School buildings are not ready

School construction means in concrete terms the action of building a new school and implies beforehand the decision-making process of the building, followed by the construction in itself, together with maintenance and reparation. Several levels of decisions are expected to be made: central government level, regional level, districts and ‘departments’ and more importantly the community level. School construction has a certain impact on learning outcomes because if buildings are not ready on time for school year or if rehabilitation or maintenance is needed, class cannot be given to pupils properly.

Building a school requires engineers to respect some conditions for the building to be children-friendly despite the fact that each school construction is different since its construction adapts to the local context. Generally agreed strategies exist in the literature to ensure that school spaces are safe, healthy and sanitary, inclusive, accessible, and gender sensitive.

More specifically, some materials are chosen according to the local climate or other natural characteristics (natural hazards, animals and insects, possible diseases). In areas prone to natural hazards or conflict, school buildings must ensure safety and can even be transformed into shelters as short-term solutions, so it does not impede classes from starting again. This is why permanent schools should also be disaster resistant, cost-effective, and environmentally sensitive.

Promising policy options

Construction planning

Construction planning is indeed one important step to assess the need for school construction before the process begins. Not only stakeholders must act according to the existing building codes and set clear expectations when it comes to budget, timelines, and repartition of roles, they also have to respect transparency, monitoring, and evaluation of the project. The planning process needs to contain a risk evaluation that includes considerations of risks and natural hazards and assesses the needs to adapt to the local needs.

Share data and raise awareness on the importance of building new, safe, appropriate, and children-friendly schools are the two main strategies to implement in order to involve stakeholders in the school building process. Construction planning is indeed one important prerequisite to assess the need for school construction before the process begins.

Assess demographic data, the geographical distribution of pupils among regions, learning outcomes data, the status of the buildings and the number of classrooms needed, since this is a fundamental part of the building planning.

Guarantee evidence-based data (sharing, transparency), with a focus on capacity building and M&E after the construction, realizing frequent audits to ensure funds have been used properly and avoid corruption (set up a specific transparency programme with clear disbursement traceability and provision of clear and standardised contracts).

Respect central and district offices, municipalities and decentralised building codes. This means coordinating all the different stakeholders for decentralized management of education infrastructures: (community, local government, central offices, PPP, Social Funds) to set a range of targets, a timeline and a budget with realistic affirmations.

Define the framework for maintenance and rehabilitation: inspection reports written at least 1/ year, clear procedures for financing the reparation, and involvement of the community on this task.

School construction

For schools to be children-friendly and attract pupils, several measures must be considered in the design and engineering steps. They are all related to adaptability to children’s needs which means schools must be safe, welcoming, and inclusive. Negotiate with local authorities an appropriate and safe school siting and location (e.g. within walking distance from pupils’ homes, that doesn’t require children to cross rivers or congested highways, etc.). Buildings must be safe and hazard resistant (e.g. floods, winds, mudslides, earthquakes, fires, toxic chemicals must be avoided).

Ensure that school buildings are provided with adequate indoor and outdoor spaces. This means choosing adequate building materials, having natural lighting whenever possible through a sufficient number of windows, comfortable internal temperature, air-circulation, electricity or other electricity alternatives to provide light, avoiding smells and pollution, safety provisions, and bright and welcoming colours on the walls and furniture.

Guarantee a healthy and effective learning environment: WASH (hand wash points, latrines), waste disposal, kitchen and food storage, library with a reading environment, open-areas and school grounds, administrative and teacher offices for more privacy.

Provide accessible and gender-sensitive infrastructures: access ramps to classrooms and latrines, separate latrines for boys and girls and sufficient private space for washing, large door openings, accessibility of external spaces, and reduced stair height.

