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South Asia: Innovative ways to overcome barriers to education for refugee children

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JRS is committed to ensuring that children who are forced to flee their homes and communities are not deprived of their right to education. We understand the complexities of providing learning initiatives to forcibly displaced children, and we are quick to develop programmes that adapt to the needs of children with language barriers, those who live in remote areas, and more recently those struggling to maintain their studies during a global pandemic. Education is an essential part of a refugee child’s formation. It provides stability, engenders hope, and prepares them to meet future challenges.

A new way to make remote learning effective

“I have realised that learning does not only come from books but from people too,” says Shabana, a young refugee from Afghanistan who has been living in India with her parents for 4 years. Shabana is a hardworking student, but she struggles with English, which makes following lessons difficult.

When lockdown protocols were put in place due to COVID-19, schools closed and transitioned to remote learning. Studying at home was a challenge for Shabana. In the classroom, she was able to receive additional assistance from her teachers. But at home, she had no one to help her. It was a dispiriting time as she saw other students progressing while she struggled.

To support students like Shabana, JRS developed the Remote Learning programme that encouraged peer-to-peer discussions, through which students learned more from each other than from their textbooks. The programme allowed Shabana to study at her own pace and help bridge the educational gap. She was able to flourish, connect with other students, and find new friends.

Through the programme, Shabana was able to realise that she was not the only student with limited English, and this encouraged her to improve. Her teachers and parents were in awe of the progress she made in just a few months. Now, Shabana is able to read, write, and speak English better, which has increased her self-confidence and improved her overall mental and emotional health.

Bringing education closer to girls in remote areas

“My father did not allow me to come to the JRS Centre to study English and now here I am learning it in my own village,” says a young girl in JRS’s Butterfly Effect Affiliate (BEA) programme, which was launched in Bamiyan to promote English literacy opportunities for girls.

Afghanistan has 3.7 million children who are currently out of school and 1.5 million children who live in remote areas or conflict zones with limited and nearly inaccessible educational facilities. Sadly, more than half of those with little access to education are girls.

Butterfly Effect is a term used in chaos theory to express how a small change can make a huge impact, and in the Dari language bea means to bring closer.

The basis of the programme is to send female students with advanced English skills into their communities to teach girls, some as young as 10, the English language. The programme has allowed participants to reach out to 283 female students, who under different circumstances would not be able to study English at all.

BEA educators are also able to improve both their own English language and teaching skills. They bring educational opportunities closer to girls that can change the course of their futures.

Creative systems to maintain learning

“Despite the closure of schools, my learning has continued uninterrupted, and the digital platforms have allowed me to learn new skills. I’m also grateful for the encouraging support of my teachers,” says v

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, JRS developed the Complementary Education programme to ensure the continuity of education for local refugee children. Teachers were able to work remotely with 7th – 12th grade students in maths, science, and English lessons via WhatsApp.

Various learning-based activities were developed to support the literacy and numeracy skills of younger children, who were still able to attend school. JRS also created a YouTube channel where children had access to videos developed to encourage goal setting, time management, and hygiene.

Lessons that promoted peace and reconciliation through debates helped hone core competencies such as critical thinking and communication skills. Sessions in arts and crafts, theatre, games, singing and dancing helped to enhance the children’s creativity and reduce stress brought on by the pandemic.