Education for Humanity takes leadership role in refugee education

By

Mary Beth Faller

Education for Humanity, an initiative of Arizona State University, is helping to address the needs of the world’s refugee population by extending educational access to communities affected by displacement.

The initiative, which works in partnership with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, humanitarian organizations, ministries of higher education and refugees themselves, offers online courses that are facilitated by local teachers in refugee settlements and urban communities around the world.

Now, Education for Humanity will be stepping into a leadership role as one of the co-lead institutions of the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium, the primary convening body for organizations involved in connected, or blended, learning in emergency contexts.

Nicholas Sabato, director of country programs for Education for Humanity, answered some questions from ASU Now.

Question: What does Education for Humanity do?

Answer: Established in 2017 with external investment and the support of ASU President Michael Crow, Education for Humanity currently serves over 700 learners in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq and will soon welcome new programs in Ethiopia and Malaysia. We have examined how ASU’s digital offerings can best be paired with local expertise and facilitation to help refugee learners meet their individual ambitions. This manifests itself in a number of ways, such as a Syrian learner in Za’atari Camp taking Learn English Now courses from Global Launch to increase employability prospects or a South Sudanese refugee taking college algebra in Adjumani, Uganda, to gain credits that transfer into a local Ugandan institution.  

We focus on providing an increasingly diverse menu of relevant, recognized postsecondary educational offerings that enable learners to gain skills, credentials and build confidence. It is our objective to continue engaging with a variety of partners to expand our offerings and number of sites to further meet the dramatic need for higher education opportunities for displaced learners and the communities that have welcomed them.

“The global community is faced with a question of how we can catalyze our communal resources to avoid a 'lost generation' of youth. ... Education is widely seen as the ticket to enhance self-reliance and stimulate economic mobility and, frankly, only 1% of refugees having access to higher education isn’t fair nor acceptable.”
— Nicholas Sabato, Education for Humanity

Q: What is the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium?

A: The Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium serves as the primary convening body for organizations involved in connected, or blended, learning in emergency contexts. The consortium aims to promote, coordinate, collaborate and/or support the provision of quality higher education in contexts of conflict, crisis and displacement through connected learning by sharing and disseminating knowledge, experience and evidence; developing innovative and good practices; and ensuring accountability to students and their communities in order to foster self-reliance.

In practice, the consortium serves as a platform for universities, nongovernmental organizations, foundations and multilateral institutions like the U.N. to come together and share promising practices and challenges and seek innovative ways for the sector to better serve refugee learners. The consortium coordinates roundtable advocacy meetings with ministries of higher education in countries of operation, most recently in Lebanon and Jordan.

A primary objective for the consortium moving forward, and part of ASU’s leadership responsibility, is to advocate for governmental policies to recognize the quality of connected learning programs as well as provide further opportunities for its member organizations to expand program operations. With only 1% of refugees currently having access to higher education and opportunities in host communities already constrained, the consortium aims to move the needle on utilizing connected learning as a means for achieving the U.N. refugee agency’s stated objective of increasing refugee access to higher education to 15% by 2030.

Q: What will Education for Humanity’s new leadership role be?

A: The Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium is coordinated by two co-lead institutions, and Education for Humanity will be assuming one of these positions in January 2020. Upon establishment of the consortium in 2016, the inaugural co-leads were UNHCR (the U.N. refugee agency) and University of Geneva InZone.

After 18 months of membership, ASU was elected by its peers alongside UNHCR in the June meeting at U.N. City in Copenhagen to serve in this leadership capacity, thus providing a significant platform for ASU to guide the evolution of the refugee education sector to reflect the desires of refugee learners and member institutions. This leadership opportunity comes with significant responsibility including the promotion of promising practices for program implementation, working with ministries and funding agencies to advocate for further connected learning support, and developing complementary pathways for organizations to increase learner opportunities for further education and vocational opportunities.