Beynon, J. 1997. Physical facilities for education: What planners need to know. Paris: IIEP-UNESCO. Retrieved from:

Bonner, R.; Das, P.; Kalra, R.; Leathes, B.; Wakeham, N. n.d. Delivering cost effective and sustainable school infrastructure. TI-UP Resource Center. Accessed 1 April 2018:

INEE (Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies). 2014. INEE Good Practice Guide: Shelter and School Construction. New York: INEE. Retrieved from:

Practical Action. 2009. School Buildings in Developing Countries: technical brief. Warwickshire: Practical Action Retrieved from: %20Buildings%20in%20Developing%20Countries.pdf

The World Bank. 2009c. Guidance notes on safer school construction. Washington D.C.: The World Bank. Retrieved from: Guidance-notes-on-safer-school-construction-global-facility-for-disaster-reduction-and-recovery

Theunynck, S. 2002. School construction in developing countries: What do we know? Washington D.C.: The World Bank. Retrieved from: 02/Theunynck%2520(2002)%2520School%2520Construction%2520in%2520Developing%2520Countires.pdf

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). 2009f. ‘Location, design and construction’. In: Child Friendly Schools Manual. New York: UNICEF. Retrieved from:

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). 2013c. Transitional learning spaces (TLS) Resilient design and construction in emergencies. New York: UNICEF. Retrieved from:

Community involvement

Community-based approaches are often cost-efficient and can provide adapted local capacity and techniques when the partnerships are clearly defined. Communities are key actors in the school constructions since their involvement has a positive impact on education enrolment and school’s maintenance. Pushing for community involvement at the earliest stages means tapping into local capacity (techniques, engineering), and having parents participate in the decision of how the school will be constructed (e.g. design and location of the school, assessment of the potential dangers on the route, etc.).

Increase the community ownership thanks to training. During the school construction, give plans, guidelines and documents so the community can benefit from a concrete learning experience. Develop apprenticeships for young locals to develop a sense of ownership and reciprocity.

Finally, set up compensatory measures for the community when a school building project replaces potential housing.

GADRRRES (The Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector). 2015. Towards Safer School Construction: A community-based approach. GADRRRES. Retrieved from: schoolconstruction2015_0-1.pdf

Gershberg, A.I. 2014. Educational infrastructure, school construction, & decentralization in developing countries: Key issues for an understudied area. International Center for Public Policy Working Paper 14-12. Retrieved from:

Paci-Green, R.; Pandey, B. 2018. Child-Centred Research-into-Action; Brief: Best practices in community-based school construction. GADRRRES (The Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector). Retrieved from:

Theunynck, S. 2009. School Construction for Universal Primary Education in Africa: Should Communities Be Empowered to Build Their Schools? Washington D.C.: The World Bank. Retrieved from:

Policy options for improving Equity and Inclusion

Gender-responsive policies

Promising policy options

Construction planning

The multiple strategies recommended in the general section of the present Policy page apply. However, educational planners and decision-makers should complement them by gender-mainstreaming construction planning. To provide a gender-responsive infrastructure, gender should be mainstreamed throughout the construction planning and development process. For example, Uganda’s 2016 Gender in Education Sector Policy aims to ensure that ‘school and or education institutions’ facilities and infrastructure are responsive to women and girls’ special needs and interests’. To reach such objective, one policy strategy focuses on ‘mainstream[ing] women and girls’ special needs and interests into facilities and infrastructure development’ (Uganda, 2016: 22-23).

GPE (Global Partnership for Education), UNGEI (United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative). 2017. Guidance for Developing Gender-Responsive Education Sector Plans. Washington D.C.: The Global Partnership for Education. Retrieved from: content/guidance-developing-gender-responsive-education-sector-plans

Uganda. 2016. Ministry of Education and Sports. Gender in Education Sector Policy. Kampala: Ministry of Education and Sports. Retrieved from: GENDER%20IN%20EDUCATION%20SECTOR%20POLICY.pdf

Construct gender-responsive infrastructure and facilities

Research shows that policies that support investment in school infrastructure benefit all children in general (UNESCO and UNGEI, 2015). Nevertheless, in certain contexts, it can particularly benefit girls, especially in places where their demand for education is highly dependent on the availability of gender-responsive infrastructure (GPE and UNGEI, 2017).

