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Sustainable and Affordable Access to Education for Refugees


Fred* fled his home in the dead of the night. For a journey where his life was at stake, only personal belongings that were essential and of light weight mattered. He left behind all that he knew; family, friends, and all that proved the level of education he had so far acquired.

He arrived in the North Western region of Kenya, within a sea of makeshift houses, famished, exhausted, having seen all the horrors of the war, but happy to be alive. He joined the estimated four million people who have been displaced or forced to flee South Sudan since the civil war broke out in December 2013. Now at the camp, away from constant violence, conflict and insecurity, he has to start afresh in order to make a life for himself.

Influx of refugees

The Kakuma Refugee Camp has since 1992, with the advent of the lost boys of Sudan, hosted refugees fleeing surrounding war-torn countries. According to UNHCR records, there were 196,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in the camp as of July 2020. With an increased influx of refugees in 2014, a new settlement area was allocated in Kalobeyei, 3.54 km from Kakuma camps. There are over 19 nationalities living in Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei settlement with over 56% of the population being South Sudanese.

In June 2016, @iLabAfrica, in partnership with UNHCR and Windle Trust Kenya, took up a project that would help refugees in similar situations as Fred. The project aimed at providing cheap, quality and accessible delivery of accountancy training services.

The team to set up a computer lab at Kakuma Refugee Camp and gained accreditation of Windle Trust CPA Centre as a KASNEB Examination Centre. The classes were delivered online in real time via video conferencing.

First cohort

The first cohort, made up of students from South Sudan, Somalia and DRC Congo, sat the November 2016 KASNEB Exams.

After the completion of the two-year project, Dr. Alfred Kitawi, Director of the Centre for Research in Education at Strathmore, measured the effectiveness of e-learning from the human and design dimensions and in relation to student performance. He and the @iLabAfrica team, Dr. Joseph Sevilla, Regina Nkonge, Kennedy Munene, Philomena Mwangi and Victor Malombe, documented this project through a paper that was recently published in the International Journal for Technology Enhanced Learning, a prestigious journal on technology-enhanced learning research.

Advantages of technology-enhanced learning

The use of technology-enhanced learning brings with it handsome advantages to the refugees. First, it ensures sustainable and affordable access to education despite geographical location. For instructional technology to be effective, a number of aspects are important: level of tech savviness of the student, technological infrastructure in terms of reliable and stable internet connection, reliable devices, an engaging facilitator as well as low costs.

In addition, in spite of the dire circumstances and uncertainty of what the future held for the refugees, the CPA classes allowed them to engage in lifelong learning, a value that Strathmore holds dearly.

“Gaining knowledge is a continuous process. The CPA courses bridge this gap and allow them reintegrate into society through voluntary repatriation, integration or resettlement. Yet, refugees without credentials are hindered from taking advantage of such learning opportunities.”

Basic skills

Dr. Kitawi strongly advocates for lifelong learning by ensuring the refugees acquire basic numeracy and literacy skills as well as granting them valuable credentials that will come in handy after time spent in the camp. Capturing and validating the skill-sets refugees possess is critical in assisting them integrate.

“It’s critical to authenticate their skill-sets and harmonize their credentials into a database, so as to avoid duplication of knowledge or situations where different organisations find themselves funding the same beneficiary. The necessity of this database opens a path for the universities to provide this service to refugee organisations.” Tertiary institutions are critical partners in this process.

Alfred Kitawi has a background in higher education management, management science and management of information systems. His current interests and publications include universities developing communities’ capacities through different initiatives in line with the third mission of universities, e-learning and quality assurance in African universities.

He now has his sights set on the incorporation of gamification which makes the learning process fun by simulating physical environments in virtual settings.


To access the full paper, click here.

*fictional character


This article is written by Wambui Gachari. 


If you would like to share your story, kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu