“Generation Standstill”

I have had the opportunity to revisit the Syrian refugee crisis over the past few weeks for study purposes. After looking into it intently almost a year ago, and then revisiting it in May of this year, it is somewhat disheartening to see that although some progress is being made, there is still an awfully long way to go.

Throughout my latest research, I came across a documentary about Syrian refugees titled “Generation Standstill”. The title immediately resonated with me as it perfectly and succinctly captures the precise dilemma faced by millions of Syrian refugee children. Not only have they lost the tangible and familiar objects of their past, but they are being robbed of their futures as well. Globally, the UNHCR reported just last month that over half of the world’s refugee children (3.7 million) have no school to go to.  Adding to the problem is the rapid rise in worldwide refugee numbers, including children. In 2014 alone, the refugee school-age population grew by 30%, meaning that an additional 12,000 classrooms and 20,000 teachers would be needed annually to meet the demand (UNHCR, 2016). 

The conflict in Syria has reversed the positive educational trends that the country once enjoyed, with school enrolments dropping from 90% in 2009 to only 60% in June this year (UNHCR, 2016). That 30% drop means that 2.1 million children in Syria are without education. Every. Single. Day…..Indefinitely.

For those who have fled Syria, only 39% of Syrian school-aged and adolescent refugee are enrolled in schools in Turkey, 40% in Lebanon, and 70% in Jordan. These numbers equate to a further 900,000 children accessing education. Every. Single. Day….Indefinitely (UNHCR, 2016).

So, where does education fit in within a liminal space for those who are now part of “Generation Standstill”? UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, states “As the international community considers how best to deal with the refugee crisis, it is essential that we think beyond basic survival. Education enables refugees to positively shape the future of both their countries of asylum and their home countries when they one day return.” (UNHCR, 2016).

One thing that has remained constant over the course of my 15 months of reflecting on the Syrian refugee crisis is the reluctance of many countries to actively work to address it. It is evident that the task at hand is too great for Syria’s neighbouring countries, and some countries have gone above and beyond in terms of welcoming refugees and assisting them to settle, recover, assimilate and start new lives. However, the silence of others is deafening.

There are challenges for Syrian children to attend education. Some are turned away from schools for not having the necessary paperwork even though legislations states they are able to attend. Others are concerned for their safety when commuting through parts of large refugee camps or foreign countries, or suffer bullying whilst struggling through language barriers. Ohers spend their days, seven days a week, being the sole breadwinner for their families, cutting their education short in order for their family to survive. It is time that the future of learning spaces for refugees adequately addresses these challenges. My mentor suggested mobile education – education that comes to the children. Another suggestion I considered was education via television, as many have access to a very basic television, even in some of the most appalling living conditions. Many others before me have discussed the benefits of education via online channels. All of these are worthy of being considered if there is the chance that children can begin preparing for their future again.

So, what can we do when we are not there to help firsthand? What can I do, here in Melbourne? What can you do? Take an interest. As an educator, educate your students to the realities of what life is like for children around the world, refugees and otherwise. With awareness often comes action. We want to ensure that the children whom we are educating today will make informed and empathetic decisions when interacting within their global society. Furthermore, we want the students in our classrooms to understand that refugee education “is one of the few opportunities we have to transform and build the next generation so they can change the fortunes of the tens of millions of forcibly displaced people globally” (Grandi, UNHCR, 2016).

And in the meantime, we want to do all that is within our own power not allow “Generation Standstill” to lose both their pasts and their futures. We wouldn’t allow it for our own children, so why should we allow it for any child, any where?

Happy teaching!

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Being on the precipice of change

Change. It does strange things to people. Some people thrive on change. They seek it out, deliberately trying to bring excitement, newness, adventure or difference to their day-to-day lives. Others avoid it at all costs. For some, even the smallest change can be enough to disturb their inner sense of self, their understanding of their world and/or their ability to cope or function, and as such, change is feared and avoided at all costs.

Whether we are able to cope with change or not, the irony is that change is one of the few constant things that joins us on our path throughout our lives. There are the obvious physical changes that we all go through as we age from newborn to adulthood. There are the intellectual changes that we progress through, some though formal learning and others through lessons of life. Then there are also the emotional changes that we experience, and some may argue that these are perhaps the most influential of all, particularly when it comes to how we perceive future changes.

