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Refugee education: SEL and language interventions for learning

Mon, April 15, 10:00 to 11:30am, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Atrium (Level 2), Waterfront C

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


By the end of 2017, 25.4 million people lived as refugees, forcibly outside of their countries of origin (UNHCR, 2018a, p. 2). More than half of these refugees are children and youth, under the age of 18. Four million refugee children are out of school, and many of those who do access school struggle to learn even basic literacy and numeracy (UNHCR, 2018b, p. 10). Learning outcomes among refugees are very low, for example in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya where only 1.7% of Grade 1 learners, 2.9% of Grade 2 learners, and 8.7% of Grade 3 learners meet Kenyan reading comprehension benchmarks (Piper, Kwayumba, & Oyanga, 2018, p. 14). This learning crisis among refugees stands in the way of refugees being able “to learn, to thrive and develop their potentials, to build resilience, and to contribute to their societies” (UNHCR, Draft).

In this panel, we explore two dimensions of refugee education that hold promise for policies and practices that seek to address this learning crisis: social emotional learning and language learning.

Conflict and forced displacement can have debilitating impacts on children and expose them to multiple physical and psychological risks. Forced displacement often increases children’s and youth’s susceptibility and exposure to cumulative risk factors including material deprivation, strained access to social services, discrimination and xenophobia, and forced recruitment into armed fighting groups (Boothby, 2008; Boyden & De Berry, 2004). With the average duration of exile for refugees is between 10 and 25 years (Crawford, Cosgrave, Haysom, and Walicki, 2015), which can extend the period in which children impacted by conflict are exposed to these multiple risk factors, with implications for their social-emotional and academic outcomes.

Another particular challenge for learning among refugees is the language of instruction, especially when refugees are included in national education systems, as they increasingly are (UNHCR, 2016; Dryden-Peterson, 2016). In these cases, refugees are often submerged in languages they do not understand. The choice of language is tied up with the need to think both about what skills may enable opportunities for refugees in the present and what may enable opportunities in the future, and recognition that they may be contradictory (Dryden-Peterson, 2017). On a daily basis, this challenge is also underscored by logistical and contextual factors, such class size, number of languages, languages of teachers, etc.

Through presentations on three interventions in Kenya, Lebanon, and Niger, we explore the impacts of specific programs on refugees’ social emotional learning and their language and literacy learning. In each paper, we discuss recommendations for policy and practice that follow from our results.

The panel includes three paper presentations. Following the 15 minute presentation of paper, the chair will solicit questions from the audience. The chair will group these questions and help to focus them into topics on which the panel can engage in discussion. Our objective will be to talk across the papers and to engage with the issues audience members bring to this discussion.

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