In recent years, the Middle East Region has faced one of the most critical refugee crises, with global consequences, especially for EU. Based on various sources, the number of the refugees in Egypt is increasing in the last few years including a large amount of Syrians (approximately 400,000) with 30,000 of them being of school age and with only half of them being enrolled in school. While Syrian refugee children are allowed to enroll in public schools, the majority go to refugee schools organised by the Syrian community. According to our needs analysis, this is largely due to that refugee children find the community schools more suitable because their teachers are Syrians, while Egyptian teachers lack skills to tackle the needs of refugee learners.
Refugee children are a unique learner group due to their prior traumatic and extraordinary experiences. There is need of a refugee-centered pedagogy that most teachers, even refugee teachers, do not possess. Refugee teachers in Egypt estimated to 4000 face considerable constraints in accessing certified in-service training. 500 refugee teachers are working in the Syrian community schools. NGOs and other organizations have gone some way to addressing refugee children’s schooling, but their interventions are not tied to educational pathways that lead to certified lasting programs.
Our needs analysis, based on policy documents and discussions with key stakeholders reveals that in order to tackle the above, consideration should be given to engaging both Egyptian and refugee teachers in different capacities to provide learning support for refugee children. Both Egyptian and refugee teachers should undergo training to gain awareness of the refugee experience as well as the cultural backgrounds of refugee learners so that they can be responsive to refugee needs and be sensitive to trauma reactions. The transmission style of teaching that is prevalent in Egyptian schools needs to shift towards a pedagogy that focuses on learning and the needs learners bring in the classroom. There is also an urgent need to provide language support to refugee children so that they can understand the Egyptian dialect in public schools.
Given the current situation in the partner institutions and widely in Egypt, there is lack of effective, job-embedded professional development for teachers to address refugee children’s education. While the partner universities are situated in geographical areas with high refugee population, none of refugee teachers can have access to any professional development program. Similarly, neither Egyptian pre-service and in-service teachers have opportunities to get knowledge and skills related to the needs of the refugee children. This has a negative impact on the refugee children’s choice to attend public schools. Thus, the great majority of refugee children attend community schools run by the refugees themselves, providing inadequate education to refugee children. Besides that, teachers inadequate skills to cope with the problems faced by refugee children, there is lack of effective, job-embedded professional development opportunities for both Egyptian and refugee teachers.
These problems and challenges could be tackled through the development of an innovative in-service teacher certification program enabled through blended learning, established in the faculties of education in the partner universities. Using a blended-learning setting – face-to-face-instruction connected by the experiences gained “on the job”– can be one way to meet the needs of quality teaching. The proposed project addresses two crucial needs.
First, the unsatisfying structures of teacher education in relation to preparing pre-service and in-service teachers to respond to the pedagogical challenges raised by the policy to integrate refugee children in public schools in Egypt.
Second, the need to develop an innovative in-service training program driven by a refugee-centered pedagogy needed by teachers involved in refugee children’s education. These are in line with national and regional priorities.
As such, the proposed project responds to a cross-cutting priority by giving access to refugee teachers to the Egyptian Higher Education through a post-graduate diploma focusing on refugee-centered pedagogy. It is also consistent with the subject of teacher training and education science, one of the subject priorities as well as in integrating innovative learning tools, teaching methodologies and pedagogies, including flexible learning paths, blended learning.
This project has synergies with the “Children of Peace” initiative, which the EU launched in 2012. It also concerns the UN initiative of SDGs, an EU top priority. The EU Children of Peace initiative, coordinated by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) focus on humanitarian projects for children in conflict regions, providing them with access to schools where they can learn in a safe environment, as well as with psychological support to heal their traumatic war experiences. The proposed project will be of critical importance to such initiatives, to prepare societies for eventual post-conflict or post-disaster reconstruction and social and economic development.