Three Models of Refugee Education

Over 12,000 school-aged refugees live in Greece. For many, accessing quality education is out of reach. The question of how to fulfil their right to education remains hotly debated. Navigating language, location, age and duration of residency, a range of models are being implemented.

On Chios, an island where hundreds of children spend weeks, months, or in many cases over a year, the authorities and larger NGOs have dragged their feet. It has fallen to smaller organisations to respond with prompter solutions. One project, Refugee Education Chios, has been fulfilling this right for over a year and a half. Providing primary and secondary education to hundreds of children every week, they have leveraged an international support network to provide consistent learning opportunities seven days a week to children and young adults aged 6–22.

But it isn’t right that organisations reliant on short-term volunteers should take sole responsibility for the educational needs of these children. Nor is it sustainable. Whilst Refugee Education Chios offers a safe-space, English language, and project-based teaching, it cannot offer accreditation to its students. Without access to curriculums accredited by exam boards and ministries of education, these students will still miss out on university places, jobs and opportunities available to more fortunate students.

With the rise of online education, and as innovators apply themselves to finding digital solutions to the refugee crisis, an alternative model is becoming available. Sky School is one advocate of the online model, seeking to offer an international, accredited high school diploma. In partnership with UWCSEA, it has just launched a prototype course in Social Entrepreneurship.

Employing a ‘blended learning’ model, where students learn in digital and physical classrooms, it seeks to reach out to displaced teenagers around the globe. Yet, as the course begins, issues are quickly becoming apparent. The blended learning model remains fundamentally reliant on the physical classroom. As a facilitator myself of one online class, it’s clear that these students, who access course material solely online, do not feel involved in a properly rigorous learning process. The 93% drop-out rate that applies to most MOOC seems to be just about the same here.

The online platform Sky School uses is called Aula, a programme with a light interface, consisting largely of messaging and forum-based facilities. This platform moves away from the more immersive and aesthetically-pleasing programmes such as Duolingo or Google’s Digital Garage. Student-led discussion is intended to be the primary educational strategy, yet as I can give testimony to, this is hard to foster amongst students separated by language, place and identity, with only a digital avatar to talk to.

On Chios, meanwhile, the municipality is finally making steps to cater for small numbers of refugee children. A fraction are now attending local primary schools and secondary schools, though these numbers are tiny in comparison with the hundreds remaining without access in the camps.

Nevertheless, the benefits to those enrolled is great. Greek language acquisition and integration are catered to through specialist teachers, whilst the space and consistency offered by established schools allow for a more normal social experience. These students are also set up to follow a national curriculum that culminates in recognised certificates.

This model, of integration within already existing schools, however, does not work for those stuck for indeterminate periods of time on the Aegean islands, in migrant hotspots. Even those who have been enrolled in local schools have found themselves taken out after only short periods of time, as their asylum requests move them on to the mainland or back to Turkey.

On Chios, as with the other Greek islands, the variable timescales of children waiting here makes the model quite disruptive, both to its few beneficiaries and to the Greek teacher and school children it impacts.

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