The outbreak of civil strife in Liberia and Sierra Leone in 1990/ 1991 led to an influx of refugees into the neighbouring country of Guinea. Almost immediately after arrival, health education programmes were started by refugees in some camps and soon there were informal schools run by the refugees. A mission from UNHCR in late 1990 found 40 schools, 250 teachers and 12,000 pupils, and numbers were increasing. Missions from the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and children, from UNICEF and from UNESCO followed, working together with representatives of the Guinean Ministry of Education.

Based on their recommendations, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) began a programme of support to refugee schooling, with funding from UNHCR and other sources. Attendance at local schools was not a viable option, due to the numbers involved, and because the refugees had followed an anglophone system of education whereas the system in Guinea is francophone.

By 1997 there were 165 refugee schools, with 1,383 refugee teachers and about 61,000 students. This included about 20, 000 pupils in the pre-school (ABC and kindergarten) years, 33,000 in primary schools (years one to six) and 8,000 at secondary level. The estimated refugee population in 1997 was 435,000, comprising 243,000 refugees from Liberia and 192,200 from Sierra Leone. According to IRC there were an estimated 210,000 refugee children and adolescents aged 4 to 17, giving an approximate participation rate for pre-school and schooling combined of 29%. Many adolescents and youth enrolled in primary school, due to disturbances in access to education in the countries of origin during the 1990s.

As of 1997, the gender balance of the IRC students was 36,000 males and 25,000 females (41% female). The proportion of girls was 47% of all students at the pre-school stage and 45% in Year One. It was progressively lower in each year of schooling, decreasing gradually to 34% by Year Six and to 29% of all students for Year Nine and above (combined).

IRC criteria for support to a proposed refugee school include:

  • At least 90 students available to attend school
  • Logistical feasibility
  • Community support
  • Potential for later use of buildings by the host community.

Physical arrangements for schooling include:

  • Use of host country schools in the afternoon
  • Renting of existing buildings
  • Construction of schools jointly by the community (mud-bricks up to top of the doorways) and IRC.


Initially the refugee teachers used education materials that were brought to Guinea by themselves or their students, or purchased personally on the black market. In 1992, IRC received sets of textbooks from the Liberian and Sierra Leonean education authorities. Each primary school received one complete set of photocopies of the Liberian textbooks while each secondary school received a copy of Sierra Leonean secondary school textbooks. The situation was rather problematic as the Liberian schools had been based on American traditions while the Sierra Leonean education system had British roots. Individual schools accommodated students and teachers from both Liberia and Sierra Leone.

It was decided to develop a unified curriculum that would meet the requirements of the education authorities of both Liberia and Sierra Leone. This would facilitate integration of students into educational institutions or employment after repatriation to their respective countries of origin. A four-week curriculum workshop of subject matter specialists was held early in 1993. This led to a set of rough guides for each subject and grade level, drafted to meet the topics covered in the pre-war curriculum in both countries. The curriculum outlines were approved by the Ministries of Education in each country later in 1993. Curriculum manuals for each grade and subject were prepared, and issued to every teacher.

Arrangements were made with the regional West African Examinations Committee (WAEC) for examiners from WAEC to administer school leaving examinations for Year Nine and Year Twelve refugee students in Guinea. Pass rates were initially low and variable, but by 1997, 94% of those sitting WAEC examinations obtained certificates.

Number of IRC student candidates 
for the annual WAEC examinations
1994  1998
9th grade 432 291
12th grade 344 936


This improved performance reflected IRC’s attention to teacher selection, in-service teacher training, guidance and mentoring. New teachers sit a competence examination and attend a New Teachers’ Workshop before their selection is confirmed. The Teacher Education section has developed some 12 in-service training workshops, and most years all teachers attend a workshop of this kind. The aim is that training provided by IRC will contribute towards professional certification in the country of origin.

In addition, the 5 Teacher Training Specialists and 18 Field Education Coordinators provide in-school guidance and instruction to the teachers. The Senior Training Specialists, for example, are expected to observe and conference with at least 35 teachers per month, to conduct at least 2 mini-workshops per month and to organise at least 2 demonstration lessons per month for weak teachers.


A special feature of the IRC programme is enrichment of the curriculum and development of extracurricular activities under a Health Education Programme, funded by special donations. One of the tasks of the supervisory and 18 field health education staff has been to ensure that all ABC to Year Six students receive two hours of health education per week. In 1994/5 a health education curriculum was designed and incorporated into the regular school schedule.

From Years Five to Twelve, health education activities are conducted partly by the Health Educator-Counsellors who visit the schools to give participative ‘health talks’ as well as counselling services. The Health Education Department has issued the book ‘Let’s sing about health’, with songs dealing with topics from Oral Rehydration Salts to the dangers of AIDS. A book of role play mini-dramas has been issued likewise. The health education activities also include Young Women’s Social Clubs, Health Clubs and Peer Educators for Reproductive Health.


A joint UNHCR/UNICEF project, the Liberian Children’s Initiative, was planned in 1998 to include inter-agency cooperation with the Liberian Ministry of Education and NGOs that had worked with education of Liberian refugees in Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

Plans for inter-agency cooperation in the education sector, Liberian Children’s Initiative, 1998

  • Standardisation of the teacher training curriculum, including an accelerated curriculum for new teachers
  • Recognition and possible certification of returning refugee teachers
  • Coordinating standards for equipping and rehabilitating schools
  • Identification of modalities for attracting refugee teachers to return to Liberia where government salaries are very modest
  • Phasing-in of school fees preferably delayed to enable all children to go to school (refugees and internally displaced have limited financial resources to sustain schools)
  • Use of accepted Ministry of Education Accelerated Curriculum to enable children whose education has been interrupted to achieve the level of their age-mates.


The IRC programme represents an example of a well-structured education programme that gives due attention to teacher selection and guidance, to administrative efficiency, and to enrichment of the curriculum with messages and activities oriented to the problems of adolescents and youth who have taken refugee from civil conflict.

The existence of the WAEC examinations has made it possible for refugees to take externally validated examinations at junior and secondary high school level. The IRC project has thus trained a substantial cadres of young people who can assist in the reconstruction of their country.

This type of certification has not been possible for teachers who have followed IRC’s regular in-service teacher training. It is suggested that in future emergencies, detailed records should be kept of course contents and participants, while participants should keep an individual certificated record of training. Where possible there should be liaison with the education authorities of the country of origin to devise teacher training programmes that can be recognised (or topped up and recognised)after repatriation.

One consequence of programme excellence has been that IRC has been able to contribute to discussions with the Ministry of Education in Liberia on the rehabilitation of education in Liberia. Another consequence, however, has been that there is a natural reluctance of teachers and students to return to their rural counties of origin in Liberia, due to substantial or total disintegration of physical and organisational structures in these counties during the 1990s.

Refugee teachers likewise are happier with the modest ‘incentive payments’ they receive from IRC in Guinea than with the lesser remuneration to be paid by the cash-strapped Liberian government . Some have been offered good salaries in private schools in Liberia, or may prefer to live in Monrovia. It may be necessary to train new teachers for the border counties receiving the majority of returnees, from the families actually living there. In this case, attention should be paid to the training of older girls and women as teachers, since they may be more likely to stay with rural communities than men, who may seek better remunerated work elsewhere.


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