A moment to reflect

For the last few months I have been fortunate enough to be involved with a group of enthusiastic educators whilst researching the place and contribution of learning spaces in education.

The research and learning that has taken place could not have been possible without the collective input of my peers. They have provided me with ideas, solutions, and motivation when at times I felt challenged. I can also wholeheartedly say that without the guidance, support and facilitation of one particular member and leader (thank you Adam Staples) none of this would have been possible.

Our research over the course of the last 4 weeks specifically has focussed on a topic that is not easy to digest – the Syrian refugee crisis. At many times, I found myself questioning the lack of humanity that people are capable of, and wondering what on earth I could do to make any improvements for such an enormous problem.

However, out of this I have come to develop a new sense of gratitude and inspiration. Gratitude for all of the unearned privileges I have been reminded that I have each and every day. But also extremely grateful to know that my children are going to be fortunate enough to be educated by the types of teachers I have come to know within this research group. The group of peers I have worked alongside are inspired, committed and passionate educators. They have approached each and every aspect of our research with determination and perseverance. They have inspired me with their ability to to create holistically-sound programs to meet each child’s educational and developmental needs.

As this experience together comes to a formal end, I am thankful for the changes they have afforded me, for I have a new outlook and perception of just what I can strive to achieve for myself and my students. And I am proud to know that the future of education within Australia (and beyond?) will be influenced by them.

Happy teaching.

teacher quote



I am an educator. My hope for the children of Za’atari.

What can I do for a child

with innocence lost

whose young eyes have seen things they should not?


What can I do for a child

watching with a guarded stare

whose life has been changed, seemingly beyond repair?


What can I do for a child

filled with anger and fear

who no longer believes in dreams once held dear?


What can I do for a child

whose despair is shared by the faces they see

who begins to forget the child once filled with curiosity?


I am an educator

I strive to open minds and touch hearts

but we must transform these spaces so we can all take part.


I am an educator

I promise to show patience, kindness and empathy

in an effort to remind you that you are important to me.


I am an educator

I will offer you a safe space to learn and grow

where you can remember how to dream and strive for more.


I am an educator

I will encourage you to reflect and explore

so that you, too, can stretch beyond these limits that should not be your ‘norm’.


I am an educator

I will be here for you every step of the way

and we will work together for you to find hope again one day.



By Kayri Shanahan


A mission statement for Za’atari’s future learning spaces

I have recently been spending some time trying to gather my thoughts to create a relevant mission statement of what I would hope to achieve by implementing future learning spaces within the Za’atari refugee camp.

Although the process of researching Za’atari as an educational context has been upsetting, disturbing and many times overwhelming, it is also relevant and vitally important that I know. My new knowledge now empowers me to contribute to the urgent changes that are needed, whether that be by becoming directly involved myself or by ensuring my students are educated to become informed, global citizens. Or, ideally, both.

I urge you to consider doing the same.


(Mandela, 2003).

Happy teaching.

My Mission Statement (link to page)


Where should an educational program begin?

As an educator, how do you prepare for the arrival of a new student into your class? Do you ask for a bit of background from their parents or perhaps even old teacher? Do you do some preliminary formal or informal tests? Do you find out where they went to school and make an assumption of approximately what knowledge and skills they will have based on their age and year level?

How would you work out a child’s education capital if virtually none of those things applied? Where would you start? Equally as important, what if you yourself are not a trained teacher but instead a volunteer within the camp who is giving your time and knowledge to assist the younger generation?

When considering the education capital within Za’atari it is important not to perceive the label “refugee” to be equivalent to uneducated. Adults within the camp come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are not educated beyond a secondary level themselves whilst others are professionals who have also had to flee Syria. In some instances, refugees are able to use their prior education to earn a living for themselves, but formal employment within the camp is extremely limited (Ledwith, 2014, p. 50).

In 2014, there were 3 schools operating in Za’atari and the Jordanian Ministry of Education promoted quality by certifying schools. However, only schools taught by Jordanian teachers could be certified. Syrian teachers are only able to work as assistants in these schools (Ledwith, 2014, p. 46). In 2014, up to 11 Non Government Agencies were delivering education to children aged 5 – 17 years within Za’atari (Ledwith, 2014, p. 11), including providing remedial education in an effort to allow students to catch up to the Jordanian curriculum (Ledwith, 2014, p. 48).

