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Dialogue circles through social media: Teacher education in a refugee camp

Tue, March 27, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton Reforma, Floor: 2nd Floor, Don Diego 3


Our research examines living, learning and teaching in Dadaab refugee camp of Northeastern Kenya. Our research team consists of eight who grew up in the Dadaab refugee camp, became teachers in secondary schools there, received scholarships and are now studying in Canadian universities; three who have taught secondary teachers within a teacher education diploma program in collaboration with a Kenyan university, and as faculty at a Canadian university; and one who is Kenyan currently researching education in Dadaab camps as a doctoral student in Canada. Our research explores the challenges and possibilities of teacher education in a refugee camp. For this panel discussion we draw upon our research focused more specifically on our recent investigations with social media for learning to teach in Dadaab.

The Dadaab refugee camp, created in 1991 for people fleeing conflicts such as civil war, drought and famine, now hosts over 350,000 registered refugees, most from Somalia. The refugee teachers in Dadaab’s six secondary schools have little or no prior experience of teaching and no formal training. Some have lived in the camp for over 20 years; others were born there. Having completed only a secondary education degree in Dadaab, these refugee teachers rely on their own school experience to inform their pedagogy as teachers. In August, 2014 the first courses were delivered as part of a 2-year secondary teacher education diploma in the camp. The program is a partnership between a Kenyan university and a Canadian university through a humanitarian education project. Our research is part of a larger project designed to study refugee teachers’ experiences of living, learning and teaching in a refugee camp.

To engage in this panel discussion we draw upon data collected on courses we taught online or face-to-face in 2016 that incorporated social media. All courses were part of the teacher education diploma for Dadaab refugee camp teachers. One course, for example, was offered online using the work of late Brazilian educational theorist, Paulo Freire (1970/2000), to frame discussions and case studies of challenges within educational contexts in the world due to war, poverty, and displacement. The course, organized around themes of resistance, intervention, freedom, peace and leadership, incorporated ‘live’ dialogue circles using the social media platform WhatsApp on mobile phones. Our ‘live’ synchronous dialogue circles involved research team members, formally from Dadaab and now studying in Canada, in dialogue with Dadaab teachers enrolled in the course through mobile phone texting. Six dialogue circles, each consisting of 6-8 Dadaab teachers and 2 research team members, meeting for 2 hours/day over 4 days, became an integral aspect of the course under the lead of the course instructor.

Accumulated mobile text data archived through WhatsApp along with our ongoing research team field notes and research team meeting transcriptions form the corpus of our data. We explore not only what the experience offered Dadaab teachers but also what we learned as a research team involved in designing the course and participating in the WhatsApp dialogues.

Our study highlights both the challenges and possibilities of incorporating social media for teaching in a refugee camp. The synchronicity of ‘live’ texting dialogue circles meant that research team members and course teachers were negotiating an 11-hour time difference (2:00 pm in Dadaab became 3:00 am in Vancouver, Canada). We required ongoing flexibility and adaptability to address issues as they rose such as access to mobile phones in the camps, facilitating dialogue participation by all teachers, and moving between individual and group perspectives through texting with minimal face-to-face interactions. Our research also highlights the motivation expressed by Dadaab teachers through texting and writing for an education that inspires hope and change.

Freire, P. (1970/2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.


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