AMMAN — In response to the increasing educational barriers that vulnerable and refugee youth face in the region, the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund has announced its fifth round of grants to tackle the skills gaps and unemployment.
The fund, in a statement, said that it will invite proposals in the following months for high-impact programmes that prioritise market-driven skill building and development for vulnerable Arab youth in Jordan and Lebanon, as well as youth from conflict-affected countries residing in the UAE.
The refugee unemployment rates reached an alarming 48 per cent in 2022, with refugees earning an average of just $3.50 per day, intensifying poverty in Lebanon and Jordan, the fund said in the statement.
It was against this background last year in June, that the fund decided to extend grants for another three years. After careful selection, from a pool of 62 applicants, the fund provided grants to nine local, regional and global institutions including Borderless, UNICEF Jordan, War Child Holland, UNHCR Lebanon, Luminus, INJAZ, Hussein Technical University, LOTUS, and LASER, to work towards educational and upskilling programmes for the refugee youth and host community.
The fund, administered by the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, was set up in 2018, by Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair to ensure continued education for displaced and vulnerable Arab youth in the region.
The initial aim of the fund was to provide access to high-quality education to 20,000 youth in the target geographical areas, Jordan, and Lebanon, being home to the highest number of refugees per capita in the world.
However, the youth unemployment rate in the MENA region has stubbornly remained at 26 per cent, among the highest in the world for the past two decades, making it a compelling case for the fund to extend the grants for an additional three years.
With a key focus on impact-driven projects and multi-sectoral partnerships, the fund in the last four years, has awarded more than AED 120 million in grants supporting 62,000 refugee youth, of which 50 per cent of the participants are women.
The fund’s efforts have contributed to the current success of the programmes leading to refugee employment rates whereby 76 per cent and 58 per cent of participants are employed in Jordan and Lebanon respectively, the statement said.
Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, the chairman of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, and the Refugee Education Fund, said: “We are determined to support and encourage youth to be the front-runners of a developed future. With a constant rise in competent workforce demands, our focus lies on empowering the refugee Arab youth to acquire the right knowledge to curate their aptitudes and advance their skill sets. We hope to select partners and grantees that will work directly with the refugees to help drive ‘real’ change and welcome programmes that have pioneering approaches to bridging education gaps, catalysing employment, and career progression – enabling refugee youth to become confident and empowered leaders.”
The fifth round of grants will place a strong focus on the importance of data collection and evaluation, to continuously explore solutions and address challenges in an agile manner for the betterment of the refugee youth.
The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund are funding a two-year US$10 million initiative with SPARK, an international non-governmental organization, to support refugees and vulnerable communities in Jordan and Lebanon.
Employability and jobs are very important, but quality and decent jobs are scarce commodities. Lebanon and Jordan have the highest unemployment in the Middle East, with almost 30% and 23% respectively, according to the ILO. The fragility of the situation in these countries is making opportunities rare, with an increasing social tension that results in some instances of more conflict.
The IsDB, as an AAA rated multilateral development bank that works to promote social and economic development and the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund have developed a 2-year regional program with SPARK that aims to support the “Skills Training Education Program” (STEP) in Jordan and Lebanon.
The new program aims to skill up entrepreneurs, modernize existing curricula, connect participants to the labour market, create sustainable jobs and offer training and internship placements, among many others.
It’s expected that at the end of the project, many participants will have started their businesses, SMEs have scaled up and men and women are equipped with market-relevant technical skills through training.
Jordan faces enormous challenges, perhaps most significantly, the need to effectively help to contribute to the poverty reduction of refugees and vulnerable members of the host community.
Structural problems of the economy such as high inflation, energy and water resource security and management challenges, and high unemployment rates are worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Simultaneously, Lebanon is dealing with some internal issues including a crashing economy (in 2020, the GDP growth rate was -25%), the impact of COVID-19 and the aftermath of the Beirut explosion.
There is an increasing acknowledgment within the international development sector of the need to engage youth to fully use their specialized skill sets. Offering scholarships or training is not enough anymore, rather there’s an increasing consensus that young men and women need tailored job opportunities and internships based on their field of studies and workshops taken.
The Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund invites proposals for programs that explore and identify new solutions to long-standing challenges in vulnerable and refugee youth education that can improve impact at scale.
The fund in its fourth round will priorities Upskilling Refugee Youth, Broadening Access to Secondary Education and Pathways to Scale for Arab refugee youth in Jordan, Lebanon and Arab youth from conflict affected countries residing in the UAE.
Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund and UNICEF Jordan today organized a live tour of the education camps in Jordan for selected guests and stakeholders at the DP World Pavilion, Al Forsan District, Expo2020 Dubai.
Titled ‘Live from The Field: Supporting the Vulnerable Youth in Jordan,’ the audience were taken on an immersive virtual experience, touring two Makani Centers located in Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp and East Amman, allowing them to interact with resident children and youth, as well as center leads and coordinators.
Dr Sonia Ben Jaafar – CEO Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, Carla Haddad – Director of Private Fundraising & Partnerships Division, UNICEF, and Tanya Chapuisat – UNICEF Jordan Representative discussed the partnership impact between UNICEF Jordan and the Refugee Education Fund that makes remedial education, life skills, and child protection services accessible through the Makani Centres in refugee camps as well as host communities.
The Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund set up in 2018 supports high-impact education programs at the secondary, vocational, and tertiary levels of education for refugee youth in Jordan and Lebanon. The grants provided by the fund will also support children of families who due to wars and disasters in their home countries, temporarily reside in the UAE but are unable to afford school fees. Since its establishment, the fund has helped over 47,000+ vulnerable youth, of which 50% of graduates are now employed.
Coinciding with World Refugee Day on June 20, as the globe takes a moment to acknowledge the crisis of over 80 million forcibly displaced people globally, the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund today announced the launch of the third cycle of grants to provide access to market-driven upskilling courses that pave the way for elevated livelihoods. In addition, the grants will also support refugee youth in Lebanon and Jordan in completing secondary education.
The third round of grants will support eight programs by 8 partners in the two countries. They have been chosen after a rigorous selection process for their innovative approaches to addressing the challenge of providing access to education for refugee youth, following the COVID-19 pandemic and the Beirut blast of 2020.
The new partners for the third cycle of the Fund are: In Lebanon, the MMKN Initiative, Unite Lebanon Youth Project (ULYP), Lebanese Association for Scientific Research (LASER), Borderless, Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) Lebanon; and in Jordan, QuestScope, Madrasati, and Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) Jordan.
All eight programs, which will collectively support over 11,200 young learners, were chosen based on their work with communities and their innovative solutions around impact. With the third cycle of the grants, the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund will bring a meaningful difference to the lives of over 38,500 refugees and host community youth.
H.E. Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair said: “This fund was born out of a UAE legacy that we inherited from our founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who taught us to support humanity and countries around the globe. This fund recognizes that the most vulnerable Arab youth need education and the surrounding support to assure they find a pathway to work and entrepreneurship. I wanted to make sure that we would not be just another donor, but that we would create real partnerships to have greater impact for these youth. For example, we offer insights on how to use successful business practices so that our partners can have better results and scale their approaches. We have noticed that the partners have appreciated our different approach, especially when there are issues that need to be solved and we engage to help find solutions with them.”
He added: “On World Refugee Day, we are announcing the third cycle of our grants to support marginalized youth and bring back hope for a better future. With this new cycle, we hope to reach over 80% of our initial target when I started this fund. This is possible because we selected partners whose determination in designing innovative solutions to long-standing challenges in refugee education was matched with an open mind to adopting practical effective and efficient business approaches. These outcomes reflect what can happen when strategic philanthropy and a shared responsibility towards empowerment and education practically help refugees to build the kind of better future they deserve.”
Organizations in Lebanon and Jordan were invited to submit innovative ideas that build on their existing work to address the education challenges faced by refugee youth in the two countries. Lessons from the crises of 2020 were to be incorporated in the proposal, centered on two core objectives – upskilling refugee youth by providing accredited and/or industry recognized certifications; and secondary education access through initiatives that give access, stay in and/or complete formal schooling through innovative educational programs with a digital/online or blended component.
