Tackling mental health in refugee education

In 2019, Save the Children and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL) joined forces to launch an innovative initiative, called Transforming Refugee Education Towards Excellence (TREE).

This five-year joint effort will tackle trauma and address the urgent learning needs of children in refugee crises. Utilising J-WEL’s expertise in teacher training that uses compassion and Save the Children’s 100-years of experience on the ground and delivering education in emergencies, this initiative will create a coordinated teacher development programme that addresses both teacher wellbeing and teaching quality.

The Impact of Conflict on Teaching Quality

As the conflict in Syria continues, education systems inside Syria and its neighboring countries have either collapsed or been put under intense strain. Governments and organisations across the globe have attempted to tackle this crisis to ensure a generation of children are not left behind, however, an area often overlooked is the role teachers play in a classroom. It has been proven that teachers have the greatest impact on a child’s learning – in fact between two to three times greater than that of other components.

The impact felt in the classroom, by both students and teachers, is not only unique to those affected by the Syria conflict. From the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh to the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement in Uganda, Save the Children has found that properly trained teachers are on the frontline in the world’s promise to provide all refugee children with a quality education. One area often overlooked in teacher development programmes is the role of psychosocial support, which TREE is now tackling.

How will TREE tackle mental health in refugee education?

TREE will be piloted in Jordan with expansion into other conflict-affected countries, ultimately benefiting millions of teachers and students. Due to the Syria crisis, teachers in Jordan are struggling in extremely challenging environments. Many have been recruited quickly to meet the increased school-aged population, including Syrian refugees. These teachers may be under-qualified, inadequately supported, and managing overcrowded classrooms in double shift schools, often with classrooms of children who have faced significant trauma.

Refugee child writting on a board with her teacher in a classroom in Zarqa, Jordan
Refugee child in a classroom in Zarqa, Jordan

Ultimately the objective of this programme is to transform the role of teachers as agents of change in the classroom, and create a sustainable model that is applicable and transferable to all educational systems.  Through this approach, we believe that:

  • We will be able to help children and teachers at school in Jordan now, including refugees, and children and teachers who will be at school in conflict-affected countries the future.
  • The implementation of this project offers teachers and students the skills, tools and support to overcome the personal traumas affecting school lives.
  • The project is scalable, at the cutting edge of child development and refugee rehabilitation.

We believe that if psychosocial support and social and emotional learning approaches are incorporated and prioritized in classrooms, children impacted by conflict will have a much better chance of thriving in a school environment. Utalising J-WEL and Save the Children’s global network, we will convene high-level meetings to discuss this pilot.

To find out more about this initiative , please contact Uzma Sulaiman at u.sulaiman@savethechildren.org.uk

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