A day in the life…

I was recently introduced to a moving virtual reality film titled “Clouds Over Sidra” by Chris Milk.  This film lets us walk in the virtual shoes of 12 year old Sidra, a Syrian refugee girl living for the past 18 months in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.

To put it simply, the technology used to create such a realistic experience was awe-inspiring. To become totally immersed in this space through sight and sound was somewhat daunting as the enormous scale of the challenges facing our global society suddenly became very real. I would encourage you to view it using the virtual reality platform, even if you don’t have the Google Cardboard accessory.

(Click here for more information about this virtual reality technology)

As far as the eye can see are rows upon rows of caravans, or makeshift “homes” for the 84,000 refugees who lived there when this was filmed. The nothingness of the space was overwhelming – both the natural and the manmade landscapes are almost entirely devoid of colour and “life”. We get to experience Sidra attending school, something she and her circle of friends are extremely proud of. Yet, they walk hand-in-hand along chainlink fences topped with razor wire to get to class. We also learn of the children who don’t want to go to school because they are waiting to go home to Syria.

We see “boys being boys”, still keen to wrestle and fight even after all that they may have personally witnessed. We also see boys having access to computers to play games, most of them combat ones, which must strike a chord very close to their own realities. Yet, we see the limitations placed on the girls who are not allowed to use the computers, but are eager to. However, girls are allowed to play soccer even though they cannot play it back in Syria. But, playtime comes at a cost, as does so much else in Za’atari, as they have to “play quickly” because so many other children are waiting for a turn.

Although there is safety from the war in Syria whilst in Za’atari, this temporary space has become a somewhat permanent home for thousands upon thousands of children and their families. In fact, the children outnumber the adults. For the children in Za’atari, the days, months and years spent here will be part of their childhood. No one is quite sure just how much of their childhood will be spent here. All anyone can agree upon is that it would seem that it will not be safe to return to Syria any time soon.

The Za’atari population try to survive in this ambiguous space where they don’t have a home to move on to nor one to return to. Yet, many keep hope alive by waiting for the day when they can leave. It would appear that a goal as global citizens would be to ensure that the refugees can still fulfil a basic human desire of being allowed to dream and learn and grow whilst trapped in this space.

A point in time will come when people can safely return to Syria. And it is evident by the amount of destruction there today that it is going to require the skilled assistance of educated and experienced people to rebuild communities and lives. So, what is being done to ensure this happens? With so few children regularly attending school whilst affected by the war, both within refugee camps such as Za’atari and elsewhere, we are not providing adequate education for them now or for their futures.

Watching “Clouds Over Sidra” gave me a new appreciation of the refugee situation in Za’atari and of that affecting Syria, Europe and the rest of the world. And it is prompting me to think of what can be done by the likes of you and I – the bystanders who are physically so far removed from these circumstances that we find it hard to truly comprehend that these situations are in fact people’s lives, day after day after day.

I would encourage all educators to view “Clouds Over Sidra” and to consider allowing your students to do the same. It is an experience not to be forgotten, and hopefully one that will spark conversation about this topic that will perhaps lead to positive changes for our global society.

Happy teaching.

What will you do?

Along with several other millions, I follow Humans of New York on Facebook. They always manage to share the stories that should be shared, and right now is no exception. They have turned their focus to the refugee crisis throughout Europe, and although heartbreaking, these are stories that need to be told and heard and acted upon.

One reader’s comment summed it up beautifully:

“When I read about the Holocaust and the terrible things that happened to people I always wonder what was the rest of the world doing then?  We are the rest of the world right now. What are we doing?” (Syma Khan via Facebook).

So, what are we doing? What are you doing? What am I doing? Are we discussing? Are we reflecting? Are our actions putting humanity first?

As educators, what are we doing? Are we truly raising global citizens or are we buried in the daily stresses of safe and secure classroom life so much so that tragic times such as this can’t be squeezed into our daily class schedules? How can we expect our students to do better for their future if they are not educated about the issues we are faced with today?

I feel that even though we can’t possibly hope to have an answer to solve this problem, discussing it is necessary to demonstrate the importance that everyone around the globe is playing a role in the refugee crisis. We are either actively viewing, reflecting and contributing how we can or we are actively convincing ourselves this is someone else’s problem.

I know what type of citizens I would like my students to grow up to become.

Happy teaching.

(Thanks to Alana Besley for sharing the link)

Resisting liminal spaces . . .

