Before we do anything else, I’d like you to do a visualization with me. I’m about to throw a bunch of numbers at you, and I want you to get a sense of what these numbers really mean.
Imagine standing on the fifty-yard line of a football field. Now imagine if that football field were covered in one-dollar bills. How many would it be? According to the Internet, it would be 517, 254. Now multiply that by one hundred and twenty, and you have about how many displaced people there are in the world. That number is not all refugees but because of either civil unrest, environmental disasters or famine, these people have been driven from their homes. That is a lot. And many of these people are not getting their basic needs met.
As you know, I’m working to help facilitate education for these people that have the least access to it. I’m also trying to give back as much as I can to this cause. I don’t think the research is enough though. There has to be a very tangible result from my interest in this population.
Luckily, there is a program that teaches higher ed to refugees in protracted situations within an online platform. It’s called Jesuit Worldwide Learning. I describe this program in detail in the third part of my literature review, which I will post soon. In the meantime, I have contacted them and will be teaching an academic writing class for them in the fall. I’m unspeakably excited. I can’t wait to teach again, and this is the exact population that I will be working with in my research.
The following is the second part of my lit review. It looks at how education can help refugees in a variety of ways. If you are interested, part I is here titled : I Don’t Expect to Change the World, I’m Going to Help in Whatever Small Way I Can.
Benefits of Tertiary Education
The evidence does not provide a lot of reason to be optimistic about a happy ending for refugees in protracted situations. While these people have had to flee their homes because of fear for their lives and imminent physical harm, there is some hope that it is possible to provide a foundation to build a future for themselves through education. It is not only the possibility of building a life that a well-paying job can provide, Zeus (2011) says that education has an, “important role in psychosocial, but also physical and cognitive protection” and “can play a role in helping communities understand and cope with their fate and can be a critical part of providing meaning in life” (p. 257). Hakami (2016) emphasizes that education can build psychological support which fosters higher functioning which then provides more foundational psychological support. Those are significant reasons to provide at least a bare minimum of higher education; more would be better.
The positive influences of education on the mental health of the refugees can not be overstated. In situations where basic necessities such as food, clean water and basic physical safety are inconsistent at best (Crea & McFarland, 2015), the burden of the reality of living in – and often growing up in – protracted encampments requires a deep reservoir of internal strength. Education can help supplement that reservoir. Crea and McFarland (2015) quote a student in regard to the student’s experience in the refugee camp, “I’m also a human being; working hard and trying hard to achieve what I want to achieve; the first thing is change my attitude and be seen and treated as a human being” (p. 241). Building confidence as well as the development of critical thinking skills are two consequences of the pursuit of higher education (MacLaren, 2012).
Often the voices of the refugees themselves are unrepresented in research on these complex displacement situations. However, Hakami (2016) focuses on these voices and shows that refugees’ futures are not simply informed by kismet, but rather they have the desire for agency and volition of their own. When given the chance, refugees speak of the opportunities that education can provide through work. But beyond that obvious benefit, Hakami notes that they also speak about how education can help them to fit more easily into the host culture, as well as allow them to give back to their home country, if they return.
While refugee situations continue to stagnate, Hakami (2016) argues that education can be a means of resolving protracted situations. Hakami points out that better educated refugees can contribute to society whether that is upon their return home, in the host culture or in an entirely different placement. Education provides more opportunities to contribute to the workforce, thus allowing the refugees to need less financial and social support in their ultimate country of return or relocation. Educated immigrants contribute more to society in general and have a positive impact on sectors such as the government, the physical health of the society and the economy (Hakami, 2016). Perhaps most importantly, the refuges believe that the educational skill that they develop will allow them more options in their future (Crea & McFarland, 2015).
There are also multiple advantages for the refugees while they remain in the camps (Crea & McFarland, 2015). The refugees that have been through tertiary education are seen as role models for their fellow refugees (Crea & McFarland, 2015). In addition to being seen as contributing a positive influence to the camp, the educated see themselves as giving back (Hakami, 2016). They are not simply a disempowered group without a country that they can call home; they are part of a community that they are contributing to in a positive way. The educated can also find possible employment in the camps (Hakami, 2016) and education provides structure and support in a very unstructured and unstable environment.
Part III looks at specific programs that currently exist. It will be published soon.