Develop gender-responsive sanitation facilities. Allocating adequate resources to build gender-responsive sanitation facilities is a cost-effective policy option which positively affect girls’ retention and learning in school. Provide well-functioning, clean and separate toilets or latrines for girls, boys, female and male teachers. Also, provide facilities to manage menstruation as well as cloths, pads and/or sanitary products for those who need them the most.

Ensure a secure physical environment. Parents may have concerns regarding their children’s safety at school –especially girls—which is why it is essential to have surveillance mechanisms against harassment and abuse. Construct windows in each classroom which allow good visual contact with the outside (Kayumba, Ginoulhiac and Hirano, 2009), and build fences around the school to demarcate the school grounds. This prevents children from leaving school and keeps out intrusions. Fences can be made from galvanized line wires, vegetation or mud walls.

*For specific details consult Policy page School infrastructure.

GPE (Global Partnership for Education), UNGEI (United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative). 2017. Guidance for Developing Gender-Responsive Education Sector Plans. Washington D.C.: The Global Partnership for Education. Retrieved from: content/guidance-developing-gender-responsive-education-sector-plans

IIEP-UNESCO Learning Portal. 2018. Brief 2: The physical school environment. Accessed 30 September 2019:

IIEP-UNESCO. 2010. ‘Chapter 2.6: Learning spaces and school facilities’. In: Guidebook for planning education in emergencies and reconstruction (pp.129-159). Paris: IIEP-UNESCO. Retrieved from:

Kayumba, E.; Ginoulhiac, L.; Hirano, S. 2009. ‘Child Friendly Schools Infrastructure Standards and Guidelines’ Primary and Tronc Commun schools. Kigali: Rwanda Ministry of Education. Retrieved from:

UNESCO, UNGEI (United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative). 2015. Gender and EFA 2000-2015, Achievements and Challenges: Gender Summary. Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved from:

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). 2009f. ‘Location, design and construction’. In: Child Friendly Schools Manual. New York: UNICEF. Retrieved from:

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund); WHO (World Health Organization). 2018. Drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in schools: global baseline report 2018. New York: UNICEF and WHO. Retrieved from:

Policies for children with disabilities

Promising policy options

Develop standards for accessibility and monitor the compliance of infrastructures

Governments should develop standards and guidelines to ensure that their education infrastructure –and other public spaces– are accessible to all children and individuals (UNESCO-Global Education Monitoring Report, 2018). For example, the Department of Basic Education in South Africa, based on the principles of Universal Design, developed a legally binding set of norms and standards for all public schools in 2013 (UNESCO-Global Monitoring Report, 2018). The Government of Ghana, with the support of UNICEF, developed standards and guidelines to ensure schools’ physical accessibility. All educational institutions must apply and adhere to them (Ghana, 2015).

Monitor the compliance of school’s construction with the aforementioned standards. A recommended strategy is to include information concerning schools’ physical accessibility through the Education Management Information Systems EMIS (e.g. the Child Functioning Module (CFM) developed by UNICEF and United Nation’s Washington Group on Disability Statistics can be added to the existent EMIS in order to get information about the school’s accessibility (UNICEF, 2018).)

The monitoring and evaluation of schools’ accessibility should not be based solely on the availability of features such as ramps.  It should provide a comprehensive picture about the school’s accessibility. This can be done by including information on how children are ‘getting to, entering and moving through the school; using water, sanitation and recreational facilities’ as well data on school evacuation systems (UNESCO-Global Education Monitoring Report, 2016: 311).

Ghana. 2015. Ministry of Education. Standards and Guidelines for Practice of Inclusive Education In Ghana. Accra: Ministry of Education. Retrieved from:

UNESCO-Global Education Monitoring Report. 2016. Global Education Monitoring Report 2016: Education for people and planet: Creating Sustainable Futures for All. Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved from:

UNESCO-Global Education Monitoring Report. 2018. GEM Report summary on disabilities and education. Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved from: 48223/pf0000265353

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). 2018. Child Functioning. Accessed 17 July 2019:

Construction planning

The question of accessibility should be incorporated from the onset of the planning phase. This can be done by applying the concept of Universal design and its underlying principles –known as goals– to each new construction. Universal design is the ‘design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design’ (Ron Mace, Center for Universal Design, cited by UNICEF, 2014: 12).

