Local Partnerships Between Universities and Secondary Schools: Integration of ICT and 21st Century Skills in Teaching English to Refugees

The University of Nairobi and Githunguri High School Loise Gichuhi and Esther Nyambura


Students studying at Githunguri High School


We understand the fundamental role education plays in building and rebuilding lives. Education has a multiplier effect; it is linked to better lives for children and youth including those in emergency contexts. University of Nairobi’s goal is to have a well-planned education in emergencies program that has immediate as well as long- term benefits. EIE for refugee students must be planned in order to provide immediate physical and psychosocial protection as well as lifesaving knowledge and skills. Education benefits can help a refugee in reshaping their own future, and rebuilding their communities whether back in their home country or in the country of asylum. To accommodate refugees, the host country must purposely consider strategies that can motivate and retain students in schools.

If education is viewed holistically and embedded within considerations throughout multiple sectors, it would create more opportunities for refugees whose participation in HE is curtailed by external circumstances at other levels of the response. Preparing for higher education must start early in life and must be multidimensional.

We are advocating for an early start; start working with younger children to build skills, resilience and awareness of opportunities. Unless we do this, we won’t see an increase in refugee students accessing higher education. We must innovate and redesign our teaching and classroom practices. Githunguri High School employs one such model, earning its title as an African Digital School of Distinction (ADSI).

This is a mixed, public secondary school that integrates local students and urban refugees mostly from South Sudan and Ethiopia. Using ICT in the teaching of English, Esther Nyambura, UoN alumni, has not only created a bridge for basic computer skills but has created a space where students can comfortably interact with technology to find and innovatively create their own knowledge. Esther ensures refugees and local students work closely together on all classroom activities.

This helps to build confidence and self-esteem among the refugees’ students, and promotes intercultural connections and new friendships. Activity-based, student-centered models motivate learners to and keep them in school longer. Subsequently, refugee students become more competitive in applying to higher education.

The UoN, through its Education in Emergencies Alumni Program, identifies and creates links with local schools working with refugees to provide mentorship forums and share best practices that can inform future programming and play a significant role in refugees’ access to HE, demystifying the higher education space and reframing it as a place for everyone. It is our recommendation that universities build programmes and partnerships to work with local refugee-hosting schools, and start early on building pathways to higher education.