From over 73 submissions, eight projects managed by partners who work directly with refugees, were selected through a rigorous selection process for the grants.
Among the programs is one that focuses on French schools in Lebanon which provides academic strengthening and remedial education for thousands of refugees and Lebanese students at risk. Another initiative will be held in Ouzaii and Karantina, two marginalized refugee camps, with the latter bearing the acute brunt of the blasts.
In Jordan, one of the program targets school dropouts by working closely with the Ministry of Education to ensure that students complete secondary education and are transitioned seamlessly into formal education
The Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund was launched by His Excellency Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair on World Refugee Day 2018. An AED 120 million fund that aims to support refugees and vulnerable youth by providing access to secondary, vocational, and tertiary levels of education in the UAE, Jordan, and Lebanon. The Fund’s goal is to provide youth with hope and security amidst the disruption – empowering them with knowledge and skills, offering pathways to education and livelihoods, and enabling them to positively contribute to their hosting country.
The grants are awarded through a competitive selection process to education institutions and non-governmental organizations working with refugee youth and vulnerable host community youth. In addition, high-impact education programs that are designed to address an acute education gap are also offered.
The Islamic Development Bank, UNICEF, The Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund and the King Salman Centre for Humanitarian Aid and Relief (KSRelief), met virtually to formally approve the first batch of projects.
The Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund was the first donor to launch the Fund from an idea to a reality with US$10 million
KSRelief was the Fund’s second prominent donor with US$ 9.2 million establishing the trend for collective good.
Jeddah-Riyadh/Dubai/New York – February 2, 2021: The Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund, the Islamic Development Bank, UNICEF, and the King Salman Centre for Humanitarian Aid and Relief (KSRelief), met virtually today to formally approve the first batch of projects funded by the Global Muslim Philanthropy Fund for Children (GMPFC), as part of a donor contribution agreement signed in August 2020.
Launched at the UN General Assembly in September 2019, three projects are set to be implemented in partnership with UNICEF. Targeting refugee children in Jordan, Bangladesh and Pakistan these three projects will address cross sectoral emerging needs in education, health and nutrition, water and sanitation, early childhood development, youth empowerment and more.
Contributing almost US$20 million collectively, The Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund and KSRelief assured that the Fund would launch quickly and effectively to better address the increasing needs of the most vulnerable globally, needs that are increasing due to the multiplier effect of the pandemic.
In Jordan, a nation that hosts more than 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, the approved program funded by The Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund will focus on empowering over 5,000 vulnerable children and youth through access to inclusive education. In addition, special learning support will be provided to these children and youth with access to market-oriented courses that will set them on a path towards elevated livelihoods in the future.
In Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, where an estimated 1.2 million Rohingya refugees and members of the host population need humanitarian assistance, KSRelief funds will be invested towards lifesaving healthcare for children and women, along with nutrition support for children under the age of five, and pregnant and nursing mothers.
In Pakistan, KSRelief will support immunization coverage and health services for children under the age of five in select districts, contributing to the reduction of 250,000 deaths each year of children before their first birthday.
H.E. Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, Founder of the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund added: “Education can only be effective if children and youth are healthy, safe, and have access to water and food. That is why a collaborative approach is needed now more than ever before given the unprecedented challenges resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. We believe that the programs currently being rolled out in Jordan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will positively impact thousands of vulnerable children and will play an important role in mitigating the public health and socioeconomic impact of the pandemic to help elevate their livelihoods and safeguard their futures. With that, we are very proud to be involved in coordinating and channeling Muslim donor support to help institutionalize giving in a strategic and impactful way, and we look forward to generating sustainable impact off the back of this.”
The Global Muslim Philanthropy Fund for Children is a unique Shariah-compliant global platform for Muslim philanthropists to collectively help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for children and young people. The Fund aims to support children in need in IsDB member countries, particularly those facing humanitarian crises, by ensuring that children have access to health, education, safety and opportunity. The Fund is administered by the IsDB, which coordinates with UNICEF and donors the selection of programs and projects, which will reach children most in need and offer most long-term social benefit.
The Fund’s Governing Council, which is co-chaired by H.E. Dr. Bandar Hajjar, President of Islamic Bank Group, and Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, also approved the Fund’s operating procedures and discussed its future growth strategy.
