UNHCR – Online study program gives refugee students some hope


By Charlie Dunmore in Azraq refugee camp, Jordan | September 26, 2017 | Spanish | French | ??

The war abruptly ended Qusai’s efforts to become a lawyer. He was in his first year of a law degree at Daraa University when violence erupted in the southern Syrian city at the start of the country’s civil war in 2011.

In 2013, he and his family fled to Jordan and ended up in the isolated Azraq refugee camp. There, Qusai’s hopes for further education seemed to fade away.

Desperate to continue learning, he enrolled in every informal class he could find: English, computers and even cell phone repair. Unable to pay the fees or obtain a visa to study in a third country, the idea of ​​completing his degree remained elusive.

It was then that he heard about an initiative called InZone, supported by the University of Geneva and offering a bachelor’s-level history course designed by Princeton University in the United States.

“There were prestigious institutions involved and I really wanted to take it.”

“I hadn’t thought of studying history before, but there were some prestigious institutions involved and I really wanted to enroll,” Qusai said.

Enrollment in higher, or postgraduate, education has increased worldwide – 36% in 2016, up from 34% a year earlier – but for 99% of refugees, access to university and other forms of higher education remains limited. range.

The demand is clearly there: in 2016, more than 4,300 refugees received DAFI scholarships, the higher education program offered by the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR and supported by Germany, to pursue higher education in 37 host countries, an increase of almost 90% from 2015. However, for tens of thousands more, the cost, distance and difficulty of completing secondary education contributed to exclude them.

InZone shows how higher education can be accessible to those who do not normally have access to it. First established in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya in 2010, the initiative reached Azraq in September 2016 with the Princeton History Course.

Now, an engineering course from another US institution, Purdue University, is also available. Classroom sessions take place in a computer lab funded by UNHCR and managed by the non-governmental organization CARE International.

“Being connected to the world outside academia makes you feel like you are part of something bigger. “

James Casey, a PhD student in Modern Syrian History at Princeton, was one of the online tutors for the Azraq course. He says that unlike normal online or correspondence courses where retention rates are often low, the InZone approach is all about promoting regular engagement between tutors and students, whether online, face-to-face or via social networks. This is how they stay “engaged and on track,” he said.

Course tutors and teachers try to visit camp students at the start and end of the term, in the first case to organize selection exams and introduce those selected to the course, then to supervise an end-of-term workshop. courses and final exams.

In addition to the computer lab, students use mobile devices to study and can access material on USB drives when the Internet is not available. Tutor groups are set up on the WhatsApp instant messaging service to allow communication between students and teachers even when connectivity is limited.

The course kept Qusai intellectually stimulated and gave him hope. “Studying at top universities and being connected to the world outside academia makes you feel like you are part of something bigger – not just a number in a refugee camp,” he said.

It also opened up new perspectives. “We learned how European countries rebuilt themselves after World War II, and it gave me hope that we can do the same in Syria.”

See UNHCR’s 2017 Refugee Education Report, Left Behind: Refugee Education in Times of Crisis.

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