Connected Learning PedagogiesLocal Knowledge ProductionKakuma Refugee Camp (Kenya)
Université de Genève - InZoneAuthor: Barbara Moser-Mercer
The University of Geneva-InZone has developed a package of formal, contextualised higher education courses and research projects in Kakuma refugee camp, covering topics of relevance for the community as a whole: human rights, children’s rights, ethics, global health and basic medical education. Each course combines formal academic learning with collaborative research for which the necessary infrastructure has been created (Learning Hubs equipped with required research infrastructure). The entire course and research package is integrated into a BA in International Relations offered by the local partner university, Kenyatta. Offering higher education degrees that are specifically relevant to the contexts in which they are offered and for which they are built provide significant opportunities for learners to explore local problems and use their research skills to design and develop solutions.
A major problem identified by students in the global health course OneHealth was that of snake bites that represent a true risk to the camp population, especially younger children and youth. Working closely on-line with graduate students and on-line tutors at the University of Geneva Kakuma-based students assessed the incidence of snake bites in one large section of Kakuma refugee camp, proceeded to designing a citizen-science approach to mapping the camp via geo-locating snake bite sightings and incidences of snake bites via mobile phones, citizen reporting systems and local organisations. They have been coordinating the data collection with records on file with INGOs and UNHCR, and have been developing and enhancing a citizen alert system that would be progressively refined as more data are being processed during this research project.
One of the first initiatives to grow out of this research project was for UNIGE-InZone students to bring together parents in the community to alert them to the risks of snake bite in their immediate vicinity and on the way to school, so that their children would be able to choose the safest route. Going from admonishing children before they set off to school with “be mindful of snakes” to “this path is the safest” was made possible because higher education reimagined its role without abandoning its scientific rigor and supported the construction of indigenous knowledge that was highly relevant for the community.
Interfaces between geolocalised data collection, analysis and storage and available data sets from INGOs and UNHCR in order to continually update the database and hence the alert system remain challenging. Further opening up locally produced data sets to citizen scientists who work under the supervision of established researchers would contribute to filling critical gaps in knowledge and understanding of local conditions and replace the provision of remotely produced solutions with local scientific problem-solving. This improves the relevance and precision of solutions and empowers learners/citizen-scientists and makes their communities more sustainable.
Universities should be the places where society’s problems can be approached with scientific rigor to create the kind of contextually relevant evidence that solves problems on the ground. Restricting the focus on access to higher education in contexts of forced displacement shifts the emphasis on credentials and degrees, that may or may not be contextually relevant or usable where refugees continue to live, rather than optimising the contribution that universities can make through their three-fold mission of teaching, research and civic engagement to engaging minds, enhancing 21st Century skills, promoting original local knowledge production that sustains the well-being and livelihoods of entire communities rather than the access to higher education of a few select students.