SEATTLE — The displacement of hundreds of thousands of individuals fleeing violence in their home countries has resulted in a refugee crisis that will affect an entire generation of young children. To ensure that refugee children and youths still receive an education, a number of universities around the world have started piloting connected learning programs. These are virtual courses and are low-cost.
For traditional courses, the cost of educating a refugee student falls at an average of $6,000 per year. This amount covers tuition, indirect study costs such as textbooks, and subsistence allowance.
However, virtual connected learning courses cost as little as $300 per year with no associated learning costs, as refugee students may live with their families while enrolled in the courses.
These virtual courses are more than just regular, online courses that students complete individually. They follow a model of connected learning, which means that a number of students gather in a single place to learn together through a mix of online and face-to-face tutoring.
InZone and the University of Geneva have collaborated to pilot a learning hub in the Kakuma refugee camp in north-west Kenya. Known as the “InZone-University of Geneva learning hub,” the physical structure is about the size of a truck container. Its roof is covered in solar panels.
These panels power the computers and an air-conditioning system. The air-conditioning provides a comfortable environment for students, while also preventing the computers from overheating in the extremely hot climate.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has decided to expand this model of connected learning to help educate even more refugees. By partnering with accredited higher education institutions, the UNHCR has facilitated a new consortium of connected learning in higher education.
In Nairobi, Kenya in February 2014, UNHCR hosted a roundtable about connected higher learning programs for refugees. In December 2015, the UNHCR co-hosted a workshop with InZone in Geneva, Switzerland. Funded by the Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC) programme, the workshop hammered out the details of the consortium’s framework.
Australian Catholic University (ACU), Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER), InZone-University of Geneva, Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins, Kenyatta University, Kepler, Moi University, PEIC, UNHCR, and the VodaFone Foundation were all in attendance at the workshop.
Pairing accredited higher learning institutions with virtual learning hubs will allow refugee students access to secondary and post-secondary education, as well as the credentials that come with an accredited higher education institution. Refugees will be able to receive degree, degree credits, or diplomas from universities.
In an article published by University World News, Barbara Moser-Mercer, the director of InZone, remarks that the consortium will “widen opportunities for refugees because collaboration may enable them to navigate from one provider to another knowing that credentials obtained with one provider will be recognized by another. So it creates virtual mobility, making credits portable, and guaranteeing new learning pathways.”
The consortium will also allow refugee students to virtually interact and learn with students from partnering institutions.
Moser-Mercer remarks that “in the refugee context meaning is created through collaboration, discussion, working together. It’s about refining your ideas and arguments not just with peers and fellow refugees in the learning hub, but also with students who are not necessarily in a refugee context but are taking the same course at other universities elsewhere.”
As more and more refugees leave their home countries in hopes of better futures, these education innovations become increasingly important. Providing refugees with access to credible, quality education will prevent an entire generation of displaced people from being left behind as the rest of the world zooms along.
– Clara Wang