Building peace in the minds of men and women

Better training for teachers who care for traumatized children

30 September 2019

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A ceremony to release child soldiers in Yambio, Southern Sudan, in February 2018. It is estimated that more than 250,000 children worldwide are still directly or indirectly involved in armed conflict.

Many migrant children and school-age refugees have suffered traumatic experiences. These may have occurred before they left home, during their journey, or after arriving in the community or country in which they find refuge. Teaching these vulnerable children requires appropriate training, which teachers often lack.

This is the conclusion of a policy paper, Education as healing: Addressing the trauma of displacement through social and emotional learning, released by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM) in June 2019. This publication emphasizes the need for better training for teachers to provide psychosocial support to children in need.

In Germany, twenty per cent of refugee children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unaccompanied minors are particularly vulnerable. Almost a third of the 160 unaccompanied children from Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Somalia seeking asylum in Norway suffered from PTSD. In another study of 166 unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents in Belgium, thirty-seven per cent to forty-seven per cent had “severe or very severe” symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.

The rates of psychological disorders following trauma in refugees in low-income and middle-income countries are also high. For example, seventy-five per cent of the 331 displaced children in camps in South Darfur, Sudan, had PTSD and thirty-eight per cent showed signs of depression.

In the absence of health centres, schools often play a key role in establishing a sense of stability – provided that teachers understand the symptoms of trauma to better support  students. However, in Germany, the majority of teachers and educators say that they do not feel sufficiently prepared to meet the needs of refugee children. In the Netherlands, twenty per cent of teachers with more than eighteen years’ experience report having great difficulty interacting with traumatized students.

A review of early childhood education and care facilities for refugee children in Europe and North America revealed that, although many programmes have recognized the importance of providing care, the necessary training and resources are “almost universally lacking”.

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