H.E. Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah, Supervisor General of the King Salman Centre commented: “I am very pleased to announce KSrelief’s participation in the Global Muslim Philanthropy Fund for Children. Particularly now, when the Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating an already challenging global humanitarian landscape, it is essential for our collective efforts to be directed towards helping the most vulnerable among us – our children. The Fund will enable Muslim philanthropists to support programmes that provide at-risk children and youth with access to protection, education, health care, proper nutrition and every opportunity to achieve success in the future”.
Hosting the virtual meeting, H.E. Dr. Bandar Hajjar stated, “Today we begin to deliver on our promise to children to bring the Global Muslim Philanthropy Fund for Children to fruition, thanks to the support of our partners”. “We look forward to expanding our partnership with Muslim philanthropists to address the adverse impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children, and to tackle head-on poverty and disease in our member countries”, he added.
Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, said: “With the challenges the world now faces, particularly as we look to the post-COVID-19 recovery and resilience phase, there is a need for collective and coordinated action. The Global Muslim Philanthropy Fund for Children represents a unique opportunity for leading global Muslim philanthropists to come together and create significant and lasting change for the most vulnerable children and their families.”
The partners confirmed their continued commitment to the Fund as a global strategic platform for Muslim philanthropy in a joint call for action:
“’The GMPFC is a unique vehicle which ensures that Muslim Philanthropy is at the forefront of fighting poverty and disease and achieving the SDG’s. We call on all Muslim Philanthropists around the world to join our growing coalition of global Muslim leaders, so that together we can strategically respond to humanitarian needs and save lives.”
For the philanthropy sector, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated an important shift to a new era of “collective strategic philanthropy” to better meet the challenges facing sustainable development.
In the Arab states, this represents a repositioning from using well-understood formulas of short-term giving, such as infrastructure projects and direct donations, to investing in sustainable solutions with measurable impacts. It is about tackling the root causes of the challenges of today through strategic and collaborative thinking and actions.
Previous generations of philanthropists focused primarily on charitable giving. In the Arab region they would give privately, with a humble integrity that spoke of their beliefs of civic and religious responsibility. In other regions, large-scale giving is still primarily an extension of public relations for corporations, differentiating them from their competitors.
The efforts of the previous generations have been instrumental in improving the quality of life for millions worldwide. In our increasingly globalized world, it is worthwhile to note that direct charitable giving is facing greater limitations to its potential outcomes.
Efforts that are made in isolation, or are solely donor-driven, have shown to have diffused and unfocused impacts. This sacrifices opportunities to create momentum to bring about lasting change.
A new era of collective strategic philanthropy is emerging around the world. The private and public sectors are being called upon to collaboratively design, implement, and fund interlinked, high-impact solutions to create a better and more sustainable future for all. Initiatives like the Global Muslim Philanthropy Fund for Children are galvanizing efforts to address problems that cannot be resolved by one person alone.
For years now, philanthropists have been institutionalizing their giving and operationalizing their efforts. This is allowing them to become globally-recognizedactors in the development sector, amongst others. Entire academic conferences and events like Philanthropy & the SDGs, hosted by the United Nations, are being organized around how to adapt current models to better incorporate partnerships with philanthropic organizations. The idea is to generate impact through collective action and strategic planning across sectors and priority areas.
Philanthropy has been taking a key position in this new system, as it has the advantage of being more flexible, innovative, and well positioned. Furthermore, philanthropy requires certain conditions to succeed and benefit all involved. It needs data for transparency and informed decision-making, technology to link donors and recipients, capacity-building to help make better use of existing resources, effective donor coordination, and professional accountability that builds trust between stakeholders.
So, what does this mean for the Arab region’s burgeoning philanthropic sector as it enters a new era of collective strategic philanthropy? Being driven to create sustainable impact requires Arab philanthropists to adapt and become more vocal and visible about the region’s shared culture of giving. It requires the engagement of likeminded actors across sectors to bring about sustainable progress through championing local solutions. This will drive the region’s recognition that the actors in the Arab states are key contributors to the progress of the region.
