NLG Tech Task Force webinar recap: Higher education opportunities for refugee youth and adolescents

Author: Seth Otto | June 7, 2017

Following the launch of the NLG Tech Task Force at the 2017 NLG Ed Tech Summit in Amman, Jordan in March, the Task Force is hosting a series of virtual convenings to encourage information sharing and collaboration.

The NLG Tech Task Force was set up by NetHope and the No Lost Generation initiative (NLG) to facilitate collaboration within the international development community and between the NGO and private sector focused on ICT-enabled, evidence-based programs for refugee education and training. For more information, check out the NetHope.org blog post announcing its launch.

Higher education opportunities for refugee youth and adolescents is the fourth in the NLG Tech Task Force webinar series that is currently focused on youth education, skills-training, and livelihoods. The webinar was hosted by Leila Toplic of the NLG Tech Task Force, and was presented by Sanja Sontor, Kiron’s Head of International Academics, and Rebecca Taber, Coursera’s head of Government & Nonprofit Partnerships. The presentation featured an overview of the partnership between Kiron and Coursera, and their ongoing efforts to make higher education accessible to refugees using ICT-enabled solutions.

To access higher education, refugees often face several high barriers to entry. The UNHCR cites the four most common obstacles as cost, unclear legal status, school capacity, and language. Through a partnership with Coursera, Kiron is attempting to circumvent those barriers with its free, online education opportunities for refugees.

Sontor opened the webinar with an overview of Kiron, the refugees they serve, and their ongoing partnership with Coursera for Refugees. Kiron is an education technology nonprofit startup with a vision of a world where everyone has equal access to higher education. Their mission is to enable that vision through digital solutions. Refugee students from anywhere in the world can gain entry to Kiron’s massive open online courses (MOOCs). They are currently offering five areas of study: business and economics, computer science, mechanical engineering, social work, and political science. After approximately two years of study, Kiron students qualify to apply for admission to a physical university through Kiron’s partnership with 41 universities in 8 countries.

Sajida, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee living in Berlin. She had completed her high school education in Syria before fleeing to Berlin to escape the conflict, then decided to pursue an engineering degree at a university, but she could not enroll as she wasn’t fluent in German. Thanks to Kiron, Sajida is currently studying mechanical engineering online.

Scalable digital solutions are key to addressing the massive need for refugee education. With over 2,300 refugee students currently enrolled, Kiron has developed a solution that is accessible from connected computers and smart devices. Kiron’s ecosystem of services and virtual classrooms provide opportunities to refugee students for professional mentorship, cultural integration, psycho-social counseling, university transfer guidance, and much more. The Direct Academics feature of Kiron’s MOOC program allows students to attend live online lectures from anywhere in the world. Kiron’s global network of volunteer educators from accredited universities deliver the same high-quality lectures that traditional classroom students receive.

Sontor demonstrated Kiron’s online campus interface. The user interface is uncluttered and provides easy access to the integrated Coursera program and the ecosystem of services designed to support students’ success. Students will find all classes within their given area of study, along with Kiron’s support services and an online forum to build support with other students.

Offline in the physical world, Kiron is building a network of study centers. With five currently open in Germany and one in Paris, refugee students have access to a physical space with computer hardware, internet connectivity, quiet study spaces, and importantly, where they can meet in person. Kiron has plans to expand their network of study centers to every country where they have an office.

“Kiron really is a shortcut for integration. I could start studying with them right away without any documents required!” – Ahmad, successful Kiron transfer student currently studying at Bard College in Berlin

Sontor emphasized the importance of the working partnerships that a nonprofit like Kiron has cultivated with for-profit Coursera, as well as public universities. Kiron’s relationship with Coursera is a good example of a for-profit company and not-for-profit agency working together for social good in the face of the refugee crisis. Coursera is the largest online education provider in the world. In partnership with 140 universities, Coursera offers over 2,000 online courses to over 24 million registered students, most of whom live outside of the U.S. Without Coursera, Kiron’s programming wouldn’t be possible.

“We turned to our partner, the State Department and asked, what is the best way that a company like Coursera can impact this crisis?” – Rebecca Taber

Taber explained that Coursera for Refugees was created as the result of a company-wide make-a-thon in late 2015 where employees were encouraged to work on any project they wanted. They reached out to the U.S. State Department to see how their online education platform could be used to help with the refugee crisis. That conversation provided the genesis of the Coursera for Refugees program. Launched on World Refugee Day 2016, Coursera for Refugees is now working with over 30 nonprofits and NGOs who work with refugees.

Taber described Coursera for Refugees as a “group financial aid offering for nonprofits and NGOs.” They focus on three main objectives: unlimited access to Coursera’s coursework and certificates from the world’s top universities at no cost to the refugees they serve; an online community forum that nonprofits can use to communicate and support each other; and the administrative backend features that nonprofits need to communicate with the refugees and track their academic progress. These are the same features and services that Coursera sells to companies and governments around the world, provided to refugees at no cost.

Nonprofits and NGOs are able tailor their use of Coursera for Refugees to suit the scope of their mission. Some are administering through comprehensive programing like Kiron while others stop at providing free Coursera accounts via email to the refugees they serve.

Some organizations, like the U.S. State Department, use Coursera to provide single classes to refugees in a physical location.

Taber wrapped up her presentation with a student profile of Hadi, a 22 year-old Syrian refugee living in Turkey who manages projects that teach non-violent communication to young refugees. “Coursera is part of my daily life. I believe that he who stops reading and learning stops growing. Learning with Coursera has helped me as a refugee to be engaged in the new community I’m in. It’s enabled me, by learning, to be an active citizen wherever I may be,” said Hadi in a provided quote.

 

Through Kiron’s partnership with Coursera for Refugees, Hadi has completed courses from UC Irvine, University of Amsterdam and Johns Hopkins University. When asked, Hadi said that the next course he is preparing to take is called How To Change The World.

To access the in-depth presentation, collateral material, and watch the Higher education opportunities for refugee youth and adolescents webinar recording that includes an extensive Q&A session not covered in this recap, visit the webinar landing page.

STAY TUNED!

Coming up:

No Lost Generation World Refugee Day webinar - Date: June 20, 2017

…and more to come!

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NetHope’s mission is to act as a catalyst for collaboration, bringing together the knowledge and power of the leading international humanitarian organizations so that the best information communication technology and practices can be used to serve people in the developing world.

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