The Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access (PADILEIA) was formed to meet the higher educational needs of Syrian refugee students in Jordan and Lebanon. With a shared interest in innovative digital pedagogy, student support models and transferrable skills, the PADILEIA partnership consists of three universities – King’s College London, Al Al-Bayt University in Jordan, and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon – as well as Kiron Open Higher Education, a digital education NGO, and FutureLearn, a leader in online learning.
Higher education has often been neglected in traditional humanitarian response strategies but plays a critical role in providing some refugees with a degree of continuity in their educational development and in enhancing their ability to make strategic choices about their futures (1). The large number of Syrian refugees has put pressure on the host countries’ educational institutions (2), causing challenges for education access. This pressure on the overall education system also creates barriers to higher education access for disadvantaged youth in both Jordan and Lebanon. Therefore, PADILEIA’s courses are open to anyone facing challenges getting into higher education.
A needs assessment conducted by PADILEIA found several barriers to higher education including recognition of prior learning and English language ability – a key requirement for regional universities. Most participants in the study had no prior experience in online learning and, although smartphones were widely available, a stable internet connection was not.
PADILEIA has developed a three-pronged approach to increase access to higher education:
- Bespoke short courses: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in subjects identified within the needs assessment such as English, Business and Entrepreneurship, and Healthcare.
- Online learning: six to 12 months of online study with student support, leading to the transfer of credits into university.
- Foundation Course: eight-month classroom-based blended learning to provide students with the knowledge and ability to meet entrance requirements for universities in the region and abroad. Examples include foundation level maths, science and English courses as well as university application support and building 21st century skills.
The story so far
Overall, PADILEIA has found a blended approach to be the most effective to increase students’ participation and completion of courses. Mixed support methods, as well as face-to-face contact are embedded into the programme.
The foundation courses have a high number of contact hours and have proven to be highly successful. In the first year, 31 foundation course graduates gained scholarships or employment and courses have received a 91 per cent recommendation rate from participants. 184 students are projected to graduate by July 2019. Informed by needs assessment, students are selected through an interview, reducing the barrier presented by the requirement of documentation of prior learning.
At Kiron, where more of the students’ learning is completed online on curated pathways built from existing digital content, courses have evolved to include more blended learning, which has improved student engagement. A live chat function and realtime feedback from support staff has also been developed to further increase student support. This adapted model includes working in a blended delivery setting with students.
The short, fully online MOOCs take a different approach, aiming for widening participation and reach and acting as a stepping-stone to university access rather than a full pathway. Three courses have been developed so far, and have been completed by 492 refugee or Jordanian and Lebanese students. PADILEIA has also pioneered a novel form of remote support, using WhatsApp as a low-cost tool to provide mentoring. This has proven to be an accessible method, allowing 30 students at King’s College London to connect with over 100 refugee students studying through PADILEIA. Students receiving the mentoring found it helpful to speak English with a fluent speaker and were able to exchange knowledge and learning about new cultures. Future MOOCs will include assessment and support from King’s College London academic volunteers to further support learners.(1) Dryden-Peterson, S., and W. Giles. “Introduction: Higher Education for Refugees.” Refuge 27, no. 2 (2010): 3–9 (2) Sherab, D. and Kirk, K. (2016) Access to Higher Education for Refugees in Jordan. Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD)-Legal Aid, p. 7