By Eric Gustave Bizimana
The data collection in Voices of Refugee Youth project was conducted by Youth Researchers and had the purpose of assessing the impact of post-primary education on young refugees. My blog is going to talk about some of the highlights from my analysis of Data Point 1 (DP1). The research is an ongoing longitudinal study using a mixed-method approach. The participants are refugee students in their last year of senior secondary education (Class 12) or higher education (final year bachelors). The data collection for DP1 in Rwanda was done from January to February 2020. My data collection was conducted at a secondary school called Groupe Scolaire Paysannat L located near Mahama Refugee Camp. Approximately, 24,000 students were enrolled at Groupe Scolaire Paysannat L. It has been ranked by the Rwanda Education Board in 2019 as the most overcrowded school in Rwanda. The school is located in Kirehe district, Eastern province of Rwanda.
Based on my experience of collecting data with refugee youth, I think that the issue of having a difficult life at home in the camp may play a significant role in determining students’ success or failure at secondary school.
During data collection for the Voices of Refugee Youth project, I had discussions with secondary school students, teachers, parents and refugee camp representatives about some issues that young refugee students are facing and their answers were diverging. Some of them argued that issues emanating from social welfare conditions have no effect on students’ performance, while others argue that these issues significantly and directly impact on refugee families and indirectly on students’ performance.
One of my respondents, a young boy aged of 20 years old, gave me a very sad story. On the day of data collection, he came to school after having passed two days without something to eat at home. He counted on the lunch they got at school because at home, he has nothing to eat. This was a common problem to all the students I spoke to who live alone (singles or unaccompanied children) because they only get a small amount of money from UNHCR for a whole month. As the life is so expensive in our host country, it is impossible to manage this small amount for a whole month.
Consequently, I think that these life conditions affect students’ school performance. Some of my survey respondents told me they drop out of their studies and go to look for something to eat. For young girls, the lack of basic needs during their puberty age is one of the causes of misbehaviour which result in unwanted or teenage pregnancies, early marriage and sexual activities resulting in the abandonment of studies.
But, in a bid to keep these teen mothers in school, Groupe Scolaire Paysannat L welcomes them and gives them time to nurse and take care of their babies alongside their studies. Moreover, the majority of the respondents agreed that studying conditions that affect students could be made better.
In conclusion, the objective of this ongoing research is to explore the impact of post-primary education for young refugees. DP1 has revealed that refugee students face a big number of challenges during their studies and even after completing secondary schools. Students seem to be losing hope in their studies as they see their former high school leavers still unemployed or without scholarship opportunities to join vocational or university education.
As for recommendations, participants suggested that, in order to address the issues faced by refugee students and youth who have completed senior secondary education, the Ministry in charge of refugees and UNHCR should encourage and support NGOs to initiate youth livelihood activities. This could support those who have completed secondary school, reinforce advocacy to get more tertiary education scholarships, and support the integration of refugee students into higher education.