Interview with the Jamiya Project

The Jamiya Project brings together Syrian academics, European universities, and the latest education technology to provide access to higher education to Syrian refugees who experience disrupted studies due to conflict and forced migration. This September, the project broke ground with the launch of its first pilot course for refugees in Za’atari Refugee Camp and in Amman. Using innovative strategies, research, and collaboration, the project’s vision is to move the needle on disrupted education by creating a replicable solution that provides relevant and accessible education to refugees, asylum-seekers, and conflict-affected communities. The ESPMI Network spoke with the Jamiya Project to learn about the roots of the initiative, how it is providing sustained education to Syrians, and what’s next for the project.

What motivated the creation of the Jamiya Project?

The Jamiya Project was borne out of a desire to bring the highest quality education opportunities to the 90,000 Syrian refugee students in the Middle East who cannot access higher education. We use up to date and relevant methodologies, in a sustained effort, to put Syrian academics at the forefront of leading higher education development for Syrian refugees. Our courses are free, delivered in Arabic and tailored to suit the needs of Syrian refugee students. We feel that this is the most suitable model of education development and delivery for the students, and indeed the most likely to yield positive and sustainable results. The project is led by Syrian academics and brings together European universities, education technologies, philanthropy, education and development experts, and students to deliver quality university courses.

You conducted a survey on higher education challenges facing Syrian refugees. What surprised you the most in your findings from the Jamiya Project Survey?

The diversity of the subjects students wanted to pursue: the traditional ones, medicine and engineering were there, but there was also graphic design, literature, fine arts, and performance. Also, the speed of the response to the survey itself demonstrated the demand – over 600 responses in only a few weeks – and the connectedness of the community.

We understand you have recently launched the first course of the Jamiya Project. Tell us about the course and what it means for the students and professors involved.

We started our first Applied IT course last weekend in Za’atari Refugee Camp and in Amman. This course has been developed by both the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and Syrian Academics using a currently accredited undergraduate course in Applied IT. The course is delivered in Arabicjamiya-students-in-amman-photo-by-jamiya-project1-copy using a blended-learning format: online teaching by Syrian academics complemented with face-to-face seminars and tuition in partnership with local NGOs in Jordan.  The Norwegian Refugee Council is helping us to facilitate the course at its learning centre in Za’atari and the Jesuit Refugee Services is helping us in Amman. The 12 week course is intended to ground the students in the fundamentals of Applied IT. For the students it is a major opportunity to gain IT skills from a leading European university programme and will hopefully broaden their education and employment opportunities for the future. For the Syrian academics involved in creating and delivering the course, it is an opportunity to contribute and unlock their skills, knowledge and capacity in meeting the needs of their students.

Why is it important to have Syrian academics involved in the Jamiya Project?

The Jamiya Project centres Syrian academics as leaders in education development for Syria and for Syrian students.  If the Project is to be a success and our courses are going to provide our students zaatariwith the skills and knowledge they need to obtain from higher education, it is fundamental that Syrians drive the project. No one is better equipped to understand what is best for Syrian academia than Syrians themselves. Syrians are best placed to find sustainable solutions in this particular scenario and championing this is one of Jamiya Project’s core values.

Which universities in Europe are you partnering with and how does this benefit the project?

Currently we are partnered with the University of Gothenburg in Sweden to develop and deliver two pilot courses: the Applied IT course which started last week and a Global Studies undergraduate accredited course which should start early next year. We are currently in talks with various other European universities to develop courses as part of our scale up strategy. Following the completion of the pilot courses we aim to create several programmes in a variety of subject areas. We are in the early phases of developing these programmes but so far the interest shown by potential university partners has been very encouraging. As the project is quickly evolving we are inviting other universities, academics and development partners to join us.

Tell us about the online platform the courses are taught through. How do students access the courses? Is it accredited?

The students access the online part of the courses through the Arabic platform EDRAAK. In addition to the online aspect of the course, we have face-to-face tutors at the local learning centres to guide the students through the course material. Combining online delivery with face-to-face tuition will help to ensure that the students gain the best possible learning experience and will hopefully reduce attrition rates. The courses are accredited under the European Credit Transfer System which allows them to accumulate credits in case they wish to go onto further studies at European universities.

If a refugee gets settled abroad, can they complete their courses elsewhere? How does the Jamiya Project provide sustained access to education in the face of continued migration?

In a situation where a student gets settled abroad, they will be able to continue their studies as the content is delivered primarily online. This is also quite relevant for some of our students who have additional commitments, such as outside employment during traditional university hours. For those students who can’t make it to the face-to-face tutorials we offer additional online support to give them the best possible opportunity to succeed in their courses.  As the courses will be accredited, we envision a scenario where our students can go on to further studies – whether through our scaled up course ambitions or at European universities. For the Jamiya Project, the education opportunities we provide need to be sustainable and lead to either real employment opportunities or the opportunity to go on to develop further knowledge and skills. When we scale up the project to offer one year diploma courses, we intend on making these courses the equivalent of the first year of an undergraduate degree course which will allow the students to easily access scholarship opportunities for full degrees, either via the Jamiya Project or through our partner universities.

Tell us about the Jamiya Project Mentor Programme. Why is it needed? Can anyone be a mentor?

In order to give our students optimal support,  we have started a peer mentoring programme whereby students overseas connect with Jamiya Project students once a week online. Mentors lend their support by encouraging Jamiya Project students to continue in their studies, broaden their horizons and make new international friends. We hope that this programme will be a mutually beneficialjamiya-students-in-amman-photo-by-jamiya-project1 situation for both mentors and Jamiya Project students and will go a long way towards closing the gap between Syrian refugee students and their peers overseas. The main role of the mentor is not to provide academic support, as this is already provided by the professors leading the courses and the tutors who assist in the students’ learning. Instead it resembles a buddy system that helps to replicate the social and networking aspect of attending a traditional university. As such we are not only looking for students in the West who are studying the same subject area as our students. Nor are we looking exclusively for Arabic speaking students to join the mentoring programme, as many of our students speak English and will be very happy to avail of the opportunity to converse in the language. For mentors, we ask for nothing more that the willingness to spend 30 minutes or so each week speaking online with Jamiya Project students about their study experience and life in general. If anyone is interested in becoming a mentor for our future courses they can find out more information and sign up via this link http://jamiya.org/jamiya-mentors/

What is next for the Jamiya Project?

Following our upcoming pilots the next big thing for us is to start scaling up the project. We want to bring more partners (universities, academics, development organisations, practitioners and donors) into the project and make a significant effort to provide as many Syrian refugee students with the education opportunities that they need and deserve. We hope that the project will be in a position to realise this ambition in the coming year. We are always open to hearing from interested parties and making new connections, so if anyone is interested in getting involved then please reach out to us and we will be happy to speak to them.

Could the Jamiya Project model be replicated in refugee camps elsewhere?

The is exactly what we want the Jamiya Project to do. The model can be easily replicated in other countries, in other situations and by other organisations. One of the biggest obstacles to providing education to refugees is bringing the right networks together, but once this is achieved there is no reason why it cannot happen. We are more than happy to share our experience with others who would like to replicate our model. So again, we encourage other organisations and individuals, wherever they are, to get in touch and we will be happily exchange ideas.

What can we do if we want to get involved with Jamiya Project initiatives?

If anyone is interested in getting involved in the project, either as a mentor, an academic, a practitioner, a donor, or simply wants more information, they can consult the website jamiya.org or get in touch with Paul@jamiya.org.


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