Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of



Julie A. Tippens

Date of this Version



Published in COMPARE, 2019


Copyright © 2019 British Association for International and Comparative Education; published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. Used by permission.


There are currently more than 25.4 million refugees globally, representing the largest number of refugees in recorded history (UNHCR 2018). More than one in three refugees who fall under the auspices of United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) protection are of school age (UNHCR 2019a). Dryden-Peterson (2015, 2016) points out that much of what is known about refugee education stems from research conducted in high-income countries of resettlement, ignoring the reality that the majority of refugees live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) neighboring their countries of origin. Additionally, 60% of refugees globally reside in cities (UNHCR 2019c), where UNHCR coordinates with host countries to integrate students with refugee backgrounds into the national education system (Dryden-Peterson 2016). We attempt to contribute to this literature while highlighting the importance of family and household factors in urban refugee education. ...

This brief report draws on three authors’ (DN, JS, JT) continuing work with refugee populations in Kenya and, more specifically, upon two unique datasets. The first is data collected by two authors (JS, JAT) at different intervals in 2012 and 2014 as part of an urban refugee education assessment coordinated by a local non-governmental organization (NGO) and UNHCR Kenya to understand urban refugees’ barriers and facilitators to education in Nairobi. Data were collected with refugee learners attending primary and secondary schools, head teachers, school administrators and nongovernmental organization staff. The second dataset is from the third author’s (JAT) ethnographic research with urban-displaced refugee families and households in Nairobi from 2013–2014. This research sought to understand the lived experiences of urban refugees more generally. Education was not a central focus of this study; however, children’s access to education and experiences in school emerged as key areas of concern among refugee caregivers. As such, this work is used to provide additional context to household and family factors that affect the educational access and outcomes of urban-displaced refugees. Ethical approval was obtained from educational institutions (JAT) and the Kenyan National Commission for Science, Technology, and Innovation (NACOSTI).

Kenya is an important case study for urban refugee education. The country remains a major refugee-hosting nation, with more than 473,000 refugees living in camps and cities (UNHCR 2019b). Although the Government of Kenya enforces encampment, 13% of the country’s refugee population reside in cities (mainly Nairobi) (UNHCR 2019b). This report focuses on Nairobi; however, we believe the presented research has broader application for policymakers, practitioners and researchers.