Philanthropy’s guiding principles and practices are being refined during the pandemic, as it’s been forced to further innovate to be effective in the new global reality. During these pandemic times, digital innovation is playing a key role, online learning is the new go-to solution for education, remote work has become a necessity, and new careers have emerged, pushing out some older ways of work. These are the changes that should be embraced, studied, and incorporated into more effective models of philanthropic programs and delivery of funds.
The world needs sustainable solutions to its longstanding challenges. Furthermore, the marginalization of so many Arab families, which is robbing the youth of their hope for the future, demands the Arab region’s response.
Collective strategic philanthropy has a key role to play in the upcoming post COVID-19 reality. This new era will be led by those who adopt and refine innovative and flexible frameworks for action, learning, and continuous improvement.
Calls for more funds to serve those who are facing aggravated health and economic risks in the Arab region due to the onslaught of COVID-19, have been multiplying every month since the pandemic struck in March this year.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA), in its COVID-19 appeal, has asked for $94.6 million this year alone to continue responding to the emergency needs of 5.6 million registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East. The funds are intended to be, among other things, spent on healthcare, direct cash assistance and education. According to UNICEF, 150 million additional children have been plunged into poverty due to COVID-19, pushing the total number to an estimated 1.2 billion.
“Families on the cusp of escaping poverty have been pulled back in, while others are experiencing multi-dimensional levels of deprivation they have never seen before. Most concerningly, we are closer to the beginning of this crisis than its end,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore.
In such a grim scenario, it is not surprising that the number of appeals for funds is multiplying at an alarming rate, with governments in low and middle-income countries struggling to ensure that at least the basic needs of their populations are met.
Amidst this crisis, it is interesting to note that donors in the Arab region, and globally too, are looking at their donations in a very different way. There is a diametric shift away from giving money and counting success based on the dollar value collected and donated, to having an outcomes-focused mindset.
The increased attention on outcomes, rather than outputs, is paramount as the development sector has evolved over time. The delivery of goods or services is no longer the metric by which success is measured; rather it is more and more about “measurable benefit.”
In education, this will signify that providing training to a group of people is no longer enough for donor accountability. The training must offer upskilling to beneficiaries and pave the way for them to access better opportunities and attain elevated levels of living and livelihood. In other words, we do not need more youth earning a “certificate of completion” for a course that does not give them a better chance of getting a job.
This global shift towards “responsible giving” is arguably more pronounced among Arab philanthropists and young Arabs in general. It is operationalized through initiatives like the Gulf-backed Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at Cambridge Judge Business School, the Global Muslim Philanthropy Fund and Alfanar, the Arab region’s first venture philanthropy. These are examples of initiatives that demonstrate the new ways in which Arab philanthropy is leveraging funds to achieve better results for vulnerable populations. In other words, monetary donations are an insufficient mechanism when it comes to the new way of giving in the Arab region.
Interestingly, we are now seeing education grants being given based on a competitive selection process solely to organizations that work directly with refugee and conflict-affected children and youth in the UAE, Lebanon, and Jordan. In addition, the philanthropists are embedding an impact-driven funding approach in their partnership-agreement model.
The most notable piece in this puzzle is the foundation of professional accountability within the strategic partnership model that facilitated the rapid responses needed for operators to respond to urgent situations. The result of this approach is that refugee and vulnerable Arab youth receive educational opportunities that lead to credentials even during the pandemic.
Overall, philanthropic giving in the Arab world needs to define success within the context of approaches, protocols, and procedures that lead to results-based, transparent communication between the donor and program partners. In other words, organizations must explore ways in which co-created processes allow for fiscal, technical and results-driven reporting, creating a platform for knowledge-sharing, and designing responsive solutions. If they believe that the best outcomes are enhancing the livelihoods of thousands of beneficiaries, then they need to innovate together for a measurable impact on the lives of these vulnerable individuals.
The shift to online learning that the Covid-19 shutdowns forced on universities and schools has created particular set of challenges for technical and vocational schools in the Middle East and North Africa region, where lack of access to digital devices, poor Internet connections and a widening digital divide are causing some students to fall behind.
