University of Brighton lecturer helps set up Syrian refugee school

The school was launched by four students who met on an online course at McGill University

February 25, 2016
Syrian refugee girl, Domiz camp, Northern Iraq
Source: Alamy

A lecturer who helped to set up a school for Syrian refugees after participating in an online course has spoken of how children have been “queuing up outside” to learn.

Julie Pratten, visiting lecturer in English for academic purposes at the University of Brighton, established a school in a camp near Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, along with three other online students from Morocco, Canada and Iraq. They met last year on the Social Learning for Social Impact course, run by McGill University in Canada. The free course is a GROOC, which is a type of massive open online course centred on group learning.

Ms Pratten told Times Higher Education that she received a Facebook message asking for help from a logistics officer at the camp after she had discussed how to assist Syrian children with other teachers on a Facebook group. She then launched a crowdfunding initiative to raise money for a school, which was subsequently seen by others on the course.

One of the groups on the course was focused on “helping Syrian kids”, and Ms Pratten said she joined as team leader.

She was told by the logistics officer that “most of the people who work in the camp are so busy dealing with health issues that nobody is engaging with the kids”, she said. “They don’t have a computer, they don’t have craft supplies, they don’t even have a room.”

She said that they were given permission to turn a “mobile unit, full of old stuff” in the camp into a classroom, which was filled with donated craft supplies and furniture borrowed from a local school. The new Heart ELT school is run by a local English teacher, who is also a refugee. So far, the project has raised £2,000.

“The kids were just queuing up outside to get in,” Ms Pratten continued. “We can teach about 100 kids. A lot of them have lost their parents. A lot of them are not in a good situation psychologically. At this stage they just need to play and sing and have a bit of engagement. For three years they’ve been in that camp and their lives have been on hold.”

She said she is hoping to set up internet access in the camp, which would enable teachers in the UK to provide online training to refugee children and adults. She is raising money to launch more “safe learning spaces” for children in other camps.

Leslie Breitner, co-creator of the GROOC, which ran for three months from September 2015, said the course included seven fortnightly sessions focused on how to create, design, scale, fund and evaluate a social initiative.

“What we were amazed at is these folks [who set up the school] didn’t know each other before and they weren’t in the same part of the world, but they used their similar interests to come up with a course and the conceptual material to help them along,” she said.

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