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Research takes on ‘one of the most significant barriers’ facing refugees

7 September 2021

photo of teacher teaching refugee children

Open University researchers are working with English language teachers in Jordan to understand how to better support them in teaching refugees.

Lack of English language skills is ‘one of the most significant barriers to refugees accessing tertiary education’, said Dr Koula Charitonos, Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Educational Technology, who researches the role of digital, mobile and online technologies in creating a more inclusive education, especially for underserved and marginalized communities. 

“In this project we aim to work with refugee teachers as peer researchers, to gain insights into the challenges and support needs of teaching in a refugee setting. 

“This way we are encouraging a new approach to the co-creation of knowledge and creating opportunities for collaborative work by recognising the need to shift to more participatory and inclusive approaches to research and knowledge mobilisation.

“By following an innovative approach to qualitative research, called Participatory Ethnographic Evaluation and Research, we are engaging communities in discussions, and ensuring that the views of marginalised and disadvantaged groups can be heard. 

“Specifically, we will be providing research skills training and we will develop research questions and a research tool together with teachers. The teachers will be gathering data through in-depth conversations with colleagues in refugee settings, which we will analyse together. 

“Throughout the process they will be receiving support by more experienced researchers in the project team through one-to-one meetings and drop-in sessions.”

Coping in a tough environment

Some of the English language teachers are refugees themselves and while some are qualified, others have no qualifications, she said.

They all have to cope in an environment with very few resources, including a lack of basic teaching materials, and with teaching students who may be feeling the effects of the traumatic experiences they have undergone.

The research, entitled Connected Learning in Crisis Contexts, is being led by Dr Charitonos and Professor Agnes Kukulska Hulme, based in the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology

It is funded by Arizona State University through a sub-grant of $25,000 from the Mastercard Foundation, and is being carried out in partnership with two NGOs involved in refugee education, Mosaik Education and Centreity Systems.

Funding builds on pilot

It builds on a pilot study with a small group of refugee teachers in urban settings in Jordan, which was funded by The Open University with £15,000 from its QR GCRF funds.

The pilot was completed in July. The follow-on study is due to run until December this year, but there is a ‘high possibility’ that a second phase, in a different location, will be funded to run until next August, said Dr Charitonos.

“The overall aim of this research is to contribute to the evidence base on how to improve English language teaching in crisis contexts, building on existing research and programmes drawing on connected learning programmes in Jordan and Lebanon. 

“Specifically, we want to further our understanding of how to contextualise English language teaching innovations and development at scale while following an approach that supports the localization of knowledge production in refugee and forced migration studies. 

“By the end of phase 2 we will have a good understanding of the needs and perspectives of refugee teachers by generating and sharing their own stories and this will hopefully help The Open University and others tailor their own support programmes to the people that need it the most.”


Photo: Turkey: Assisting refugees in need by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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To find out more about our work, or to discuss a potential project, please contact:

International Development Research Office
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The Open University
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