Many technical and vocational courses rely on practical demonstrations that are difficult to translate to a digital environment, and the programs typically attract students from low-income backgrounds who are less likely to have access to digital devices.
With Covid-19 caseloads climbing and many students unable to attend class, there is concern that these young people, many of whom already live in challenging environments, will suffer a lasting impact on their education.
“There is a huge need to build digital skills amongst the most vulnerable,” says Sonia Ben Jaafar, chief executive of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, which provides scholarships and skills training to underserved students in the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Jordan.
“What the Covid crisis exposed was an increase in the gender digital divide (which) adversely affects gender gaps in education, violence and higher risk of female drop-outs,” she says. “The result is girls are left behind and cultural norms dictate that online learning remains in the male domain.”
“The new Covid-19 reality taught us to re-emphasize the importance of being a flexible donor … and provide grantees with the opportunity to be creative in exploring solutions.”
Danah Dajani, Director of philanthropic partnerships of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education
In response, the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation has enabled its grantees to repurpose funds and buy laptops and data bundles for students to continue their education during the pandemic.
“The new Covid-19 reality taught us to re-emphasize the importance of being a flexible donor … and provide grantees with the opportunity to be creative in exploring solutions,” says Danah Dajani, the foundation’s director of philanthropic partnerships.
Mistrust of Online Learning
This hasn’t been easy, though. Despite the recent efforts to create functioning virtual classrooms in response to Covid-19, online learning remains far from mainstream for many schools across the Middle East and North Africa.
A survey of 1,000 Arab university students conducted by the Al Ghurair Foundation between October 2018 and January 2019 found that, while many students were willing to top up their studies with online courses, “Arab youth still have misconceptions around online learning, which seem to limit their openness to pursuing it for traditional degrees.”
This hesitancy seems particularly strong among students in vocational and technical schools.
In Sudan, Hamdan Mohamed, a student at the Department of Telecommunications Engineering at Gezira College of Technology, in Khartoum, says the online method has failed the more vulnerable in his community. “We will not benefit. The Internet is weak in Sudan and students do not have the means to afford it,” he says. Worse, additional charges have been levied for courses going online. “I decided to stop studying this year because I need to earn money,” Mohamed says.
Others struggle to engage with online lessons. In Egypt, Ahmed Saeed, 19, has been trying to keep up with his first-year mechatronics course at Beni-Suef University of Technology from his home in Alexandria, but says online teaching is no substitute for in-class training. “I am a technical high school graduate and I do not like theoretical study,” he says. “I do not feel that I have absorbed the lessons well … but we had no other solution.”
Even students who succeed in completing a program online may face frustrations as they start new jobs from home.
Two weeks into his new role as a software engineer at an IT services company in Jordan, Osama Mousa is becoming familiar with the demands of his job, but he misses the buzz of an office. “I like to be in an environment where I can mingle with friends and enjoy my work,” the 25-year-old says. “I’d prefer to prove myself in the office, but they told us that to stay safe we have to work from home.”
Mousa is in a better position than most. When the coronavirus pandemic hit Jordan, prompting one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in mid-March, he was already halfway through his course at the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair School of Advanced Computing, part of Luminus Technical University College, in Amman. The school switched to virtual classes, delivering 170 laptops to students so they could continue their studies online. “It was difficult at first but after that we learned how to communicate and ask questions virtually,” he says.
Reaching More Students Remotely
Even institutions that were operating a blended learning model before the pandemic have found the sudden shift online disruptive. Zeina Saab, the co-founder of SE Factory, which runs coding bootcamps for refugees and vulnerable youth in Lebanon, recalls a conversation with colleagues in early March, when the rising Covid-19 caseload began to have a profound impact on everyday life.
“We were really concerned. … A lot of these students needed to be in class in person. The question was how to make this experience really valid and maintain the quality of the course, even if it went online.”
At first, the dropout rate increased as power cuts and poor Internet connections interrupted classes and teachers struggled to keep students engaged as they logged in from homes that were often crowded and noisy.
It was a stressful period, says Saab, but over the last few months it’s become clear that online learning brings benefits, too, like allowing the organization to reach more students in remote areas and reducing costs for rent, transportation and refreshments. Interactive online tools like Miro, a visual collaboration software that facilitates brainstorming sessions and workshops, have also helped keep students engaged, while English classes have boosted their ability to navigate the digital space.