Additionally, the following criteria should be used to inform the design process of all school facilities to make them accessible: body fit, comfort, awareness, understanding, wellness, social integration, personalization and cultural appropriateness (Centre of Inclusive Design and Environmental Access, 2012, cited by UNICEF, 2014).

Building accessible infrastructure and facilities is a cost-effective measure as it ‘requires additional costs of approximately one percent if incorporated from the outset of a project’ (Snider and Takeda, 2008: iii) (e.g. incorporating accessibility into a South African school design represented 0.78% of the total construction cost (Metts, 2000, cited by Bolton, 2013).). In comparison, five percent –or more— is needed to make existent schools accessible (Snider and Takeda, 2008). It is nonetheless evident that when no new schools are to be built, performing accommodations and adaptations to existent ones is of utmost importance. For example, the programme Lisbon’s Escola Aberta adapted Lisbon’s existing primary schools to make them accessible. Among the many actions performed, ramps were built, wide doors were installed as well as grab bars and new signage (Homem de Gouveia and Miranda, 2006).

Bolton, L. 2013. Helpdesk Report: Universal design of schools and classrooms. Oxford: Health & Education Advice & Resource Team (HEART). Retrieved from:

Homem de Gouveia, P.; Morais, N. ; Miranda, A. 2006. Accessibility Programme and School Restoration in Lisbon. OECD. Retrieved from:

Snider, H.; Takeda, N. 2008. Design for All: Implications for Bank Operations. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank. Retrieved from: Resources/Universal_Design.pdf

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). 2014. Access to School and the Learning Environment I – Physical, Information and Communication: Webinar 10 – Companion Technical Booklet. New York: UNICEF. Retrieved from: Webinar_Booklet_10.pdf

WHO (World Health Organization). 2011. ‘Chapter 7 Education’. In: World Report on Disability (pp. 227-256). Malta: WHO. Retrieved from:

School construction: Ensure school’s infrastructure is accessible and inclusive

In order to make schools accessible and inclusive, the following aspects and recommendations should be taken into consideration (UNICEF, 2014):

  • identify the barriers impeding children to get into the school. This can be done through multi-sectoral access audits;
  • facilitate school access. All children must be welcomed at the same main entrance;
  • improve accessibility within the school. Multiple aspects should be taken into consideration such as hallways and walkways, stairs and ramps;
  • improve accessibility within the classrooms. The type of floor, the blackboards, and whiteboards, the lightning levels as well as the windows, should be taken into consideration;
  • water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities must be accessible;
  • build accessible playgrounds; and
  • conceive accessible evacuation plans: Provide visual and audio alarms, ensure that strategies are developed to assist in the evacuation of every child.

*For specific details consult Policy page School physical infrastructure.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). 2014. Access to School and the Learning Environment I – Physical, Information and Communication: Webinar 10 – Companion Technical Booklet. New York: UNICEF. Retrieved from: Webinar_Booklet_10.pdf

UNESCO. 2019. The right to education for persons with disabilities. Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved from:

Community involvement

Ensure the active participation of local stakeholders –such as children with disabilities and their families, the local community, Disability People’s Organisations, teachers, school leaders, local education planners, among others–  throughout the design, planning and construction phases (Snider and Takeda, 2008; AusAID, 2013; UNICEF, 2014). The process should thus be participatory and consultative, especially with children with disabilities and their families who are ‘experts on their own needs and can often bring innovative and cost-effective ideas to the table’ (UNICEF, 2014: 11). This strategy is ‘a key to cost-effective universal design’ (Snider and Takeda, 2008: 6).