As co-lead, it will be our responsibility to build upon the foundation of the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium with a fresh set of eyes, seeking new ways to be inclusive of all stakeholders and empower members with innovative opportunities to further meet their strategic objectives.

Underlining the stated responsibilities of ASU in this role is the need to call further attention to the lack of resources currently available for organizations offering higher education to refugees. On the whole, education only receives roughly 2% of the humanitarian funding comprehensively and, of this 2%, the vast majority is allocated toward primary education. Of course, this focus on primary education is entirely warranted, but we see it not as a mutually exclusive investment and hope to raise awareness of the immense benefits, direct and indirect, that can result from further support of tertiary education for displaced learners.

Q: How will this directly affect refugees?

A: The backbone of any successful consortium is a commitment to shared objectives amongst its members, and we’re fortunate that the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium was founded on a set of principles that are uncompromising in the commitment to the inclusion and reflection of refugee ambitions in all program designs. It is a tenet of the membership application process to demonstrate responsible connected learning practices and position learners at the center of all of our programs.

As such, we see the consortium as both a mechanism to promote quality educational programs for refugees but, perhaps more so, a convening platform for organizations to collaborate in providing more pathways for refugee learners to achieve their goals. For example, there are currently a number of programs that provide university preparatory offerings but relatively few that provide verified teacher training programs, so the consortium can highlight these gaps and promote the creation of relevant offerings that have been voiced by learners as areas of interest.

Ideally, the consortium can serve as a win-win-win platform that leverages institutional strengths for the benefit of refugees. In Amman, Jordan, for example, ASU provides our Be a Successful Online Learner modules that introduce strategies for engaging in a connected environment and build confidence in doing so. We partner with Jesuit Refugee Service, an NGO with facilities and teachers in Amman, and then learners that complete our courses matriculate into a Bard College academic program also being offered with Jesuit Refugee Service. Learners in Amman, therefore, are able to engage in a streamlined experience that involves three different organizations to reach a specific academic goal. It is our hope that more of these collaborative opportunities will germinate within the consortium and scale to better serve refugee learners.

Q: Why is this work important?

A: Though statistics rarely communicate the nuances of a situation, I think it’s important to first communicate a snapshot of the current global displacement emergency. There are currently over 70 million individuals displaced, 26 million of whom are refugees, and over half of these individuals are under 18 years of age. Of the 26 million refugees, 84% are currently residing in developing countries such as Jordan, Uganda and Ethiopia. Eighty percent of these individuals have been displaced for a period of over five years, often residing in refugee camps or, more often, living in urban communities of the host country. Though refugee resettlement to a third country (such as the United States, Canada or Australia) is often discussed, the reality is that only 1% of refugees are currently being resettled to third countries and resettlement is therefore an extremely unlikely option for most refugees.

Given these statistics, the global community is faced with a question of how we can catalyze our communal resources to avoid a “lost generation” of youth. Humanitarian organizations and UNHCR continue to provide support for basic needs of refugees but, particularly for those in protracted situations, the question is often, “What next?”

We hope that this type of work can eventually answer that question. Education is widely seen as the ticket to enhance self-reliance and stimulate economic mobility and, frankly, only 1% of refugees having access to higher education isn’t fair nor acceptable. With increasing connectivity and the importance of developing digital skills, the use of technology as a support mechanism in connected learning in tandem with local partnerships provide a natural solution to the current levels of educational inaccessibility.

It is therefore incumbent upon leading global organizations that prioritize access to education to do so, and the consortium serves as a mechanism to help us all do so responsibly. Whether a refugee learner is interested in starting her own business or becoming a lawyer, it is critical for institutions like ASU and other organizations to collaborate globally and locally to afford such opportunities, enabling learners to gain skills and develop professionally to contribute when the time comes to eventually rebuild their home country or contribute in their new environment.

It is therefore our humble view that this work is not only important for refugees themselves, but is in fact a critical endeavor that is undeniably in the best interest of the global community at large, and we are proud to be a part of it.

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