“The Covid crisis forced people to speed up to online. Resistance was not an option.”
Sonia Ben Jaafar Chief executive of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education
It has also helped change attitudes toward online education. “Remote learning has really been validated, even remote work. This wasn’t a culture that people openly embraced even before Covid in Lebanon,” Saab says. In the future, she feels a blended learning model would be best. “Online alone won’t work,” she says. “Even with the pandemic, people are not yet ready to go fully online. It needs to be blended.”
But the pandemic has sown the seeds for a new era of education in the region, accelerating a digital uptake that was long overdue. “The Covid crisis forced people to speed up to online,” says Jaafar, of the Al Ghurair Foundation. “Resistance was not an option.”
‘Tech Is the New Reality’
The shift comes at a time when pressure is mounting on Arab education ministries to upgrade outdated learning models and modernize curricula as labor markets evolve and job requirements change. According to a report published by the Al Ghurair Foundation, 47 percent of work activities in the region’s largest economies are likely to become automated in the coming years, requiring new skill sets that will transform the way people work.
Vocational education—which has typically prepared Arab students for low-paid jobs such as carpentry, construction, sewing and salon work—runs this risk, limiting the opportunities available to young people and failing to address market requirements by churning out hundreds of graduates for roles that are already over-subscribed.
“We need to make sure all TVET (technical and vocational education and training) courses are aligned with what the market demands and needs,” Ben Jaafar says, and “ensure the private sector is engaged from the onset.” Otherwise, it becomes the same mismatch in skills between many higher education institutes and the workforce, she adds.
And the future is decidedly online. “Tech is the new reality,” she says. “You can’t get a job and improved livelihood if you don’t have digital literacy at a minimum.”
Currently, there’s a high demand for programmers in the Emirates, where the emphasis on theoretical over practical learning at the university level leaves many graduates ill-prepared for the jobs sector. This creates a gap that organizations like Luminus, which is one of the Al Ghurair Foundation’s grantees, hope to fill.
“We’re seeing this with students graduating from the programming and software development courses, who are getting jobs they would never have been able to access previously, and they are getting them really fast, even in a pandemic,” Dajani says.
Ready for the World of Work
Since funds were repurposed during the pandemic, 150 students have been able to take online courses at the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair School of Advanced Computing, at Luminus Technical University College, and 22 have graduated so far. Of these, 14 have gained full-time employment at companies including Amazon, Bank al Etihad, and Bayt, a major Middle East job platform, with salaries starting at $1,000 a month, approximately four to six times the average wage in Jordan.
A month before finishing her course at the advanced computing school, Hidaya Syam, 22, had already landed a job doing coding work remotely for a company in Canada. After graduating from the Jordan University of Science and Technology earlier this year, she was apprehensive about her prospects. “I had a lot of fears about how I could get a job after uni because all universities in Jordan focus on theory not practical studies and I wasn’t prepared to get anything in the job market.”
Syam, who is Palestinian and lives in the Jerash refugee camp in northern Jordan, says a lot of young people like her struggle to find work, despite having degrees in relevant sectors. But since taking the course, she’s mastered some of the soft skills needed for the workplace. “After I started with ASAC I felt, OK, I can go to the job market with confidence.”
In wealthier countries, too, efforts are underway to bolster the vocational sector and furnish students with practical skills for the changing world of work. The U.A.E. government says the country needs to produce 10 Emiratis with vocational skills for every university graduate in order to achieve its goal of creating a sustainable and diversified knowledge-based economy. With a focus on new and emerging technologies, materials and systems, it is now a national priority to ensure the Emirati population is armed with skills to drive the economy of the future, beyond oil.
Co-authored by: Kevin Watkins, Chief Executive, Save the Children and Dr. Sonia Ben Jaafar, Chief Executive, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education
This time last year, education ‘stole the show’ at the first ever Global Refugee Forum, where hundreds of policy and financial pledges were made to get refugee children in school and learning. Twelve months on, we face a global education emergency brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic – and the international response has been dismal. Only 8.4% (USD $28.6 million) of the USD $342 million required for the education sector in the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan has been funded.