I have been involved in discussions lately investigating the place and purpose of liminal spaces (specifically in education), particularly in light of the uncertainty surrounding Syrian refugees.

In my googling (aka home “researching”), I came across an interesting article. It wasn’t specifically about liminal spaces, or Syrian refugees for that matter. However, something she wrote struck me as I have been reflecting on what liminal spaces represent to many of us.

Although change is a necessary aspect of growing, learning, evolving and living in general, most people are uncomfortable with it. Change doesn’t always represent something bad. In fact, it can be something wonderful (e.g. becoming a parent).  However, many people don’t face uncertainty with ease. Liminality is defined as the “quality of ambiguity or disorientation” (Wikipedia, 2015) – being on the threshold of something new, but it hasn’t quite happened yet. Ambiguity and disorientation are rarely qualities that one strives for in their daily lives. Most prefer certainty, structure and security, with the occasional “planned” change to liven things up a bit.

However, how do we cope nowadays when we are faced with liminal spaces? As I read this article, I wondered if part of our coping is that we become more consumed with something else instead – “So many experiences. So much we’re doing. So busy our brains. So fragmented our lives and so fluid and so busy. We see too much. So much, it’s hard for something to leave an impact.” (El-Katatney, 2015)

Today, we are able to distract ourselves from reality with just the touch of a finger to a phone.  For many people, this means that we can even steer ourselves mentally away from the uncertain, ambiguous spaces that we may be experiencing. Not permanently, of course, but enough to not be consumed by it perhaps.

But, what happens when you can’t escape that uncertainty, that ambiguity, that disorientation? For many of the refugees who have had to flee Syria for their lives have lived ‘civilised’ lives up until recently. They have had businesses, education, careers, hopes and dreams. They, too, were possibly able to distract themselves from uncertainty a few years ago with their own busy lives. But, when that ability to remove yourself from a situation – physically, mentally or emotionally – is not possible, how do you cope then?

I wonder if that is perhaps why some people nowadays struggle to relate to the plight of refugees and countries barricade borders and refuse asylum in their country? Have we become so used to resisting our own liminal spaces and places of uncomfortable uncertainty that we cannot truly empathise with the situation refugees are facing every day? No one can fully understand the trauma that a refugee may have experienced (or still be experiencing). But I do wonder whether we would be more inclined to show humanitarian kindness if we were more familiar  with liminal spaces ourselves.

As an educator, how does this affect me? Well, I wonder whether we should be encouraging students to allow themselves to be accepting of not having all the answers. To be open to experiencing uncertainty from time to time. To role model to our students that life isn’t a neatly mapped out pathway for everyone to follow like a board-game. To stop and reflect for a moment. Perhaps it would be helpful as teachers to encourage our students to recognise their own areas of ambiguity and disorientation (academically or emotionally); help them identify their feelings towards those spaces; and demonstrate how to embrace that some liminal spaces are in fact the start of something good. Perhaps that would be a good place to start to challenge what seems to be a resistance to experience liminal spaces in today’s westernised world.

Happy teaching.




As the saying goes, don’t judge a book . . .

This week I have been involved in discussion about the Syrian refugee crisis and what role education will play for refugees, both now and in their future.

The future of many refugees is uncertain, to say the least. But, it is important to remember as educators to avoid presuming that because someone is a refugee it means they are uneducated.

There are many types of education, both formal and informal. As a refugee, reliable and regular access to formal education may certainly be interrupted (or in some cases, non-existent). However, it is also possible that many of the people being displaced are in fact educated professionals – teachers, accountants, medical professionals, and so on.

Although an “everyday teacher’s” direct contact with educating refugees may be remote in many settings around the world, it will be a teacher’s job somewhere to welcome, support and educate a refugee student when they join their class and school. And it is for those teachers that I post this reminder, even though this applies to everyone you will come in contact with as an educator.

everyone you ever meet Image 1 (2014)

Happy teaching!



Image 1 (2014). Retrieved from http://hollymueller.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/digilit-sunday-online-collaboration.html



Learning Spaces E-Presentation

As part of my ongoing study into Learning Spaces and their role in education today, I have created an online presentation about learning spaces. To view it, please select the red, highlighted link above and ensure you have your sound turned “on”.

Attached is the full transcript for the presentation, if needed.

Kayri Shanahan – Learning Spaces Presentation TRANSCRIPT

Happy viewing!