A paper based on interviews with 122 refugees has found that education programmes aimed specifically at refugees place unrealistic expectations on student performance, and often fail to take the realities of their environment into account.

The study, titled Refugee higher education: contextual challenges and implications for program design, delivery, and accompaniment, was led by Thomas Crea, associate professor at Boston College’s School of Social Work and head author of the paper. The research highlighted participants’ concerns regarding their completion of the course in the future, as well as the fact that opportunities they are offered are often “constrained” due to the instability of their environment.

“There are logistical issues of distance from the learning centre and of international instructors not understanding the context of the students very well, and sometimes having unrealistic expectations of student performance,” Crea told Times Higher Education.

Participants of the study had recently undertaken a higher education course of one form or another, and interviews revealed that a large majority felt their chosen programme lacked “contextually based examples”, and their professors lacked flexibility when it came to meeting deadlines.

Interviewees were either current or former students of Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins, a programme that links scholars and universities across the globe in order to deliver quality higher education for those who can’t otherwise access it. Participants were based at Kakuma camp in Kenya, Dzaleka camp in Malawi and Amman in Jordan.

Crea highlighted the importance of higher education for refugees being “linked to the specific context” of their location, adding that: “Instructors could do a survey of the current circumstances in each site, what non-governmental organisations are working there, what possible job opportunities or volunteer opportunities are available and then create a pipeline so that when students complete their coursework they don’t just drop off the cliff but there is something they can do to use their education in a way that’s meaningful.”

The study did find that in spite of various challenges, participants maintained the benefits of receiving education, and expressed “feelings of empowerment” after receiving such provisions.

“I was a bit surprised about the strength of [those feelings] across the different focus groups,” said Crea. “When you ask generally ‘what are the benefits of education?’, you expect it will be related to learning content or critical thinking or skills development. There was a lot of that as well, but there was also a sense of hope.”

Additional reporting by The Times Higher Education.

Image via Shutterstock.

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