In an area where the ultimate goal is to help people, it is unfortunate that the refugees who are gaining more attention as subjects of research are not gaining much directly from that research. It is also unfortunate that to see some positive effects from the results of that research can take years, possibly decades. The consequence is that refugees feel taken advantage of and used. This is understandable. I would not like to perpetuate this negativity in my own research. Of course I’m trying to make a positive contribution, and I want to do my best to not create harm on my way to doing some positive work. I’ve chosen to do this by volunteering at a refugee organization in downtown Vancouver called Inland Refugee Society of BC. I’ll be teaching again, which I dearly miss, and I’ll be adding some positivity in this arena.
To give you some background, the following are the first couple of pages of the literature review (a summary of the current studies in the subject) I wrote for my first class. I’ll probably write more about my area of research, so this will build a more complete understanding of this issue. The introduction gives a general view of the current state of refugee situations.
“UNESCO believes that education is a human right for all throughout life and that access must be matched by quality.”
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Refugee Crisis and Education
It is not uncommon for refugees fleeing Syria to lose family members while escaping across the Mediterranean in turbulent seas or for women in Kenyan refugee camps to be under constant threat of sexual assault because of insufficient security. Other refugees may get waylaid by unscrupulous men claiming to help then demanding money the refugees simply do not have. While these displaced people hope to find shelter and security, the path away from violence and uncertainly is not always direct.
The phrase refugee crisis has been used ad infinitum to such an extent that it no longer holds as much meaning or urgency as it should. And while words do a poor job of expressing the pain and struggle of the people behind displacement, there is indeed a refugee crisis that has not been seen previously (“Refugees,” n.d.). The United Nations High Commission for Refugees claims there are 65 million displaced people (including refugees) in as many as 130 nations (“Figures at a Glance,” n.d.). The largest camp, to this date, is being built in Bangladesh. It will hold 400,000 people that are displaced as a consequence of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar (Beech, 2017). Seen from the outside, it is an overwhelming situation. Experiencing it as a lived situation, for most of us, is unimaginable.
While continuing the use of the word crisis risks removing the meaning from the term entirely, this is no other word that effectively describes the state of education for refugees. Once the attention of the international community strays and funds begin to dry up, education comes second to providing for basic needs of the displaced. One possible option to ease this might be online learning. In a complex, fund starved situation, pursuing this path allows for options for educating refugees. A review of the research shows that the need is there, but the research is not. Sociology has done a noble amount of research in the area of education for refugees and has begun some research in the area of online learning; however, there has been no work done within the discipline of educational technology. This search for relevant articles included both the Simon Fraser University library catalog as well as Google Scholar. Search terms such as “refugee education,” “refugee education online” and “refugee distance education” revealed no articles originating from the educational technology discipline. Related articles within sociology were referenced for citations within educational technology with no success.
Update: I just got an email yesterday from the coordinator of the Inland Refugee program letting the volunteer instructors know that classes will be postponed with the implication that the program may be cancelled. I will know more later. I’m deeply disappointed, but I will continue to look elsewhere for opportunities to contribute to the refugee population.
Tools that I used for this post:
Pixaby for the photo
Thanks Mark for proofreading.