TECHNOLOGY, TERRORISM AND TEACHER EDUCATION: LESSONS FROM THE DELIVERY OF HIGHER EDUCATION TO SOMALI REFUGEE TEACHERS IN DADAAB, KENYA
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR, 2016), there are currently more than 65 million people globally who have been forcefully displaced from their homes. They live either as refugees or—in their own country—as internally displaced persons. The priority of aid programs in the past was to ensure children of refugees continued their education and acquired at least basic literacy skills. As much as that is important, it has become evident that it is insufficient to address the needs of the displaced. Increasingly, universities are collaborating with NGOs another agencies to provide higher education programs to enhance the life chances and employment prospects of refugees.
The purpose of this paper is to describe the experience of and lessons learned by the University of British Columbia (UBC) from its participation as a partner in the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) project carried out in Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya beginning in 2013. Dadaab, the largest refugee camp complex in the world—established in 1991—has been home for about half a million Somali, Ethiopian and Sudanese refugees and their children. Most are Muslims from Somalia.
The BHER project, based at York University in Toronto, Canada, brought together two Canadian and two Kenyan universities with World University Services Canada (WUSC) and Windle Trust Kenya, an NGO, to initially deliver two teacher education programs. Significant funding was provided by what is now Global Affairs Canada. One of these programs, focused on elementary education, was designed and delivered jointly by York and Kenyatta universities. Another, focusing on secondary education, was designed and collaboratively delivered by the University of British Columbia and Moi University.
Because of the proximity of the camps to the border with Somalia, security is a continuing concern. From the beginning, we knew that a carefully planned delivery schedule could be disrupted by security incidents, some of which would prevent students from accessing a purpose-built learning centre with classrooms and two well-equipped computer labs with not- always-reliable internet connectivity. The Moi-UBC secondary teacher education diploma program was designed for a mixed-mode delivery with “fall back” plans for fully online delivery if security concerns made it impossible to conduct the face-to-face components.
A few of the complications encountered that we had to find technology-based solutions for include:
1. Culture-based gender issues and the challenge of recruiting and retaining women in the program whose domestic responsibilities at home prevented them from having study time during daylight hours.
2. Frequent “security alerts” or events that prevented students from travelling from the camps to the learning centre to attend face-to-face sessions and access the computer labs.
3. Unreliable internet access that made connecting to our learning management system a continuing problem for students.
4. Unexpected use by many students of WhatsApp on their mobile devices and how to adapt courses to use that platform.
The lessons we learned from having to adapt our program to these and other cultural, security, organizational and technological challenges can be very useful for those institutions considering engaging with highly mobile, culturally different populations to help keep the educational process alive and to avoid “lost generations” of learners.