reason to not enroll their children in school. UNHCR in close coordination with the Directorates of Education (DoE) and communities supported the provision of KLC for parents too. UNHCR is also supporting school construction and rehabilitation in addition to the distribution of teaching and learning materials selected in consultations with the schools and approved by the DoE in different governorates. The coordination mechanism within the education sector has been enhanced with subsequent meetings and communication about the REIP.
What challenges were encountered in delivering the project and how were they overcome?
At the early stage of the REIP implementation, a lot of resistance and resentment was received from the community. The community had concerns about the impact of the recognition of the Kurdish curriculum in the event they return to Syria as it would not be recognized, unlike Arabic education. As a result, some families transferred their children to schools administered by the Federal Government, in disputed areas, and in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps which offer the Arabic curriculum. In some locations, parents considered protesting against the implementation of REIP and did escalate their concerns at the ministerial level. Refugee children, as well as teachers with no experience in teaching in Kurdish struggled in understanding and communicating, especially in subjects such as Mathematics and Science. Parents struggled to monitor and support their children initially as well. In fact, the comprehension of the new instruction language was a real challenge for refugee children and parents in the KRI.
How they were overcome
Sensitizing the community was prioritized all CwC channels possible, highlighting the positive in particular the long term impact of the REIP. Continuous messaging through different forums, partners, and discussions was conducted with benefits and risks of not sending children to school or Arabic schools clearly articulated, without causing any panic.
Continuous field monitoring of affected schools, and community consultations were conducted, in order to better understand refugee concerns and to help feed into preparation of actions to address such concerns e.g., dispelling false rumours, clarifying policies, extending support for refugee teachers and children, and adapting programming on provision of Kurdish Language Classes. For instance, in response to families transferring their children to Federal-Government-administered schools, key messages explaining the potential impact of such transfers was shared with the communities promptly noting the risks of taking such action (e.g. temporary nature of schools in IDP camps, complicated process of recognition of school certificates issued by the Federal-government-administered by the KRG, implication on pursuing higher education in the KRI, etc.). This helped the communities to take well informed decisions.
Community self-governance structures also played an important part in community sensitization on the REIP, supporting the community to appreciate the positive aspects of the REIP and demystify rumours. For instance, in Gawilan Refugee Camp – Dohuk Governorate, the school headmaster, who is also the Deputy Chairperson of Refugee Welfare Committee, initiated awareness sessions with communities through different means such as theatre shows during the World Child Day, and organizing Kurdish classes for parents to be able to support their children in Kurdish. Her initiatives were very well received by the communities and concretely led to the reception of REIP in Gawilan as largely positive soon after the roll out.
Results of the Good Practice
As result the project improved employment opportunities for Syrian refugee teachers. The REIP has an impact on the contracts of the teachers who were formalized and were, as a result of continued advocacy, employed by the MoE as lecturers. Previously Syrian refugee teachers could only be hired as incentive workers. Since REIP implementation, 393 Syrian teachers have been employed by MoE. The REIP has thus resulted in a notable improvement in refugee teachers’ employment status, and opportunities.
As all school curricula have been streamlined, refugee students are now able to attend any public school which is close to their locality, as the curriculum is the same in every school and not different between host community or refugee schools. The REIP investment has also improved to lessen the transportation burden of refugee parents.
Enhanced access to quality education to refugees. Following the roll-out of the REIP, enrolment in schools increased for grades 1-4 (pre-REIP: 52% of refugee students enrolled in public education system and 62% in post-REIP).
While the REIP was rolled out for grades 1-4, the long-term impact will result in improved likelihood of refugees being able to engage and participate at par with the host community in the course of their stay in KRI. They will be able to actively participate in opportunities for, higher education and future self-reliance opportunities. Such education will likely reduce obvious cultural markers e.g., in communication and thereby reduce discrimination, and bring communities even closer. As education inequalities are typically embedded early on in children’s education, the rollout of the REIP as early as grade 1 will have long term benefits for the Syrian refugee community.
In what way does the good practice meet one or more of the four objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees?
Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries
The implementation of the REIP is minimizing disruptive, costly, temporary measures necessary to sustain parallel schooling for refugee children in KRI. The REIP increases access to quality and inclusive education for all refugee and asylum seeker children in KRI, includes equal and sustainable access to formal and non-formal education for refugee children, adolescents, and youth through school rehabilitation and construction to welcome new students and reduce overcrowding. In addition to infrastructure support, UNHCR and partners are supporting strengthening of the education system capacity through training and capacity building for teachers, engagement of parents and provision of school materials; and, further investment in local communities to ease the pressures on host countries.
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
The inclusion of refugee children into the public education system promotes self-reliance among refugees by ensuring they acquire the essential life skills that can enable them to become autonomous members of Kurdish society. The REIP will facilitate access to secondary and tertiary education, vocational training, and formal employment for refugee children. In fact, children who complete primary education in KRI have a recognized certification that can lead to secondary and other post-primary educational opportunities as well as access to tertiary education, vocational training, and livelihood opportunities. The education (and the REIP) will enhance access to job opportunity and sustainable employment for refugees that ensure greater self-reliance.
UNHCR and education partners are advocating with the MoE for the full integration of the REIP which will include all refugees and asylum seeker children into the public education system of the Kurdistan Regional Government and contribute to ensuring quality and inclusive education with more learning opportunities for all basic and secondary school children from grades 5 to 9, across the KRI from the 2023-24 academic year.
Are there areas in which support would be required to continue and/or scale up your good practice?
Integration of refugees and asylum seeker children to quality and inclusive education in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq requires more support. Improving school infrastructure (construction of new and rehabilitation of existing facilities) will reduce numbers of out-of-school children and enroll more refugee children in schools.