However, it appears the entrepreneurial avenues are some of the most common paths where adults and children attempt to create a niche for themselves, and this often overshadows education (Ledwith, 2014, p. 48). This may be by becoming merchants and setting up a restaurant or shop. Marrying off daughters is common, some as young as 13 years old.

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Figure 1, 2014

These statistics, along with the daily realities of formal and informal legal systems involving street leaders who oversee control of selected districts within the camp all create competition and challenges for educational programs.

An educational program that makes better use of its inhabitants’ skills and expertise (i.e. educational capital) may help reduce the “street mentality” that dominates life here. “Many forms of crime still exist. Smuggling, theft, violence, sexual- and gender-based violence, and armed-forces recruiting have all been observed in Za’atari. In addition, since the Jordanian government will not let refugees enter the general population without a bailout guarantee, illegal escaping of refugees and bailout guarantee forgery are common crimes in Za’atari” (Ledwith, 2014, p. 12).

The education capital in Za’atari is complex, to say the least. However, one thing is apparent – there is a  strong desire to improve the current “lifestyle” in Za’atari. “UN officials report that, due to the skill and mercantile drive of the Syrian refugees, Zaatari’s development has surpassed in six months what many camps see in 20 years” (Ledwith, 2014, p. 52). If this initiative and educational capital (formal and informal) could be redirected or channelled into programs throughout the camp for greater community good, including education, perhaps we could see similar progress in other areas as well.


Ledwith, A. (2014). Za’atari – The Instant City. Affordable Housing Institute. Retrieved on October 19, 2015 from http://www.affordablehousinginstitute.org/storage/images/AHI-Publication-Zaatari-The-Instant-City-Low-Res-PDF-141120.pdf

Figure 1. (2014). Za’atari – The Instant City. Affordable Housing Institute. Retrieved on October 19, 2015 from http://www.affordablehousinginstitute.org/storage/images/AHI-Publication-Zaatari-The-Instant-City-Low-Res-PDF-141120.pdf

Educational starting places in Za’atari

Teachers all around the world face the challenge of providing a stimulating, relevant and engaging educational program that is going to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to try and prepare our students for life in the “real world”. How then does a teacher prepare a Syrian refugee child living in Za’atari for this? For many, their “real world” experiences have shattered any chance of the innocence of childhood. Many bear the scars – emotionally, psychologically and physically. So, how can a teacher make a difference? What educational facilities are available to them?

The children and families of Za’atari face enormous challenges as they attempt to rebuild their lives from within the confines of an indefinite future of a refugee camp. No set timeframe of how long they will be there. No confirmation of if they will ever be able to go home to Syria or will they be able to start a new life somewhere else? It is uncertainty on top of more uncertainty. An ongoing liminal space.

But, days and weeks and months pass. Children get older and as they do they are continuing to potentially miss out on opportunities which will help them now and in the future.

Although the Za’atari camp is away from the terrors of war, there is still a level of fear, particularly for girls moving about the camp. Their safety against attack and (or rape) is paramount and often this can result in girls being kept hostage of sorts within the confines of their small tent or caravan. However, so much of the evidence collated from around the world today shows that the education of girls is paramount to the overall increase in improvements to local communities and society in general.

  1. Reduction of child and maternal mortality
  2. Improvement of child nutrition and health
  3. Lower birth rates
  4. Enhancement of women’s domestic role and their political participation
  5. Improvement in their economic productivity and growth
  6.  Protection of girls from HIV/AIDS, abuse and exploitation

“Girls’ education yields some of the highest returns of all development investments, yielding both private and social benefits that accrue to individuals, families, and society”. (Educating Girls Matters, n.d)

That urge to protect their children spreads to the boys as well, and many are restricted to staying nearby their families. However, progress is being made. Even with only 2% of international humanitarian aid being allocated to education, the numbers of children attending some type of formal education whilst living in Za’atari has increased. in 2013, a UNICEF report showed that attendance across all age groups was 51.6%. The figures from 2015 show an encouraging trend amongst the younger children, but a rapid dropoff without suitable upper secondary and/or tertiary options. Some feel that this is due to the perception that the degree with be worthless when they finally return home to Syria. More likely is the lack of any suitable upper secondary or tertiary options to pursue.

