Refugees and Education Part I: Higher Education challenged.
As the world has refocused its attention on the scale of the so-called refugee crisis, the question of how to help those who flee conflict-affected areas obtain higher education has gained renewed urgency.
This is the largest mass movement of people since the end of the Second World War. People battered from the war, the draught, the misery seek refuge in Europe, and there is no question that each and every one of them deserves a better life.
Hundreds of thousands of the migrants are young people, who either quit school or university to flee their war-torn homelands, or never had the chance to attend one. After having had to struggle their way to the shores of Europe, most of these people believe that they must zeal to study, apart from working, in order to have a better future in the country that will welcome them.
Refugees keen to study will need information about the university system of the country they are bound to settle in, language classes, checks on their credentials and aid with their applications, apart from financial assistance with housing and living costs, and, in many cases, psychological support due to traumas they are bearing.
European universities have the reputation of being ivory towers, with little connection to the outside world. The unprecedented influx of these “tired, poor, huddled masses, yearning to be free”, has proven that the European universities not only do have links to the “real world”, but now tackle to comfort these people and offer them the opportunity to continue their lives, thrive and pursue happiness.
Many universities see the opportunity to enroll students with a lot of potential, apart from giving them the first step to a better life. The problem is that there is still a lack of flexibility in the enrollment system, and any bypass might take time and will certainly raise opposing voices. Many European states have very rigid and legally binding centralized undergraduate admissions systems, usually based on a set of national exams.
Therefore, the need for bespoke exams for the refugees whose studies were interrupted because of the war becomes more imminent.
Technology can offer a solution to many of the problems that arise with our response to the refugees’ need to go on with their lives and their studies. Language classes can be set up and taught via e-learning, with qualified teachers who are of the same descend as their migrant students. The first step could be to set up e-classrooms and teach the language, the habits, the do’s and don’ts of each welcoming society, the details of the systems that prevail in the academic field, the everyday life hacks and any information that is of need. Money can be saved and be used to fund scholarships for these people, further aiding them to realize their dreams. Time can be saved that will diminish their anxiety and uncertainty. People will be helped in an efficient, substantial way. Hopeless youth will regain their right to a better life, their faith in humanity and themselves, the feeling that they belong somewhere anew.
No one denies that the priority is to provide food and shelter, but, especially young people want to develop themselves. Higher education is considered the ticket to a better new life in their new countries, but many of them are frustrated with the lack of educational opportunities in Europe, which is a direct outcome of the aforementioned inflexible university system and the result of bad coordination concerning the priorities towards welcoming refugees.
As far as online education is concerned, the first small steps to use technology to relieve, aid and support refugees in their academic endeavors have slowly begun. In the case of higher education, the main advantage of using online courses is that it saves time and money that can and will be used to aid more refugees and imperative survival needs they are facing as they reach our doorstep.
In the beginning, the world’s response to the “refugee crisis” was inadequate, poorly organized and therefore unsustainable. We can and should do more. We have the resources, the moral responsibility and a history of welcoming refugees. Most of all, we have the will and technology to provide a series of tools that will amplify our efforts, diminish the logistic difficulties, tackle the challenges that lie before us.
So, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” * *This is part of the poem engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. She herself crossed an ocean to reach a free land and preach freedom, compassion and humanity.
Aris is the Co-founder of Paced. Helping online educators make better courses.
He still can’t understand why he should refer to himself in the third person.