Empowering Education: Unlocking Potential for Refugee and Migrant Populations

By: Ilene Winokur, PD Specialist, Mentor and Coach, Journey to Belonging

Did you miss a session focused on Education for Displaced Communities? Here’s a deep dive of discussions that took place throughout the Migration Summit 2023:

Education is a powerful tool that can transform the lives of individuals, especially those who have been displaced due to conflicts and other forms of displacement. During the Migration Summit 2023, numerous sessions dove deeply into programs and solutions to the challenges of educating millions of displaced youth around the globe. This article delves into the theme of education in refugee and migrant populations, including the importance of alternative education pathways, low-tech solutions, the role of technology, community colleges, scholarships, and the efforts to overcome barriers to accessing higher education.

Alternative education models

Refugee youth often face significant challenges in accessing education. Displacement disrupts their schooling and leaves them with limited resources and opportunities. Many are forced to drop out of school, leaving their educational journey incomplete. The loss of stability and the trauma experienced during displacement further exacerbate the difficulties faced by these young individuals. Education is a transformative force that has the power to shape lives, create opportunities, and break the cycle of displacement for refugee and migrant populations. In the face of immense challenges and adversities, innovative programs and initiatives are emerging to provide high-quality learning opportunities for those who have been forced to abandon their education due to displacement. 

One program that is a shining example of alternatives to high school education for refugee youth is the Amala High School Diploma program. It is a comprehensive 15-month course that provides refugee youth with the opportunity to complete their high school education. Majd Khodari, a beneficiary of the program, emphasized its objective of providing high-quality learning opportunities for those who have been forced to abandon their education. The program covers the equivalent of the last two years of school and is competency-based, ensuring that students acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to earn a high school diploma. As Polly Akhurst, the founder and CEO of Amala noted during the session, “The program emphasizes community building, english language support, and Pathway Advising for higher education opportunities.”

The Role of Low-Tech Solutions

Other sessions at the Migration Summit 2023 emphasized the interactive exchange of ideas on the significance of low-tech solutions for refugees. Opportunities arising from increased mobile penetration and the positive perception towards online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic are also acknowledged. It is essential to consider the broader landscape of education for refugees and displaced youth, especially at the K-12 level. Low-tech solutions play a pivotal role in providing affordable, accessible, and scalable educational opportunities. These sessions on low-tech solutions highlight the importance of understanding learning outcomes, cost-effectiveness, accessibility, and cultural differences when selecting technology solutions for refugee education. 

Technology can play a pivotal role in improving learning outcomes for refugees and migrants but, as Mona Younes, founder of Beyond Borders asserted, “understanding the cultural differences and intrinsic motivations of learners is crucial for designing effective solutions.”  Adaptive feedback loops and personalized learning paths have the potential to empower learners, but it is essential to address systemic issues and ensure technology is leveraged effectively to bridge inequality and promote inclusion. Success stories like Project Backpack in Uganda, which utilizes offline educational apps to support literacy skills, demonstrate the transformative power of technology in refugee education.

Community Colleges are a Gateway to Education

Community colleges have emerged as vital institutions in providing access to higher education and vocational training for refugees and migrants. They act as gateways, offering language support, academic programs, and support services tailored to the unique needs of these populations. Initiatives such as Pima Community College’s non-credit side program for adult basic education and Every Campus a Refuge‘s efforts to host refugees on college campuses exemplify the inclusive and welcoming environment community colleges strive to create.

Community colleges occupy a unique position in providing access to higher education and job training for refugees. “Every Campus a Refuge proposes a fourth way for campuses to engage in this global crisis,” according to Walid M. This panel discussion highlighted their instrumental role in broadening the population of refugee students accessing education. The experiences shared by Pima Community College and the President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration underscore the importance of community colleges in creating welcoming environments and supporting the educational aspirations of refugees. Jing Luan expressed it this way, “It’s really about broadening who can participate and who can have access to these new pathways for protection and education.”

Scholarships and Inclusive Policies

To break down barriers to higher education, scholarships and inclusive policies are essential. Structural obstacles such as financial constraints and limited opportunities hinder the educational pursuits of refugee and migrant populations. However, efforts are being made to establish welcoming policies, reduce bureaucratic obstacles, and provide quality language training. By offering scholarships and housing regardless of nationality or status, higher education institutions are working to create equitable opportunities for all.

Scholarships serve as a vital opportunity for increasing access to higher education for refugees and migrants. Establishing welcoming policies, reducing bureaucratic obstacles, providing quality language training, and offering scholarships regardless of nationality or status are critical steps in breaking down barriers. The initiatives undertaken by higher education institutions, such as the University of California’s DREAM Scholars program, exemplify efforts to promote equity and provide educational opportunities for all.

Education stands as a powerful catalyst for transforming the lives of refugee and migrant populations. Initiatives that provide alternative education interventions, low-tech solutions, specialized programs at community colleges, and inclusive scholarships are making a remarkable difference by providing access, fostering empowerment, and creating pathways to K-16 education. As we move forward, it is essential to continue supporting and investing in these initiatives to ensure that every displaced individual has the opportunity to unlock their potential, overcome challenges, and build a brighter future.