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FEATURE STORYFebruary 8, 2024

Djibouti: Giving Refugee Children a Chance to Go to School

Maria Abdi Mohammed, Somali refugee in Djibouti

Maria Abdi Mohammed,13, Somali refugee in Djibouti. 

GPE/Federico Scoppa


  • Djibouti is home to some 35,000 people in emergency situations, including over 23,000 refugees and 11,000 asylum seekers, mainly from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen, nearly 40% of whom are school-age children.
  • To support the government to ensure inclusion of refugee children in the national education system, the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education are supporting the $30.35 million Expanding Opportunities for Learning Project.
  • The program also helps strengthen the management capacities of the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training.

This story was published in its original version by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) on December 14, 2023.

It's 6:50 Monday morning. Maria Abdi Mohammed is getting ready for school. "My favorite subjects are English and science, and I'm one of the best students in my class," she says with a smile, checking the books in her schoolbag, which she quickly puts on her back.

"I've got to hurry. I don't want to be late," she adds, before saying a quick goodbye to her mom and little brother.

Like all the students at her school, Maria is a refugee. Her family left Somalia for Djibouti during the conflict in 2008.

"To get here, my family walked for days and nights, sometimes without rest and even in the rain," she says, with a sad look on her face.

The Kulmiye College she attends is in the refugee village of Ali Addeh, in the south of Djibouti. It is one of 15 refugee schools in the country.

Nearly 40% of refugees are school-age children. Djibouti has adopted a law that gives refugees the rights to a life equivalent to that of citizens.
H.E. Moustapha Mohamed Mahamoud Minister of National Education and Vocational Training
H.E. Moustapha Mohamed Mahamoud
Minister of National Education and Vocational Training
Aerial view of Kulmiye College in Ali Adde refugee village.

Aerial view of Kulmiye College in Ali Adde refugee village, Djibouti.

GPE/Federico Scoppa

Located in the Horn of Africa and surrounded by countries that have recently experienced crises, Djibouti has become, over the years, both a land of transit and a host country for many of those who have left neighboring countries in search of a peace haven.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Djibouti is home to some 35,000 people in emergency situations, including over 23,000 refugees and 11,000 asylum seekers, residing in the refugee villages of Ali Addeh (49%), Holl Holl (23%), Djibouti City (20%) and Markazi (8%).

These people are mainly from Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen.

Protecting children's right to education, like Maria's, is essential for the country, but comes with its own set of challenges.

Protecting refugee children's right to education

To support the government's efforts to ensure access to education for refugee children, the International Development Association (the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries), GPE, and partners, including Education Above All, are supporting the Expanding Opportunities for Learning Project.

With funding of $30.35 million (including $18 million from IDA), the program aims to increase equitable access to basic education, improve teaching practices and strengthen the education ministry’s management capacities.

The program also plans to expand access to primary and secondary education and improve retention of vulnerable populations, notably refugees.

The project enables refugee children like her to pursue their education with peace of mind and look forward to a brighter future.

Implementing a single curriculum

Previously managed by UNHCR, in partnership with NGOs from 2009 to 2016, the responsibility of managing refugee camps was transferred to the government in 2017, following the approval of the Djibouti Declaration on Refugee Education by the member countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which includes Djibouti.

Until 2016, the curriculum taught in refugee schools was different from the national curriculum. In Ali Addeh, for example, the Kenyan curriculum was being taught.

This transition is a significant change in the way refugee children's education is handled in Djibouti, with the support of the Expanding Opportunities for Learning Project.

Refugee children, like Maria, follow the same curriculum as young Djiboutians of the same age and education level.

Except for the refugee village of Markazi, where teaching is done in Arabic (English and French are taught as foreign languages), the choice of English as the teaching language is justified, on the one hand, by the fact that most refugees come from English-speaking countries (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya).

On the other hand, it is also "... because we hoped that if these young people were to return to their country of origin, they would be able to better integrate into the job market," states the Minister of Education.

Improving teaching practices for better learning outcomes

The project has supported specialized training for teachers working in refugee schools.

To facilitate teaching of the national curriculum in these schools, the project financed the printing of revised materials (textbooks, guides, school booklets) and the translation of textbooks and curriculum.

Despite the efforts of the government and its partners, difficulties persist. The need for school infrastructure, for example, remains significant.

Added to this is the difficulty of some refugee children in integrating into their new environment and in understanding the language of instruction, for those coming from countries where English was not the language of instruction.

Undoubtedly, the government's commitment to integrating refugee children like her into the national system will contribute to Djibouti's development and influence.

The World Bank and GPE, in collaboration with partners, will continue to assist Djibouti in its journey towards transforming its education system, to ensure that all children, whether refugees or not, can fully exercise their right to a quality education.


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