Universal Design is meant to benefit the entire population, accommodate to each particular context, as well as identify the locally available products and construction techniques (Snider and Takeda, 2008; Bolton, 2013). It is thus recommended ‘to educate designers, builders and citizens about the purpose and benefits of universal design for the whole community so that they understand its value and work to find good solutions to problems’ (Snider and Takeda, 2008: 6).

AusAID (Australian Agency for International Development). 2013. Accessibility Design Guide: Universal design principles for Australia’s aid program – A companion volume to Development for All: Towards a disability-inclusive Australian aid program 2009–2014. Canberra: AusAID. Retrieved from:

Bolton, L. 2013. Helpdesk Report: Universal design of schools and classrooms. Oxford: Health & Education Advice & Resource Team (HEART). Retrieved from:

Snider, H.; Takeda, N. 2008. Design for All: Implications for Bank Operations. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank. Retrieved from: Universal_Design.pdf

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). 2014. Access to School and the Learning Environment I – Physical, Information and Communication: Webinar 10 – Companion Technical Booklet. New York: UNICEF. Retrieved from: Webinar_Booklet_10.pdf

Policies for displaced populations and host communities

Note: All the recommendations provided in the general section can be applied to this marginalized category.

Refugee resource building and exchanging for better education access

Expanding and exchanging refugee resources can help the host communities in certain circumstances such as building of new schools. This could be carried forward by linking the pre-existing access to education and child protection of the host communities with the displaced population communities.

In order to achieve this, the host community should initiate access to national education systems. This requires strategic, multi-party involvement. For example, refugee children in Malaysia do not have access to government schools. Thus, refugee children attend private schools or those run by NGOs. The Tzu Chi Foundation is currently running five schools for 549 refugee children from the Rohingya community. Due to cross-cultural sensitivities, the establishment and staffing of these schools have entailed intensive negotiations and information sessions with refugee parents and a significant investment in teacher training.

It is important to recognise the right to education for all children of migrant workers, displaced population, illegal migrants regardless of their nationality or status. For example, the Government of Thailand established the legal and policy frameworks to integrate refugees into the national education system. The Ministry of Education of Thailand accredited 51 schools in 2014. Thus, 343 refugee and asylum seeker children aged 6-17 years have newfound access to the national Thai education system. (UNHCR n.d.). The Ukrainian cities of Dnipro, Kharkiv, Kiev and Zaporizhzhia host the largest numbers of the country’s IDPs, and their education facilities face shortages of classroom space and resources. In response, the government has created additional school places, moved state universities from conflict regions, simplified admission procedures, covered tuition and provided incentives, including loans and text books for IDPs (UNESCO 2019).

Alternative models for schooling

Beehive Schooling* is a structure that looks like a giant beehive which has been constructed for refugees and built by refugees as well. The dome was constructed as a classroom for children in the village of Za’atari, near the huge Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. The aim for this construction is to provide education for children who might otherwise drop out because there are no schools near their homes. The building was designed by Emergency Architecture & Human Rights (EAHR) as part of a project called 100 Classrooms for Refugee Children. It is used by children in the morning and adults in the afternoon to learn reading and writing skills. This type of design is easy to build quickly with unskilled labour and performs better than tents, cement blocks and corrugated metal sheets in terms of thermal insulation. That means it can lower the temperature in hot summers and increase it in cold winters.

Other forms of alternative schooling include Open and distance learning and Mobile schools.

*For the image refer to the Annex 1.  

Increasing International Cooperation

International cooperation largely benefits the national government with proper planning and execution of policies and programmes which are designed for inclusive education. For example, the Italian Ngo Building Peace Foundation (BPF) plans to build an education facility at Za’atari camp in Jordan, which offers over 3000 Syrian children access to schools.

Since launching its innovative architecture project, Re:Build, BPF has constructed 9 facilities, including schools, arts, culture centres, community spaces for women at Za’atari refugee camp and an integration centre at Queen Rania Park in Amman. The project has also created over 100 jobs among refugees and local micro-economies. The vision behind Re:Build is to revolutionise the concept of refugee camps and emergency settlements by both developing safer, more dignified, sustainable shelter and involving the communities themselves in the construction process. (Building Peace Foundation 2017).

