Problematizing Education for Refugees at CIES 2017

By: Tom Tunney, Senior Advisor, University, College and Cégep Programming

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to providing quality education - particularly in fragile contexts.

This is the message we heard at the Comparative International Education Society (CIES) Annual Conference last March. I was there with my colleagues to reflect, share, and learn about education in the context of refugee and displaced youth.

Currently, only 50% of refugee children access primary education, only 25% of refugee adolescents access secondary education, and only 1% of refugee youth have access to post-secondary education. Girls face additional barriers in securing quality education.

Innovative education strategies can increase access to quality education for refugee and displaced youth. I had the pleasure of chairing a panel session at CIES on access to quality post-secondary education for refugee, displaced, and recently resettled youth, in which several sides of the problem were explored.

Nadia Abu-Zahra, Associate Professor with the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa, explored the issue of access and the opportunity presented by distance education. She shared key tenets of a collaborative initiative between the University of Ottawa and the American University of Beirut which aims to provide an undergraduate certificate in community mobilization for refugees and marginalized individuals in Lebanon through blended and online methodologies.

Bryce Loo from World Education Services (WES) discussed the challenges presented by the lack of verifiable educational credentials. Loo shared lessons learned from a pilot initiative in Canada which aimed to bridge the gap between missing qualifications and suggest alternate methods to recognize refugee qualifications.

Overcoming the obstacles youth face in accessing higher education must be a key element of support to refugee and displaced populations, though it is often overlooked. Scholar Martha K. Ferede noted that post-secondary education significantly improves the chances that refugee and displaced youth will succeed as their situation changes, whether that be through repatriation, integration into their host communities, or resettlement. It also provides them with a critical sense of hope for the future.

There were several other sessions which shared learning from different initiatives offering education for refugee and displaced youth. A lesson common to all of these was the importance of contextualizing each initiative to the specific conditions of the communities where the initiatives take place.

Another common theme raised in several sessions was the importance of monitoring, evaluation, and rigorous research and analysis to support evidence-based decision-making. This enables researchers and practitioners to foster an understanding of what works, what does not and why. Darius Getanda Isaboke and Timothy Kinoti, who work on our programming for refugee girls’ education in Kenya, led a very interesting session around their efforts to strengthen the quality of data in education programming. Through tracking girls’ attendance in challenging and changing environments, WUSC strengthens its education programming in two refugee camps and surrounding communities by better understanding students’ individual situations.

About CIES
Every year, the CIES Annual Conference unites thousands of researchers, students, practitioners, and policymakers to explore comparative and international education. This March, the conference gathered in Atlanta, Georgia to discuss “Problematizing (In)Equality.” Noah W. Sobe, president-elect of CIES, encouraged participants to challenge assumptions and seek new perspectives on inequality in education.

Photo from CIES.