Adapting educational systems to meet refugee needs

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Adapting educational systems to meet refugee needs

Below is a list of questions to serve as a starting framework for the discussion in this thread:

  • What additional support should schools with large refugee populations specifically offer?
  • How should a curriculum adjust to account for refugee students' needs?
  • What role should non-profits play in supporting schools for refugees?
  • How might separate schools for refugees affect the integration of a displaced community into a host society?
  • Share stories of success
Educational design around strengths and supports

The last thing I would favor is additional structures that further segregate and exclude refugees—as placing refugees in camps has not protected or served refugees well. Yet I take the premise of this conversation thread to be a call to design an education system with refugees’ needs in mind. In terms of structure, I envision a flexible system that allows for growth within and beyond it, so that students can continue their learning throughout the same system while also allowing for transferrable knowledge, skills, and credentials to other school systems. In this way, the flexibility would account and prepare students for what Sarah Dryden-Peterson calls refugees’ “unknowable futures.” I also wonder about creating distinct curricular pathways for students with distinct interests and allowing for different paces and styles of learning, though I recognize that this variance introduces a set of new challenges in terms of implementation and accreditation.

We might also ask, what are the strengths that refugee learners bring, and how can we leverage and better support these? Can we design a system around both the needs and strengths of refugee learners? 

Programming for a flexible education system

Thanks for your insight Michelle! I think you posed a very important question that reminds us that education systems should not only address refugees'  needs, but also help support and highlight the valuable contributions refugees have in their host communities.

I also think you made an interesting point about "a flexible system that allows for growth within and beyound it." What kind of educational programming and support should schools offer to help students beyound the classroom? What are some examples of these kinds of programs? 

Flexible pathways Accelerated Education

 Among refugee populations, there are large numbers of children and youth who frequently miss out on substantial amounts of schooling. With each missed school year, there is greater risk that they will be unable to return to formal education and greater risks to their protection as a result. Responding to the needs of these children and young people has increasingly led governments and agencies to explore the possibility of providing flexible pathways to allow them to complete thier education. One exmaple of a kind of programme  that is being used more and more is Accelerated Education.

What is Accelerated Education?

Accelerated Education (AE) is used to promote access to certified education for children and adolescents who have missed out on substantial amounts of schooling. In AE older students cover the same educational ground as the standard-age learners, but at a faster and more intensive pace. AE programmes enable students to study in a way and at a level appropriate to their ability and age. The curriculum is condensed, so they can complete it in half the number of years normally required for that level, or less. They can also study additional material suitable for their age and where they live. By catching up in this way, learners can then integrate into mainstream education (in the right class for their age); transfer to the next educational level (normally secondary) or to skills-based technical and vocational education. AE is normally used at the primary level though there are secondary AE programmes.

Accelerated education programmes can provide refugee children and adolescents with a viable option for certified education. When over-age children return to school, there is not only a risk of overcrowding classrooms and difficult teaching conditions with multiple age ranges, but there are also considerable protection risks in mixing older and younger children in one class. Certified accelerated education programmes are a key way to allow older children and adolescents to access condensed primary education services in conditions appropriate for their age.

Does anyone have experience of AE programmes? 



How do we identity what refugees need?

Thanks Michelle for posting that comment, and to Martha for sharing other educational options that move us away from prioritizing students' migratory experience. Something that worries me is how some educational interventions end up raifyng the victimization that so many times comes when calling an individual "refugee." I imagine a curriculum that recognizes the dramatic effects of forced migration while it helps students developing their capabilities to their maximum. Furthermore, I would like us to take a step back in the conversation and examine how do we identify/define what a refugee needs? What are the tools that we are using to collect and analyze this data? How can we make sure we respond to individual needs?

Role of civil society

There is already a lot to take up with these comments! But to throw one more issue into the mix -- one of the questions was about the role of NGOs in education. The various education responses for refugees from the conflict in Syria might be helpful to examine. My impression is that it is critical for governments to enlist civil society to reach children with education, especially when a large number of refugees enter countries where the education system was already in poor shape.

Turkey is alone among countries hosting Syrian refugees in that it has allowed Syrians to set up their own formal schools (called 'Temporary Education Centers'). These schools were accredited by Turkey's education ministry, and had the advantage of teaching a familiar Syrian curriculum (with the propaganda about the Assad family and the Baath party deleted), in Arabic. There are something like 800-900,000 school-age Syrian children in Turkey; of those, roughly 350,000 were in these 'Syrian' schools and only 150,000 in Turkish public schools last year. In other words, even in a country like Turkey with a relatively robust public education system, the out-of-school numbers for refugee kids would have been truly disastrous if they had all been forced to go to public schools. The 'Syrian' schools counter many of the problems that children would face in public schools: many Syrian children do not understand Turkish; public schools may be far away or hard to get to; children may be afraid of bullying and harassment by Turkish students; and their parents can interact with teachers and help with lessons. Another positive aspect of the 'Syrian' schools is that they employ more than 10,000 Syrian teachers -- UNICEF helped pay their salaries. In other countries that do not allow Syrians to work in the classroom -- Lebanon and Jordan -- Syrian teachers are an important resource that's effectively being wasted. (And Lebanon and Jordan's public school systems were less robust than Turkey's before the Syria conflict, and have had to cope with far greater percentages of Syrian refugee students in terms of the overall student population than Turkey has.)

But the 'Syrian schools' in Turkey present their own problems. The main issue is the existence of two separate academic systems, with one being de facto for Syrians only. Some parents complained of poor-quality teaching, or (in Istanbul) that schools charged substantial fees that students' families could not afford. There seemed to be little oversight. Recently, Turkey required all Syrian teachers to pass exams in order to continue to work, which seems a reasonable step toward ensuring a degree of quality. On the other hand, Turkish policy is to close down all the 'Syrian' schools and integrate the students into the Turkish public school system, in the next few years. That move could work, but only if Turkey is able to fix the gaps that led it to allow the Syrian schools to be established in the first place; otherwise,  it could wind up by forcing lots of kids out of school altogether.

In my view, for what it's worth, Turkey seems to have innovated and come up with some good solutions -- it's hard to see how anything but the 'Syrian' schools could have helped get so many kids into school in the short-term, and similarly, integrating Syrian kids into public schools seems like the right goal  -- but timing and execution are key. However things wind up in Turkey, it seems that it's a good idea in general to recognize the valuable role that refugee teachers can play.

Are there particularly positive (or cautionary) cases where other countries have worked with civil society to provide quality education to children who couldn't otherwise access schooling? (Or does anyone have thoughts in particular about education in the Syria context, or disagree with this presentation of the situation in Turkey?)

How to integrate Syrian students into Turkey Schools?

Bill, thanks for bringing up the complexities of refugee education in Turkey.  I think you made a really interesting point about both the short-term benefits and long-term concerns about to seperate academic systems. As Turkey moves to integrate Syrians students into mainstream Turkish schools, what are the some important gaps that need to be addressed for the integration to be sucessful? What are some strategies schools could use to make the transition more sucessful?