Helping refugees continue to learn

Man walking along railroad tracks (© AP Images)
A man walks along railway tracks at a makeshift refugee camp at the northern Greek border point of Idomeni, Greece. (© AP Images)

When people are displaced from their homes by war, persecution or natural disasters, one of the important things they lose is access to education.

A new program aims to help refugees learn as they work to resettle. Coursera for Refugees pairs the leading provider of massive open online courses (MOOCs) with the U.S. Department of State to make online courses available for free through nonprofit organizations that work with refugees.

With courses such as Java programming from Duke University, English for business and entrepreneurship from the University of Pennsylvania and social media marketing from Northwestern University, refugees can learn new skills or build on their knowledge in the fields in which they’ve established themselves.

U.S. embassies and consulates will host in-person, facilitated discussions targeted specifically at communities with large refugee populations. Studies suggest this “blended learning” approach, combining online learning with in-person interaction, is an effective hybrid of traditional and online methods.

Nonprofits that work with refugees can apply through Coursera to receive fee waivers and recommended course lists.

“Refugees have given up everything they know, their familiar life, to flee to a better life,” said Assistant Secretary Evan Ryan of the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. “From working with refugee populations, we know that they need new skills — skills that can make them more employable and better equipped to handle their new surroundings. Learning opportunities make all the difference.”