Friday, 20 April 2012

Utilising the skills and qualifications of urban refugees

Some key findings from the Women’s Refugee Commission Report, No Place to Go But Up – Urban Refugees in Johannesburg, South Africa, show that the existing skills amongst urban refugees in Johannesburg could be utilised to potentially lift them out of poverty.
‘Forced migrants, compared to South Africans, are more likely to be vulnerable to poverty and violence […] Education levels and skill sets vary among the different forced migrant groups. Many Zimbabwean migrants have good English language skills and education, but most are found in unskilled labor: service industries, construction, painting, welding and carpentry. Forced migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) appear to be predominately young, urban, male and educated. Many, even those with specialized skills, work in unskilled or low-skilled work: street vending, braiding hair or washing or guarding cars. Somali asylum seekers and forced migrants are predominately young and urban; most have completed primary or secondary school, and several own businesses.’
You can download the full report here.

What do you think?

If existing skills of urban refugees are not being utilised, can increased access to education in such settings provide a path out of poverty?

Thursday, 19 April 2012


This Mendeley group is a place where I will be keeping education and urban poverty references and anyone else can also add them there. Alternatively you can download the references as an RIS file.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Last week there were forced evictions and demolitions in Korail, the large slum opposite the HQ of the huge non-governmental organization BRAC, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. People have been left without shelter, water or food and many had no advance warning. Apparently schools are among the buildings demolished and, unsurprisingly, amid the disruption, children have missed school and exams. Two children are said to have been killed when their house was destroyed. BRAC staff give their perspectives here and here, and an official reaction here.
There was peaceful demonstration on the day following the evictions. “Without relocation, slum will not disappear,” the signs said, “Don’t destroy schools, mosques, and madrassas.” (source)
Korail is one of the areas I studied in 2008 and 2009. It was not the worst slum I saw in terms of either living conditions, poverty or education. It gets severely flooded in the rainy season and access to water, toilets and cooking facilities was limited. But it was also – as these researchers who lived there for several months comment – a vibrant place with some sense of community. As they also say, resettlement schemes rarely help the urban poor. Urban low-income groups are the engine of the city's (and the country's) economy, but are criminalized every time they seek shelter or basic services. These demolitions highlight the lack of a humane and coherent policy.

Sunday, 8 April 2012


Here is an interactive version of the chart that was in the research agenda I posted earlier.

(Needs a fairly up to date version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox or Internet Explorer. If it doesn't work well try viewing it on a separate page. Let me know if there are any bugs)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

"My home my own way"

Interesting video made by architecture students at BRAC University, Bangladesh as part of a collaboration with ClimUrb, a research project at the University of Manchester. The students worked with residents of a low-income settlement to design resilient and low-cost housing. Ultimately, though, no new housing was built. But clearly the students learned a lot about the lives of the residents ('We even spent a night there!'), and some went on to build low-income housing elsewhere.

My Home My Own Way from BWPI on Vimeo.

A research agenda

Although there is huge variation in the lives of people who are poor and live in cities around the world (not to mention the difficulties in defining who these people are), I think there are enough common threads to make education and urban poverty a meaningful research topic. In this draft research agenda I try and describe those common threads, explain why urban poverty is increasingly important, and list what I see as some of the most pressing questions. In brief:

  1. What can we say with existing data? Do household surveys like DHS and MICS cover the urban poor, including marginalized groups like those who live in slums and recent migrants? To some extent we can check this by triangulating with other sources, like specific slum surveys.
  2. What access do the urban poor have to education, and what are the barriers? This is fairly obvious but important to answer carefully. Relying on household surveys with limited coverage of marginalized groups may not tell us much.
  3. Is education a path out of poverty? Cities may be centres of economic opportunities, but can the urban poor avail of these, with or without an education?
  4. What happens inside schools? Are urban poor children stigmatized by their backgrounds? Or supported and treated equally?
  5. What type of provision? NGOs often step in where government school provision fails, tailoring their services to the circumstances, such as timetables that allow for children's work. But where are the models of NGO programmes that coordinate well with government services, avoid being cast as second-rate education for the poor, and help young people find better jobs afterwards?

Inevitably this is a very partial list and biased by my own experience and background. I'd love to hear what other people see as the most pressing questions. Respond below or get in touch to write your own post.