Many refugees find it difficult to integrate into the Ugandan school system. The challenge of integrating into Ugandan schools constitutes unequal access to education and contributes to the drop out rate and the high percentage of out of school children.
Many refugee children are forced to repeat multiple years of school because they have to learn how to communicate in a new language of instruction and learn in a new curriculum - for example, refugee children from DR Congo must transition from a system where French is the language of instruction to the Ugandan system which uses English. A refugee child who was in secondary school but then has to start again in a primary school class with eight and nine year olds, is not being afforded equal access to education.
The fact that refugee children are forced to repeat years of school contributes to the drop out rate and the high percentage of out of school children. Some refugee children who are forced down to lower grades of school get demoralised and drop out, others faced with the prospect of starting again near the beginning of primary school don't join and so remain out of school. So to some extent the bridging program contributes to addressing the challenge of giving children who are out of school a lifeline.
Out of school children and children who have dropped out are part of the target group but are not the only target group. All refugee children who have been learning in a different school system with a different language of instruction for at least three years, need some sort of bridging program in order to integrate into school at an equal level.
One more comment from me. I know that in New Zealand when refugees arrive through the UNHCR resettlement programme, they stay in a Reception Centre for six weeks, and there the children learn about school in New Zealand and learn some English - this helps them adjust to the New Zealand school system. Then once they are at school, many schools have English support programmes and sometimes there are staff who have the specific responsibility of caring for students who are former refugees. I mention all this because I think there is huge potential to learn from best practices developed in countries like New Zealand. Of course the resources available are different between New Zealand and Uganda, but the basic need for a bridge to formal schooling is the same. I know when Xavier Project started running English Courses for refugee children, we borrowed a bit from the similar courses in New Zealand, and it seemed to work pretty well.
Also, a couple of weeks ago I was speaking with a teacher at a New Zealand school, who is responsible for the students who are former refugees, and she noted the huge difference between the students who came as refugees through UNHCR resettlement and studied at the Reception Centre, and the students who came as migrants but from poor backgrounds and with little English (some children from Tonga and Samoa for instance) - the students who had been through the Reception Centre adjusted much better.
Robert, I think this is a very important and much needed idea.