By Hannington Patrick Owere
Seated on 250 sq miles, BidiBidi Refugee Settlement is the new home for over 270,000 refugees from South Sudan. It is located in Yumbe district in West Nile. It is the largest refugee settlement in Africa. Children make up for over 61% of the population in the refugees in Uganda. These children all have a right to education just like the locals.
Uganda already struggles with its education system locally with teachers going unpaid for long periods of time and continued strikes and complaints about meager pay for most. With the coming of refugees, this further added pressure on the already pressurised education system.
The challenges of the education system existed even before the refugees. According to Yasin Abiriga, the presence of refugees in the area has however improved the status of the education. This is mainly because it has attracted NGOs like the Norwegian Refugee Council which have not only built schools like but also rehabilitated those already in existence. “Before the refugees’ arrival we were a few teachers but today we are 15 teachers” he added
According to the UNHCR report of 2019, the Office of the Prime Minister and other partners have chosen integration refugees into community schools. Whereby they have chosen to invest in already existing government schools instead of just relying on building new schools. This is to ensure there are more schools and classrooms to cater for a large number of students who are from both the host community and refugee settlers. This is because of the large teacher to student ratio
Batali Eli Elisa headteacher of Ambyer Primary School narrated the challenges faced by schools in the settlement some which include inadequate instructional material and the overwhelming number of students.
The school going children in Bidi Bidi have only six secondary schools in the settlement backed by the long walking distances to school. The children are also tempted into the use of drugs and cinema halls has deterred some from attending school. According to Damian Taban, the cluster chairperson of cluster three in zone three they have banned cinema halls for young children, especially during school hours. They have as community leaders also banned the selling of drugs within the area an act common amongst the locals he further explained.
Even with the high turn up in secondary schools, there are limited opportunities for scholarship into the university for the refugees.