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Image 1 (2015)

Many adults and children are involved in education to improve their knowledge and skills, but also to contribute to the community and help pass the time. A teacher in Za’atari said “I graduated from my law degree and I was working as a trainee in Syria”. When he was asked why he had chosen to become a teacher. “I wanted to share my education with others rather than keep it to myself,” he replied. “I’m happy to be able to give back to the children living in this camp.” (Save the Children, 2014)

The facilities of the education spaces in Za’atari are varied. Physically, spaces are split – often one area for girls, one for boys; one classroom session for boys and one session for girls. “In a camp where there is little to do it’s so important to have an outlet to keep healthy and busy. “We now go to bed early because we have something to look forward to the next day,” said a 16-year-old with a smile. “I used to go to sleep at 2am but now by 9pm I am already in bed because I have a long day of activities ahead of me.” (Save the Children, 2014)

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Image 2 (2013)

Pleasingly, though, not all of the educational resources are as basic as one might assume. For example, Relief International runs a program which is designed to cover both the educational and psycho-social development of the children.

  • A remedial education center in the camp which provides classes in Arabic, Math, Science and English for grades 1-11. The remedial classes enable the children to develop their skills and stimulate their participation in their daily environment.
  • Classes for boys are provided in the morning as their formal education takes place in the afternoon and girls come to the center in the afternoon after their classes at the main school. There are four periods of 45 minutes including one for supervised recreational activities where students can enjoy competitive and team building activities, develop their imagination and learn to interact amicably with other students in an open space and a safe and environment. Most importantly, these activities promote a sense of normalcy by giving them the space, time and right to play as children.
  • Each class has a teacher as well as a case manager who ensures the child attends the remedial education classes regularly, tracks the child’s educational progress and provides individual follow up. Their role is also to provide additional guidance, monitor children’s behavior and help identify and work with children who need further psycho-social support.
  • Community mobilizers create a link between refugee families and the center, ensuring awareness about the services provided and information of how to access it, as well as the positive opportunities that extra educational support can bring.
  • To increase the safety of the children, community mobilizers also accompany students between the Relief International center and meeting points in the camp and the main school.
  • All teachers, case managers and community mobilizers are Syrians from the refugee camp. This creates understanding and trust between staff and children as they are familiar and have been through the similar experiences, whilst also providing employment to those living the camp.
  • Other staff are Jordanian from the local town, which also provides employment for those in the host community

(Relief International, 2013. and n.d)

Upon further investigation, the motivation and desire to provide the most educationally relevant and engaging programs whilst still overseeing and managing the wellbeing of each child has commenced through the work of agencies such as UNICEF, Save the Children and Relief International, to name a few.

Perhaps the challenge now is how can these educational facilities and program models be made accessible for ALL refugee children. And furthermore, what steps are necessary to transform them into experiences that provide a comprehensive end-to-end educational model (pre-school through to Tertiary) which will be relevant and meaningful for life beyond Za’atari.

After all, that is the hope of so many refugees confined to living there.



Image 1 (2015). Retrieved on October 15, 2015 from http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/settlement.php?id=176&region=77&country=107. Direct link –  Za’atari Camp CCFA; Education/Youth Factsheet

Image 2 (2015). Retrieved on October 15, 2015 from http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/08/jordan-zaatari-schools-syrian-refugess.html


Tomorrow starts today….what the future holds for 21st century refugees.

The numbers are overpowering. The stories are devastating. The human cost is overwhelming. So much so, that much of the world seems to stand aside whilst the countries immediately affected attempt to step in and fix things.

What does the future hold? Given that our global society is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, it will take an ongoing global response to attempt to move forward.

In December 2014, the United Nations issued their largest ever appeal for a single crisis – $8.4 billion is necessary to meet the needs of those affected by the crisis, both inside and outside of Syria. $8,400,000,000. That is almost too much to comprehend. Often, only 50% or less is actually funded.

A Report from UNHCR showed that worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded in history.

59.5 million people were forcibly displaced by the end of 2014.

59,500,000 people

That was an increase from 51.2 million people from 2013.

And an increase from 39.5 million people from a decade ago.

Most alarmingly is that half of the world’s refugees are children. 

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Image 1. (2015)

“Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest. (UNHCR, 2015).

“The international community has to overcome its differences and find solutions to the conflicts of today in South Sudan, Syria, Central African Republic and elsewhere. Non-traditional donors need to step up alongside traditional donors. As many people are forcibly displaced today as the entire populations of medium-to-large countries such as Colombia or Spain, South Africa or South Korea,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres (2014).

