My perspective on education and employment opportunities for refugees

My perspective on education and employment opportunities for refugees

By Christophe Irakoze

One aim of education, as stated in Rwanda’s Education Sector Policy, is “to combat ignorance and illiteracy and to provide human resources useful for the socio-economic development of Rwanda through the education system” (Mineduc Rwanda, 2003). This aim helps us to evaluate the outcomes of education for refugees in Rwanda, specifically in relation to their employment opportunities.

In my community, all children at the age of attending primary school (three years old and above) have access to learning, but the highest level of education for many young refugees is secondary school. After secondary school, the biggest challenge that these graduates face is the lack of financial resources to pay the university fees including a lack of scholarship opportunities that can allow them to continue their studies in Higher Education or undertake technical-vocational courses. Currently, a small number of refugees in my community get scholarships from Maison ShalomDAFI-UNHCRKepler, and Davis College every year. Others participate in manual work to gain some money to cover their daily expenses because the certificate that they get after secondary school is not competitive in the job market.

In my experience, the lack of employment for these secondary school graduates is mostly caused by the lack of technical skills. This is because most of the secondary graduates participate in General Education instead of Technical Vocational Education, also known as TVET. To quote Kendric Charles Babcock (1920) in the book “Education, Technical”, he stated that “Vocational education is education that prepares people for a specific trade. It directly develops expertise in techniques related to technology, skill, and scientific technique to span all aspects of the trade, whereas General education refers to academic introduction to the university. It exposes students to the fundamental ideas and intellectual activities that scholars in the arts, the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences draw on in their work”.

Currently, in Rwanda, most job opportunities require technical skills which make young refugees unable to compete with Rwandans on the job market. The lack of these skills or financial support prevents them from starting their own businesses such as welding, sewing, electronic repair workshops, participating in construction, or starting their small shops.

One of the secondary school graduates from Mahama camp whom I interviewed as part of the Voices of Refugee Youth study told me that he want to continue his studies at university because after university he can get a good job. He insisted that in his community, his elders who stopped their studies at secondary school level are jobless. He further stated that even if he wishes to study at university, he does not expect to get support or sponsorship from any organisation.

This problem is shared by many students. They are advocating for organisations like UNHCR to build TVET schools near the camps so that young refugees can have the ability to choose this opportunity. This is viewed by refugees as the most suitable option that could help them to get employed, get access to Science and Technology training or start their own businesses after graduating from secondary school.