Since the onset of the Syrian war in 2011 millions of civilians have fled their homeland, creating the biggest refugee crisis since WWII.
This summer, Duke University students will play a part in helping refugee learners who have been dislocated not just from their homes, but from their schools and education system. Their volunteer contributions are part of a new collaboration between Duke and Kiron Open Higher Education, a Berlin-based non-governmental organization. Kiron helps refugees advance their education and career opportunities through digital learning.
Starting in July, Duke students will travel to Berlin to provide in-person support for refugee learners taking, among others, Duke’s online courses. With Coursera for Refugees, Duke has reached displaced persons worldwide through its online courses. This year, for the first time, Duke students will encounter refugee learners in person.
“We are really excited to initiate the collaboration with Duke and host the students in Berlin,” said Tobias Ernst, CEO of Kiron. “When Duke and Coursera contacted us, we knew this would be right up our alley: Having students from one of the best universities in the world with strong interests and educational experience in the refugee cause will notably contribute to and enrich our daily work. We are very excited to take the next steps together.”
The students are traveling to Berlin for a six-week study abroad program on issues surrounding Middle Eastern communities in Europe. The program will be led by two U.S. scholars: Erdağ Göknar, Associate Professor of Asian Middle Eastern Studies at Duke, and Banu Gökarıksel, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While in Germany, the students will spend half of their time with Gökarıksel and Göknar studying topics such as the impact of Turkish inhabitants and culture in Germany and the Arab experience in Europe. They’ll spend the other half working with Kiron and its students, many of whom came to Europe from the Middle East.
“This study abroad program is part of a new initiative that brings academic study of the geopolitics of Europe and the Middle East, specifically the situation of refugees, together with service learning through an innovative partnership with Kiron, an NGO dedicated to offering open access education to refugees through digital distance learning,” said Göknar. “The program vision emerges out of global education, digital technology, and civic engagement.”
According to Matthew Rascoff, Associate Vice Provost for Digital Education and Innovation at Duke, the collaboration with Kiron can be a model for how to make study abroad more meaningful and international volunteering more effective. Duke students’ practical experience with Kiron will complement their in-depth study of the issues, while Kiron and its learners will get assistance from Duke students.
“Too often volunteers are sent into the field with inadequate resources,” said Rascoff. “In this new model, student volunteers will have support from Coursera’s digital learning infrastructure, Duke’s faculty expertise, and Kiron’s outstanding team. I credit Kiron and Coursera for being such nimble and creative partners in developing this innovative approach to addressing a global challenge.”
Learn more about Coursera for Refugees here.