Being on the threshold of change can be cause for emotional turmoil, particularly if you are unsure what that change is actually going to be, such as in the case of many of the Syrian refugees I have been studying lately. However, being on the threshold of a known change, whether a change by choice or by necessity, can also be cause for a similar response. Some people say it is the waiting, the not knowing, that is the worst. Preparing for the unknown. Very few people crave uncertainty. But, it is part of life. So, how do we help our students cope with it?

There are many variations of a popular quote, but ultimately I see this as a way of trying to intellectually remind ourselves to try and reduce the impact of our impulsive, emotional responses to liminal spaces.

reacting to change

After studying just some of what the Syrian refugees in Za’atari are coping with, I would argue that sometimes it IS about what has happened to you. But, I would also agree that how you react matters as well. The most inspiring things about the Za’atari refugee camp was the ability whereby so many people displayed a commitment to overcoming their adversity and to making steps towards their inevitable changes becoming positive ones. This is no easy feat, especially given the dire state of affairs and limited resources at their disposal.

On a slightly different tangent, I have also seen the enormous challenges that my own son, who has autism, has had at times with change. With a great deal of guidance and tuition, he has learnt tools to help him cope with change. He has gotten particularly good at coping with the little, annoying changes that may not even bother many people, but they are ones that are significant enough to come up on his radar and disturb his emotional-balance at that moment. He is now able to reduce the emotional impact of these and concentrate on how he reacts instead. Not always, but a lot more than he used to be able to do.

However, one thing he still struggles with, as do so many others (whether they be on the autism spectrum or not), are the long, drawn-out changes. The ones where we aren’t sure what is actually going to happen. The ones with no definitive answer….yet. The liminal spaces filled with ambiguity and uncertainty. It is during these times that we often rely on our own inner voice to reassure us that we can get to the other side in one piece. For my son, that is when he needs others to become his inner voice to quiet his fears. For many Syrian refugees, I believe it is similar – they need citizens around the world to demonstrate that we will help alleviate their fears about the changes they are forced to face.

As an educator, perhaps how we approach change in our classrooms can help equip our students with some of the tools they will need now and in their futures. Liminal spaces, or being on the threshold of the unknown, offers an opportunity for a person to reflect and evaluate what is important to them and for them as they prepare to react and move forward. Perhaps if we encouraged our students to look inwards during times of uncertainty we could help guide their inner voice to react in a way that offers optimism and confidence. This would offer chances to highlight and remind students of past times when they were faced with, and coped with, change.

If we could assist students dealing with change to not view it as unavoidable, annoying part of life, but rather as an opportunity to learn about ourselves and our incredible abilities to transform (even without noticing), imagine how this might prepare them for the changes they will face throughout their futures?

Change is the essence

 

A mindmap for Za’atari’s future learning spaces

I found it useful to use a mind map to highlight areas that need to be considered and addressed whilst developing useful and meaningful learning spaces which respond to the educational and developmental needs of the children in Za’atari.

Mind Map

 

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.

nelson-mandela-education-quote

(Mandela, 2003).

Happy teaching.

My Mission Statement (link to page)

 

A parent’s poem to their child

Hush, little one
Rest back to sleep
Your family is here to keep you safe
Just where we should be

Hush, little one
I know you’re not feeling well
Have some of your medicine
It will work quickly to stop you feeling ill

Hush, little one
I know you were afraid
But it was only a bad dream
Here you will always be safe

Hush, little one
I know that school can be hard
Your teachers are there to help you
When you need them, there they are

Ssshhh, precious child
I know you’ve seen too much
I wish I could erase your memories
And bring you peace with my gentle touch

Ssshhh, precious child
I know your little body hurts
I would give my soul in a heartbeat
To heal the wounds you didn’t deserve

Ssshhh, precious child
I know you long to learn, grow and play
One day there will be more than this for you
I just hope that it doesn’t come too late

Ssshhh, precious child
You don’t deserve this life
I had such big dreams for you
I shall try my hardest to keep them burning bright

by Kayri Shanahan

image

 

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 1.55.33 pm

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.

References

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