Photo: Victor Ndula

Building futures through refugee education


Education gives Somali teens in Kenya’s long term refugee camps Dadaab hope about a future beyond life in the camps. In the doctoral thesis “Building Futures through Refugee Education: Aspirations, Navigation and (Non)-citizenship”, Hassan Aden analyses the youths’ struggle for a better future and the challenges they face due to their non-citizenship status.

Hassan Aden successfully defended his thesis at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, on 13 June 2023.

In the study, he draws on ethnographic data and analyse the educational journeys, aspirations, and experiences of the refugee youth in the Dadaab camps in Kenya. The aim is to shed light on the everyday practices and dynamic strategies the youths employ to pursue their goals and manage obstacles in their way.

Low-quality education a major challenge

Scarcity of learning facilities, overcrowded classrooms, limited numbers of trained teachers, and a lack of professional career guidance and counselling provision are some of the challenges refugee youths encounter while schooling. According to Hassan Aden, these conditions jeopardize refugees’ access to quality education, impede the development of necessary skill sets to navigate the uncertainties inherent in their futures, and inhibit their ability to attain good scores on national exams (KCPE and KCSE).

“Low-quality education and poor performance on national exams, particularly the KCSE, are among the most significant challenges students face while schooling that may have an effect on life after school”, says Hassan Aden.

“Refugee youths strive to overcome these challenges through hard work, sheer tenacity, and a commitment to succeed in and through education. They also seek support from family members, peers, and private tuition schools.”

Difficulties translating education into economic gains and freedom of mobility

After graduating from secondary school, refugee youths face constraints on the possibility of translating their education into meaningful economic gains and freedom of mobility, as well as limited access to tertiary education and vocational training prospects. This is generally connected to the legal and political marginalization that characterizes their position as non-citizens.

According to Hassan Aden, the youths adjust differently to the reality of post-graduation.

“Some who qualify for tertiary education opportunities attempt to seek access through different scholarship programmes. One such opportunity is the WUSC program, a resettlement-based scholarship for tertiary education, which offers a chance to obtain a permanent residency permit in Canada and the prospect of citizenship.”

Others return to Somalia soon after graduating in search of better jobs – a strategy that often leads to enhanced financial opportunities and expanded freedom of physical mobility. Some others seek incentive-paying voluntary jobs inside the camps by supporting the provision of services such as education, health, and food distribution.

Hassan Aden also found that an intergenerational solidarity and support system emerged, where academically successful refugee youths establish and manage nationally accredited schools.

“These significantly contribute to students’ performance in national exams and the quality of education overall,” says Hassan Aden.

Why is your research important?

“By examining refugee youths’ enterprise of future-building through education within the context of long-term camps – characterized by perpetual precarity and uncertainty due to inhabitants’ exclusion from citizenship rights, freedoms, and advantages – this study provides empirical and theoretical insights into the complex and dynamic interplay among aspirations, navigational strategies, and non-citizenship status,” says Hassan Aden.