Protopian Education Eight: Adjusting to an Education on the Move

“A refugee is someone who survived and who can create the future”.

—Amela Koluder

According to pre-Ukrainian war figures from UNHCR, there are currently around 7.4 million school-age refugees, of which 3.7 million are out of school entirely. It has been estimated that 63% of refugees are enrolled in primary schools, only 24% in secondary school, and 3% in higher education (compared to 91%, 84% and 37% globally).

It is, naturally, of utmost concern that these children are reached by quality education, as lost years of schooling will likely affect their lives and their chances of ever finding homes and livelihoods in the economies and societies of established countries. It is not a far stretch to also consider the rest of the some 22.5 million refugees, the adults and preschoolers, as deprived of educational resources and opportunities and lifelong learning.

As the wave of refugees from Ukraine attests to, there is, unfortunately, little reason to believe that this is the last, or smallest, population of refugees that will exist; the many chaotic conditions of life and changes in global society make future waves of refugees likely to emerge:

  • As argued in the previous article in this series, the world is more interconnected at the global and transnational levels, which breaks open what sociologist Ulrich Beckcalled “the container state”, making states unable to handle populations that fall between the cracks of defined citizenship.
  • The increased mobility that communication technologies (and transport) allow make people more likely to move when their life conditions become unbearable.
  • The political (and popular) reluctance to accept and successfully integrate migrants, often for fear of being socially and economically overburdened or to experience clashes between cultures.
  • The displacement of populations due to the effects climate change (and other environmental factors).
  • A, at least in some regards, more unstable geopolitical world order.

Taken together, there is little reason to be optimistic about this problem solving itself; despite the best transnational efforts, refugees and displaced populations living in camps and under vulnerable conditions will likely be here for times to come. Of course, the main thrust can and should be to reduce the sheer number of refugees and displaced populations—but the world of education cannot ignore the fact that refugees exist and that all stand to benefit from their inclusion into education.

If the new educational paradigm is to be truly global in its nature, it simply follows that strategies must be tailored to educate refugees—the world’s current refugees, and the refugees of the future.

A great opportunity is to leverage mobile technology to support education among refugee populations (not least mobile technologies do play an increasingly important role in refugee lives, 39% of households are estimated to have access to an Internet-capable device). Mobile technology could help to increase the reach and quality of the education of refugees. UNESCO has indeed already investigated this opportunity, claiming that the potentials are there but also that more research is needed to progress effectively.

In the following, I offer a few considerations about how “a new paradigm of education” could translate into and inform measures to empower and secure the education of refugees.

A Global Virtual “School System of Last Resort”

A fundamental issue of being a refugee is that one’s citizenship is often not fully recognized; one “falls between the cracks” and is thus deprived of the rights and services bestowed upon citizens of different countries.

Without clearly identifying people as citizens, state structures are often inept, and sometimes oppressive, towards the sans papiers. It may thus be beneficial to create an internationally funded schooling system that enrolls people without such requirements, giving each an identity number, and tracking their progress longitudinally: which courses have they taken, what are their interests and special needs, and so forth. Such a system could exist virtually and have its own staff; it would be a Global Virtual “School System of Last Resort”. This could offer refugee learners at least some sense of educational belonging and continuity.

Another fundamental aspect of being a refugee is that one is often on the move; trying to find a viable place in the world for oneself and one’s family. If already enrolled and tracked in a virtual school, it may be easier to pick up where one left off.

Naturally, such a system can and should be combined with actual teachers who can visit refugee camps and teach there. But for these to have good understanding and data on the progress of learners, and for this to be done with continuity, it is also beneficial to gather data on the learning progress of refugees.

Whereas it may be unrealistic to ever expect the quality of refugee education to match conventional institutions, both systems may benefit from a shift in perspective towards the “network schooling” as discussed under the “Protopian Education Five” part of this series. The aim would no longer be solely to reach as many as possible with quality education (although that is, of course, a viable goal), but also, and perhaps primarily, to inspire and encourage disenfranchised children and young to create their own learning projects, and supporting the acquisition of knowledge they need to solve real-world community problems and or produce benefits for themselves.

It is thus worth considering whether network schooling, supported not only by mobile tech, but also Big Data, could be a model for refugee education. In a networked world, where more people are excluded, there need to be networks of learning even beyond the state level.

Migration Flows and Citizenship

Another perspective I would like to offer concerns how and in which ways refugees are taught and empowered. It is no secret that more educated refugees generally fare better than uneducated ones, having more knowledge and skills to manage the demands of paperwork and legal frameworks that face them.

If migration flows continue to increase, and if states continue to fail to manage them, there will be an increasing number of people who, at least in effect, lack a proper citizenship. Hence, one of the educational goals of refugees may be to learn the basics of what citizenship of different relevant countries entail, how they are acquired, and what expectations and obligations that come with them. In other words, it may be a high priority to empower refugees to increase their chances of becoming fully enfranchised citizens of relevant countries; this would facilitate the process of arrival and integration into new communities, and help refugees to make life choices about migration on better grounds.

Such programs of education cannot guarantee that refugees do indeed acquire citizenship and new homes in desired countries. But there does appear to be a mutual interest here: receiving countries can invest in equipping refugees with proper understanding of their countries and systems in order to better be able to accept and integrate refugees; refugees are likely to have a strong interest in learning about how to change their situation—and make informed choices in difficult situations.

Like everyone else, refugees naturally have a will and wish to learn about other issues as well, and getting a proper education for its own sake. However, assuming that the goal of most refugees is to change their situation into a more stable one, it makes sense to make education as empowering as possible to this end. In the end, even if refugees are in many ways victimized populations, it is also the refugees themselves that can do the most to change their situations—and there is thus a strong argument to do everything possible to empower them to do so.

Strong forces might disagree with such a solution: many countries would prefer to avoid informing refugees about how to come to their country and how to become a citizen, so as to avoid the initial costs of accepting new members of society. However, if countries pledge to do this together, and via a shared educational system deliberately designed for the purpose of refugee education (as discussed above), the results may indeed be balanced and manageable—more so than the current situation in which the refugee populations are effectively locked out and accumulate in larger numbers.

In conclusion, the global education system must prepare for a world in which refugees are a reality; but this does not mean that nothing can be done—on the contrary, it means that the right educational institutions and practices can not only mitigate the harms of displacement, but even help reduce displacement itself, establishing new pathways to citizenship, by empowering the refugees.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian, and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.