On 14 December, as part of the Funding for Impact session at the RewirEd Summit, Geneva Global Hub for Education in Emergencies Coordinator Petra Heusser delivered the following “pitch” for greater investment in Education in Emergencies – specifically, the need to consider language as a core issue for displaced learners:
“Language is at the heart of all human interaction. We use words to express our thoughts,
share our experiences, and learn new concepts.
And the words we use shape those thoughts, experiences and concepts for our minds. Not
being able to communicate with others, read signs or engage in daily tasks can be
profoundly disempowering. It increases protection risks and further deepens the distress of
For students and learners, being comfortable with the language used to teach them can
easily be the difference between reaching their full potential and falling to the side.
And yet, there remains an unmet need to seriously think about language as part of quality
education for refugee and displaced learners.
Refugees and internally displaced children and youth, in particular, are often forced to flee
to places where the language of instruction is one they do not speak. This affects both access
to education and the quality of learning.
If language learning needs are not addressed early in an emergency, this can delay or
impede access to formal education and can have a profound impact on both retention and
More needs to be done.
There is a need for additional funds to discuss and advance effective curricular and
pedagogical strategies as well as available tools and possible gaps together.
This means enhancing practical efforts and interventions for language planning in education
in emergencies settings. To promote multilingualism, dialogues with community
stakeholders are key to deliberate the role of different languages and how they should be
Promoting multilingual learning opportunities, language support materials, and teacher
training are all examples of interventions that can have a great impact on displaced learners’
educational opportunities and future, and which will have a multiplier effect allowing other
emergency interventions to be more successful and effective.
Governments and donors must invest in further research, practical approaches and
supporting rapid language learning through a variety of means, including apps, gamified on-
line learning programmes and in-person instruction.
Further research needs to examine actual language use in refugee camps and displacement
settings, to examine how displaced children and youth from diverse settings come together
and engage in learning practices across different languages.
Future research should also explore teachers’ language skills and pedagogical practices in
multilingual environments serving displaced and national students, and implications of
language policies and practices for the children and youth’s current and future
More information is needed on how policy makers and the teaching community can draw on
the strengths of multiple languages to boost learning for all in a linguistically diverse setting.
We understand, of course, that there are important factors that make this a difficult subject.
With language being closely tied to national and political identity, it’s important to recognise
that language is always deeply political and linked to particular challenges.
We also need to consider the tension between the importance of home language instruction
and the inclusion of displaced learners in national school systems to facilitate school access,
persistence, quality, and sustainability. All of which are key for children and youth’s futures.
So let’s speak sense. Have a practical conversation about language, acknowledging the real
challenges and proposing realistic solutions.
We need to highlight language rights as human rights.
We need to invest more for refugee and internally displaced children and youth who are
likely to undergo instruction in a language they do not understand.
We need to think both in terms of structural integration, and relational integration – building
connection with teachers and with communities is as important as classwork. This can often
be what enables these children to develop the tools to link their past, present and future,
despite the instability of their situations.
We must do all we can to make sure children and young people reach their full potential.”