Practical Action. 2009. School Buildings in Developing Countries: technical brief. Warwickshire: Practical Action. Retrieved from: %20Buildings%20in%20Developing%20Countries.pdf

Building Peace Foundation. OVER 3000 SYRIAN REFUGEE CHILDREN WILL NOW HAVE A SCHOOL AT ZA’ATARI CAMP. 2017. Retrieved from :

Building Communities of Practice for Urban Refugees – UNHCR’s Policy Development and Evaluation Service. Retrieved from :

Hailombe, O. 2011. ‘Education equity and quality in Namibia: A case study of mobile schools in the Kunene region.’ PhD Thesis, University of Pretoria, South Africa. Retrieved from:

Policies for minority populations

Other policy options

School Construction Delivery Strategy

A school construction delivery strategy lays out all the features that will be addressed prior to and during the construction process and is a fundamental tool to facilitate effective project implementation.  The strategy should be developed collectively, involving all relevant stakeholders for the construction project, which could also include professionals who can offer technical expertise.

The following elements that should be included in a delivery strategy, or that should be covered in the school construction planning process:

  • rationale, scope, and objectives of the program;
  • data and information;
  • resource targeting;
  • procurement;
  • targets, budgets, and timeline;
  • school planning and design;
  • quality control; and
  • financial planning and management.

Decentralizing planning for school construction

If there is limited management capacity within the Ministry or the body overseeing the construction process, then technical assistance should be provided, which could involve delegating contract management to other organisations. This can be done by promoting decentralisation.

Capacity building exercises, especially in community-based approaches, should be on-going throughout the project. This could include the dissemination of manuals and handbooks, and targeted training of community organizations in project management and procurement. Experienced NGOs and local experts can be useful in providing expertise for capacity-building programs.

In general, practices that facilitate corruption include centralized procurement, direct contracting, large packaging with limited competition among a small number of contractors, and lack of transparency and accountability mechanisms. To limit corruption, therefore, approaches should be pursued that utilize transparent arrangements, competitive procurement, accountability of the management team to the community, transparency of funds, and audits with publicly shared findings. It has been suggested that community-based approaches may be significantly less corrupt, as they include many of these approaches in their implementation.

Community-based construction programs have been proven to be highly effective, but it is essential that are adequate accountability mechanisms in place, which include clearly defined roles of all players, and transparent information through established monitoring and evaluation systems (see Monitoring and Evaluation above). Community members also need to be effectively organized and empowered, which in some countries is approached through creating a Community Development Committee (CDC) who acts legal body and is responsible for funds, and a Project Management Committee, which is responsible for logistics like procurement and on-site project management, and is accountable to the CDC.

Bonner, R. ; Das, P. ; Kalra, R. ; Leathes, B. ; Wakeham, N. (n.d.) Delivering cost Effective and Sustainable School Infrastructure . TI-UP Resource Center. Retrieved from:

Rwanda. 2009. Ministry of Education. Child Friendly Schools and Infrastructure Standards and Guidelines. Retrieved from :

Theunyck, S. 2002. School Construction in Developing Countries: What Do We Know? Washington D.C.: The World Bank. Retrieved from:

Gershberg A.I. 2014. Educational Infrastructure, School Construction, & Decentralization in Developing Countries: Key Issues for an Understudied Area. International Center for Public Policy Working Paper 14-12. Retrieved from:

Leathes, B. 2009 . Briefing Note: Key Factors in the Cost Effective Design and Construction of Primary School Facilities in Low Income Countries . TI-UP Resource Centre. Retrieved from:

Practical Action. 2009. School Buildings in Developing Countries . Warwickshire: Practical Action. Retrieved from :

UNICEF. 2009. Child Friendly Schools Manual. New York: UNICEF. Retrieved from:

Updated on 2021-09-10

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