2020 has been a hugely challenging year for children. In April, over 170 countries enforced national school closures, affecting 1 billion children. For the first time in human history, an entire global generation has had their education disrupted.
As of December 2020, nearly 200 million pre-primary and school-aged children are still out of education – and we know from previous crises that the longer children are out of school, the greater the risk that they do not return.
FOR REFUGEE CHILDREN, THE PANDEMIC IS PUSHING EDUCATION FURTHER OUT OF REACH
“I miss my school so much because it is my second home, and I miss my teachers,” says 14-year-old Maya, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan. Yet she is one of the lucky ones who had a place in school before the pandemic and has been able to stay connected via distance online learning provided through the government and her family’s access to a tablet.
Almost half of all school-aged refugee children and youth – 3.7 million – were out of school before the pandemic. This already dire situation will deteriorate without an effective, well-funded, and well-coordinated international education response. 85% of refugees live in low- and middle-income countries where education systems already struggle to meet the needs of marginalised communities. These countries need the international community to step up with more funding. Teaching refugee children must be a shared global responsibility.
Refugee children are even less likely than others to return to school when they reopen, with many of their families no longer able to afford school fees, uniforms, and books due to increased poverty caused by the pandemic. They are also less likely to have access to the internet and technologies needed for distance learning.
Yet refugee children critically need safe, quality and inclusive education. It’s a building block of recovery, resilience and long-term development. They, and their families, consistently identify education as a high priority.
WORKING TOGETHER TO IMPROVE EDUCATION FOR REFUGEES
While global education institutions, private sector, multi-nationals and philanthropic foundations have been implementing innovative education approaches for refugee children throughout the pandemic, funding efforts remain largely uncoordinated. Lessons and best practice from across the sector are not being shared effectively.
This is why our organisations came together with Education Cannot Wait and the World Bank to co-host a high-level, virtual roundtable to discuss key experiences, learnings and promising practices that have emerged. Today we publish an outcome paper which sets out what we learnt.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNT?
We discussed how donors need to increase their education funding and deliver it at speed, while focussing on accountability. We heard how the “normal” way of delivering education to refugees – in temporary learning centres or in the classroom – had been turned on its head, and how donors collaborated with partners to reallocate funding and rapidly respond to that shift. This meant delivering flexible funding to allow local organisations to be innovative and pilot, adapt and scale up new approaches to distance education (such as online, radio or paper-based materials) that are tailored to their context.
The pandemic has reinforced the need for pooled funding and collective action such as that delivered through Education Cannot Wait, the Global Partnership for Education, and the Global Muslim Philanthropy Fund for Children,
Global stakeholders need to support local and national delivery of education, including by partnering with refugees in the design and implementation of programmes. Refugee children, parents and educational communities know what they need, so involving them will be more effective and more sustainable in the long run. For example, the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund in partnership with Discovery Education is collaborating with local organisations in Lebanon to ensure that vulnerable refugee children can access high-quality digital learning resources and continue their education within public schools without interruption during the pandemic.
DISRUPTION AND OPPORTUNITY
To effectively address refugee children and youth’s access to education, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, and ensure their integration in national education systems, we need to understand how best to support host countries. While this is a time of incredible disruption and change, roundtable participants emphasised that the COVID-19 pandemic also presents “the moment” to develop refugee education approaches and systems that are inclusive and resilient to emergencies.
While distance learning approaches have proved instrumental in including some refugee children and youth who are traditionally excluded from education, online platforms can also create barriers. The reality for too many refugees is limited access to digital technology, unreliable internet and electricity, and cultural barriers that exclude them from access to online education solutions. UNHCR estimates that the connectivity level of refugee communities is 50% that of non-refugees.
COVID-19 could trigger the biggest reversal in education progress in modern history – and we owe it to the children and communities we serve to shift how we approach refugee education. We need to take the best of what we do now, and build it into new, sustainable approaches that are a better fit for an unknown and uncertain future. It’s only by making education systems inclusive and resilient to emergencies that we will be able to meet our promises to refugees and all children in the years to come.