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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Syrian Refugees Build ‘Learning Ecosystems’ to Access Higher Education

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“Particularly striking was the number and diversity of online sources of learning, particularly on social media, as well as local community centers,” Webster said.

The report identified several youth-led learning initiatives, such as a volunteer-based Facebook group, created by a young woman in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley region that has helped train 650 women in language and business skills via WhatsApp and Messenger; platforms for informing refugees where to access scholarships and training in Beirut; a book club created on WhatsApp, using PDF books and with 200 users; and a former student who started teaching new students at her home in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

The report also highlighted the key role played by the “integrators” through the Tertiary Refugee Student Network. This helped increase connections between elements in the Learning Ecosystem through various online and offline channels.

“Integrators support young refugees who find it difficult to access or navigate the diversity of learning opportunities and pathways available to them,” Webster said. “They have strong social networks; they identify opportunities and make connections between networks and leverage resources.”

The report cited HS, a student-led online platform on Facebook, as a good example of an integrator. The platform connects over 70,000 users to education opportunities ranging from scholarships, vocational training, and language training and volunteering.

A Push to Accredit Informal Initiatives

Community-led initiatives lack accreditation of their programs and program leaders, but Francis Randle, a connected-higher-education specialist with UNHCR, said the U.N. agency will advocate a policy of accreditation for connected higher education to open opportunities for learners.

“That entails collaboration with local education ministries and local education bodies in order to ensure that the courses which are offered are relevant and accredited locally. Otherwise you will have a lot of courses offered which don’t lead to meaningful certification,” Randle said.

Valerie Hannon, board director and co-founder of Innovation Unit UK, called for close collaboration with employers to make sure that the kinds of accreditation which are created are meaningful, and can open doors for learners.

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