Zainab Ravat l Palladium - Jun 29 2022
Education for Moldova’s Refugee Children: Putting Data at the Heart of Decision-Making

The D4I team reviewing the survey tool with data collectors for Municipality supported data collection of refugees.

Four months ago, daily scenes emerged of refugees lining up across the Moldovan-Ukrainian border to seek refuge from the war unfolding at home.

This marked the beginning of a regionally led emergency response to support the transit of 6.5 million Ukrainians - mostly women, children, and older people - into neighbouring nations. As it currently stands, Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest and smallest countries, hosts the highest number of Ukrainian refugees per capita.

From Emergency Response to Long-Term Integration

As the rate of evacuation from Ukraine shows signs of slowing down, the crisis appears to be moving beyond the initial emergency response phase. “Now, there’s a need to determine what long-term support is needed for refugees who will be staying a significant amount of time, if not permanently in Moldova,” reports Meg Langley, Palladium Senior Technical Adviser and Child Protection Portfolio Lead.

Langley recently returned from a trip to Chisinau, Moldova, where the local municipality is spearheading partnerships to prepare the city for longer-term refugee integration. So far, its focus has been on meeting immediate service needs and supporting onward migration to other countries. One of the city’s former cinemas, the Patria Lukoil Centre, now functions as a temporary aid facility, relying on local volunteers to provide necessities to refugees. The centre has received over 14,500 requests for humanitarian aid over the last two months alone, of which 8,566 were submitted by families with children.

With most incoming Ukrainian refugees concentrated in Chisinau, future preparation is paramount – particularly in planning for children’s access to education. Many refugee children in Moldova were able to connect to virtual learning upon arrival in the country, but come the new school year, those children remaining in Moldova will not only need to integrate into new, local learning systems, but have access to a safe space to process their experiences.

The Challenge for Education in Moldova’s Refugee Population

Access to education has been identified as a critical need for refugee children. Disruption to safe learning environments can have lasting impacts on the most vulnerable children, particularly girls and children with disabilities, who are already exposed to acute safeguarding risks.

The Chisinau Municipality reports that there are 47,632 refugee children in the country and only 1,829 of them are integrated in general education institutions, with 1,120 of these in Chisinau (though the actual numbers likely exceed reported figures). The Municipality has requested support from Palladium’s Data for Impact (D4I) project, which works with partners in Moldova at national and sub-national levels to collect, analyse, and use data to strengthen protection for children in adversity.

D4I is supporting the Chisinau Municipality with mapping children and accompanying adults to understand the particular needs of the refugee population. The project will provide further evidence and documentation to create an accurate picture to determine the necessary support and protection services. “One of the reasons we’re creating the mapping tool is to see what the gaps really are – maybe the service exists but information needs to be shared on how to access the service, or maybe there really is a gap that needs to be addressed,” explains Langley.

The availability of the right data can bolster existing efforts in-country, much of which is being led by UNICEF and the UN’s Global Fund for Education, Education Cannot Wait. The response so far has included cash transfer payments for refugees, grants provisions for local organisations, rehabilitation of educational facilities and support centres, and mental health support. In partnership with Moldovan authorities, Education Cannot Wait is also developing a schooling framework for refugees and asylum seekers.

"Access to education has been identified as a critical need for refugee children."

Data is the Key to Delivering Effective Educational Refugee Responses

“The municipality has taken the lead on reaching out to us for support. They want to understand the refugee needs, and to get information out to the children and accompanying adults on the services they could provide.” Langley adds that the hope is that the mapping exercise can help determine the risk profile of refugee children and assess what their needs are for integration into education systems.

The work has been funded through a grant of US$1 million to D4I from USAID, to support refugees in Moldova. With this additional funding, D4I will implement various activities, focused on gathering high quality data, supporting the review and use of data to inform government decisions, with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of Ukrainian refugees currently in Moldova.

The mapping exercise is just one activity, and will support the identification of individualised information, such as whether a child has access to formal or informal education, to school supplies and equipment, to digital learning and a secure internet connection, their living arrangements, and their required language of instruction, along with support in accessing other health and social services, supporting with asylum requests, and providing protection for children at-risk or separated from their parents.

These data seek to provide a better evidence base for decision-making in upcoming refugee programming, and to overcome key complexities in the reach of essential services. For example, the official language in Moldova is Romanian, which presents a language barrier in formal education settings, and over 90% of arrivals are being hosted by Moldovan families, making it difficult to track both families and children in the community. “Children have been able to keep some consistency in their education through virtual learning, but the focus is now shifting towards integrating them into community schools and education systems,” Langley explains.

Additionally, she notes that there is a need to assess the dispersion of children across different institutions and learning environments, both formal and informal. Through D4I’s work in collaboration with the Deputy Minister in Chisinau, the municipality reports that there are currently 800 children in schools, over 300 children in kindergartens, 119 children attending a day camp for refugees, and more than 300 children in non-formal institutions, such as extracurricular and community centres. These numbers represent only a fraction of the refugee children currently residing in the municipality and suggest that many more are siloed within informal learning environments and/or excluded from general education institutions - making it harder to understand their needs and reach them.

Pairing Data Use with Communications Strategies to Maximise Impact

The data exercise by D4I will be supported in tandem by a recently publicly launched communications campaign, “Help Me to Help You!” which will feature a series of activities to facilitate awareness and support to help integrate children and their families into local communities. It’s part of a wider objective to ensure that community-sourced data is not just extractive but is accompanied by communally-rooted responsiveness.

“Help Me to Help You!” is being carried out by the Chisinau City Hall and the General Directorate for Child Protection of the Chisinau City Council, with the help of 60 employees across municipal institutions, such as social workers, pedagogues, and psychologists. This localised approach will allow for detailed identification of refugee children living in Chisinau’s communities and underpin the development of rehabilitative responses to their educational, psycho-social and material needs.

International education stakeholders continue to campaign for committed investment from donors for education in emergencies. In Chisinau, it’s clear that the crisis management efforts are a daily struggle and the challenge to deliver short-term resources is ongoing. Langley adds that the pressure to plan for refugees’ futures in Moldova is growing and must begin now. By strengthening the availability of refugee data, groups like the UN and others can begin delivering services and strategies that are responsive in the right ways, are conflict and gender sensitive, and which reach the children who are going to need it the most.

D4I is a consortium led by the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partnership with Palladium, ICF, JSI, and Tulane University. Funding for the activity was provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). D4I supports countries to generate and use high-quality data to improve their programs, policies, and–ultimately–health and child protection outcomes. D4I also strengthens the technical and organizational capacity of country partners to collect, analyze, and use data to support their sustainable development. Additional funding has been provided by USAID to D4I to support the refugee response, and among other activities, D4I will work with Chisinau Municipality to ensure accurate evidence and documentation on refugees so the government can provide necessary support and protection.