Closing the Gap between Syrian Refugees’ Demand & Supply of Higher Education: 3- A potential Solution

Blended learning

Blended learning modes provide opportunities to understand and share the realities on the ground; which is crucial for instructors to be close to the experience of the refugees, whether they live in a camp or urban setting (Anderson, Brown, & Jean, 2012). It was observed that having an instructor in front of them and having peers to interact with helps the refugee students to stay on the course and successfully completing it. One of the main reasons for that is the importance of motivation, which is considered to be an integral part of the learning process, not only in the context of crisis and conflict but in all contexts.
It is the face-to-face interaction that makes it possible to design and develop contextualized programmes. Gladwell et al. (2106) realized that in countries hosting refugees, blended programmes designed for refugees had the target population and their context in mind, and that the community was consulted during the design phase as well as during the subsequent phases. This enhanced the ability to provide relevant and contextualized content. Another crucial issue that plays a core role, is access to technology. The model of providing blended learning modes within learning centres has proved to be in some cases really successful. Those learning centres built in refugee contexts, according to Gladwell et al (2016) helped to build and foster a sense of collective student identity.

Those characteristics inherent in the nature of blended learning explain why the majority of refugees prefer this learning mode over any other one. The majority of interviewed SRY stress on the importance to have a face-to-face interaction with instructors and peers. This is much more preferred than all-virtual courses were the human interaction is minimal (Dakkak, Yacoub, & Qarout, 2017).



Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online courses available for anyone to enroll. MOOCs provide an affordable (mostly free) and flexible way to learn new skills, access new knowledge and / or advance one’s career. Offered courses are usually in partnership between colleges, universities on one side and providers such as edX, coursera...etc. on the other.  It is through this partnership with top-tier universities (e.g. Harvard, MIT….etc.) that MOOC gained its legitimacy.

MOOCs are “hailed by many as a solution for the developing world’s lack of access to education because MOOCs can provide learning opportunities to a massive number of learners from anywhere in the world as long as they can access the course through Internet” (Liyanagunawardena, T. & Adams, A., 2014, p. 38).  Castillo et. al, (2015) explained that by emphasizing the inherent nature of MOOCs that enable and facilitate access to high-quality education to students, even those living in areas difficult to reach, and even those who are usually underserved and marginalized.
The prevalence of mobile devices, especially in developing countries and even in  the context of crisis and conflict, like the Syrian one, is actually a huge opportunity that should be well invested by developers who should harness the ubiquity of cell phones and mobile devices when they design MOOCs in fragile contexts or in areas of conflict and crisis.

Arabic MOOC

A statistic published by the Economic and Social Commission indicated that 90% of people in the Arab World want to read their internet in Arabic. However not more than 3% of the internet is written in Arabic, despite the fact that it’s the fifth most widely used language worldwide, spoken by at least 293 million people (Solayman, 2014).

In the Arab world, as universities struggle to reach thousands of students with few qualified professors, many educators feel that MOOCs still have potential. The Arabic MOOC platforms operate in an international context in which such online courses are often regarded as having already peaked in popularity (Hamamou, 2017).

After the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, MOOC providers, Edraak among others realized the urgency to create customized and tailored solutions for refugees, in order to help them succeed in a very competitive global economy (Bates, 2015). Having pioneered in the field of MOOC delivery, with a focus on Arabic content, Edraak is considered by renowned experts, such as Tony Bates (2015)  to be a promising potential making an impact in closing the demand/ supply gap for the delivery of quality education.

Blended delivery of Arabic MOOC

This paper argues that the delivery of Arabic MOOC in a blended learning mode, has a much higher potential than just an all-virtual MOOC learning mode or the costly scholarship programmes. Interviews with learners from diverse initiatives in the MENA region such as KIRON, Jamiya, InZone, LASER, Edraak and MEET, undertaken by a research team from the European Commission  (Colucci et. al, 2017), identified clearly that all refugee learners (regardless of their geographical location)  preferred a supported and facilitated learning modes, at least at some level. They indicated as well that MOOC courses, provided to them have to be targeted. While MOOC courses in their original format are not designed with the marginalized, underserved refugees in mind, this has to change. According to researchers such as Moser-Mercer (2014), if the MOOC courses do not address issues such as digital literacy, infrastructure, internet connectivity, physical learning environment, associated costs, language barriers...etc. the refugees and migrant  may find it too difficult to participate (Moser-Mercer. 2014).

An in-depth study undertaken by the European Commission (Colucci et. al, 2017) that interviewed a wide sample of SRY within diverse countries indicated clearly that blended approaches were the most desirable educational modes with regards to higher education as well as civic integration, employment and language learning. Interviewed refugees stressed strongly that meeting physically in order to exchange ideas and experiences is core for success as well as crucial to understand “certain concepts or regulations that may affect inclusion and settlement” (p. 24)