Foreign universities take education to refugee camps

Thousands of education-hungry refugees living in camps in northern Kenya are set to benefit from higher education in a groundbreaking initiative involving a non-profit organisation and a host of local and foreign universities.

Through the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees, or BHER, initiative at York University in Canada and Windle Trust Kenya, refugees will be moved from frittering away their days around camp and in video halls, into virtual classes where they will acquire knowledge for a better life.

Windle Trust Kenya, which is part of the UK’s Windle Trust Federation, a non-profit that offers education opportunities to poor communities and refugees, is partnering with Kenya’s Moi and Kenyatta universities, the University of British Columbia, York University and the World University Service of Canada in the endeavour.

Also in the mix is the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, which is providing logistical support for the project – the first in the Kenyan refugee camps, which are the world’s biggest.

The camps of Daadab and Ifo are home to half a million Somalis, and the universities are targeting some 10,000 refugees with a burning desire for education.

Under the initiative, students will be able to study for degrees and diplomas in various fields, online and at subsidised cost. Some will take classes on site, thanks to a campus opened late last year by Kenyatta University.

Courses to be offered include public administration, education, business, health and general sciences.

The project will be implemented in four phases. Some 200 students will be trained over several months in the first phase, before moving to second and third phases involving teacher education at certificate and diploma levels.

Those graduating will be able to choose either to become teachers or have their credits transferred to degrees in any of the disciplines offered.

Central to the BHER project is the education of women and girls, many of whom receive primary and secondary education but, due to marginalisation and lack of opportunities, do not proceed to higher education.

York University, one of the major partners, has targeted untrained teachers working in camp schools who have been offering their services without prospects for self-advancement or even pay.

It will offer scholarships to study certificate and diploma programmes in education, after which credits may be transferred to degree courses.

“Our aim is to provide gender-equitable teacher training programmes to working, untrained teachers who can contribute back to the community, increasing and improving education in the camps,” the university said.

York also plans to offer mentorship to Somali women by pairing them up with international academics who will guide and encourage them through the many challenges they might face in their academic pursuits.

“Courses meet international standards and are offered through the joint efforts of our partner organisations. All offerings will be ‘stackable’, allowing students to earn certificates or diplomas at each level of study, incrementally building towards earning a degree,” said the university’s Centre for Refugee Studies in Toronto.

Besides improving the equitable delivery of quality education to the camps and poor local communities in this arid and insecure part of Kenya, the initiative will seek to build the capacity of Kenyatta and Moi universities to offer higher education to marginalised groups.

Those who conceptualised the project hope that this noble idea will give refugees opportunities for jobs and self-improvement, and dissuade youths from falling into the criminal ways of gangs operating in lawless Somalia.

The militant group Al-Shabaab, which is active in Somalia, has been recruiting youths from the camps.