The driving force for the acceleration in the rapid climb in the number of people displaced worldwide is due to ongoing civil war raging in Syria – now the world’s single-largest driver of displacement.

Every day last year on average 42,500 people became refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced, a four-fold increase in just four years”. (UNHCR, 2015)

The impact on the world is being felt now. It has been felt for the past few years as the numbers skyrocket. However, the global response has been out of proportion with the level of human need. “For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution.” (Guterres, 2015).

What does the future hold for a 21st century refugee? Without a committed, global contribution to respond to the crisis, I fear that many nations of the world who are physically removed from the greatest areas of conflict will turn a blind eye until they begin to experience a personal cost themselves.

And those nations will experience this cost in years to come if they are not directly affected today. Without dramatic change, we will see a generation of children, adolescents and young adults unable to contribute to their families and/or communities due to unaddressed psychological and physical traumas faced during their childhood, the ongoing lack of education to adequately prepare them for life as an adult in a global society and the ongoing financial cost to rebuild the war torn countries after the conflict eventually ends.

However, with a united global approach perhaps tomorrow really can start today and the future pathways of millions upon millions of displaced citizens around the world can be redirected? Priorities beyond immediate personal safety from war include education.  Parents, students and community members want a society that is educated, skilled and able to wish for a better future. Education of the next generation of learners, refugees and otherwise, can ideally help to raise global citizens from all corners of the world in an effort to avoid repeating the disastrous fallout we are experiencing today.

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Image 2 (2013)


Image 1. (2015). Retrieved on October 14, 2015 from https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/turkey-iraq-jordan-lebanon-syria/quick-facts-what-you-need-know-about-syria-crisis

Image 2. (2013). Retrieved on October 14, 2015 from http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/5112962/Syria-refugee-crisis-is-set-to-hit-2m-in-worst-humanitarian-crisis-of-21st-century.html


What role does 21st century education play for the children of Za’atari?

Educators, schools and government bodies around the westernised world today are focussed on ensuring they keep pace with the rapidly developing space of 21st century education.

Students of today have access to a vast array of resources, technologies and choices which were not readily available a decade ago, and some of which did not even exist 15 years ago. Facebook, for example, was founded in 2004 – that is only 11 years ago. However, this is a daily, sometimes hourly, aspect of many students’ lives today and most have no memory of life without it and other similar ways of connecting globally.

This video produced by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) was shared with me by a peer. It helps to highlight the rapid growth in the future learning space as well as the impact and advantages these changes have for our students.

Considering that this video represents the momentum of much of the modern world’s educational focus today, where does that leave our Syrian refugee students? Many have had interrupted access to schooling throughout the last 4 years of conflict, but many have also ceased their education entirely. According to UNICEF, 68% of refugee children are not able to access schooling due to social, legal or economic barriers. With over 4.08 million refugees who have already fled Syria as of September 2015 it is estimated that half are children under the age of 18 years. Using UNICEF’s figures, that equates to approximately 1,387,000 refugee children under the age of 18 years who are not able to access education. 

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The gap that is apparent between the educational experiences of youth around the world today is certain to continue to widen unless the educational welfare of the Syrian refugees is addressed promptly.

Mercy Corps interviewed 150 Syrian refugee youths and asked for their words and pictures of what it was like growing up as a refugee. Their personal stories are emotional and moving, but importantly they demonstrate that they are all after a common goal – to be empowered and gain “recognition and respect for their skills and to contribute to their communities” (Streng, 2015).

Mercy Corps has recommended three main areas of focus in order to improve educational outcomes for the Syrian refugee youth.

  1. Reduce barriers to formal education and provide alternative learning models
  2. Develop job and leadership skills that improve future employability
  3. Provide activities that reduce isolation and improve adolescents emotional health and connection to their communities

Education is so much more than providing paper and pencils to learn literacy and numeracy skills. Yes, these skills are important, but so too are the abilities for refugee students to pursue future educational pathways, to develop a genuine connection to their community and for the ongoing psychosocial wellbeing of each child in order for them to contribute in meaningful and purposeful ways in the future. After all, these children are also 21st century learners.

I don’t think this is too much to ask, especially when you consider the educational luxuries that are available for other 21st century learners elsewhere around the world.