Connected Learning PedagogiesImplementing in situ Graduate Programs in Dadaab, KenyaDadaab, Kenya / Toronto, Canada
York University, Borderless Higher Education for RefugeesAuthor: HaEun Kim
The Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) is a consortium of universities and non-governmental organizations working together to provide accredited university programs in situ to refugees and locals in Dadaab, Kenya. Drawing on the expertise of Canadian and Kenyan universities, BHER specifically responds to the high need for trained teachers and community educators in the refugee encampments of Dadaab, Kenya, one of the world’s largest protracted refugee situations. BHER had offered accredited certificate, diploma, and degree programs. At the end of their undergraduate studies, students expressed a strong desire to continue their studies and in 2018, York University implemented a Master of Education program in Dadaab. With the support of faculty who have expressed willingness to mount their courses online and open them up to BHER students, we were able admit 2 cohorts of graduate students studying from Dadaab. With the beginning of our graduate program, we are seeing our students contributing to academic knowledge production through presentations, publications as well as improving the quality and delivery of our programs in their work as program mentors to the undergraduate students.
There is a consistent demand for education by refugees worldwide. Quality higher education, not just at the undergraduate, but also at the graduate level is both a demand and need for refugees. While the scholarship model has enabled many to access studies, this model often removes the brightest from the region and is not always readily accessible for all. The provision of an in situ program in the camps enables learning to extend to where the refugees are. The provision of graduate program also address the gap of refugee voices in academia. The majority of knowledge and research on refugee and migration issues come from academics and practitioners from the global north. There is a vast underrepresentation of refugee voices in the research that directly pertains to them. By offering graduate programs, we build the knowledge, capacity, and academic scholarship of refugees. In BHER, graduate students are also offered work as ‘program mentors’ where they work alongside course directors for professional and leadership development. Their work as graduate students not only fills a gap in academic research, but also improves the quality and delivery of our programs as they are able to provide on-site mentorship and support to the next cohort of students in BHER programs.
With the start of our graduate program, we have seen the emergence of a group of refugee scholars collaborating and creating knowledge. With the mentorship and support of instructors and PhD students through the graduate program, they have published articles on refugee issues in Oxford University’s Forced Migration Review as well as the Journal of Educational Research and Innovation. Their confidence and growth, both professionally and academically through the graduate program have translated into their work and competence as on-site program mentors. BHER offers both on-site and online coursework. One of the limitations of the online courses was the limited contact that instructors in Canada had with students in Dadaab. With on-site program mentors who communicate regularly with course directors, the quality and delivery of the online courses have improved. The ultimate goal for the project would be for graduates of the master’s program will one day work as course directors in BHER. These students will have the knowledge from their previous coursework as well as local expertise concerning the context of living, learning, and teaching in Dadaab that Canadian instructors do not have. The graduate program builds and enables a succession model that relies of the expertise and capacity of the refugees themselves.
Some limitations of the current graduate program offered by BHER-York is that the course offerings are contingent on the willingness of faculty. We are not able to the offer the full graduate program because only courses with faculty who agree to open up their courses and conduct an extra online tutorial can be offered to BHER students. The challenges of distance teaching/learning such as technical issues, time zone differences also apply here.
We are seeing refugee students, as action researchers, contributing to the academic knowledge production through publications. They are engaging critically with, and writing about, the field of refugee and forced migration studies. Graduate programs serve to build professionalism, academic and research skills, as well as the dignity of students who are studying in very challenging circumstances. Their contributions affirm their voices in a space where they are vastly underrepresented while also better informing academics and practitioners in the field.