Refugee Learning Center Concept Note

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Name of the Project

Learning Center for Syrian refugee children in Jordan

Date: January 2013

I.          Background and relevance of Action

Since April 2011, thousands of Syrian families have been fleeing their homes and communities – going to the closest country across the borders. The war and violence in Syria have driven these families to locations of greater safety. As of January 2013, there are some 1 million Syrian refugees in Jordan. Some families are sheltered in refugee camps; others have found their own lodging outside the camps, while others are staying with family and friends in various local communities. It is estimated that over 75% of these individuals are women and children.

For families, being forced to live away from their own homes as refugees is very difficult and living in another country only makes it harder. For those families living in camps life can be very challenging. The winter weather bringing snow and rain, floods and wind can be both frustrating and dangerous. With not enough warm clothes or food, little privacy and the fear of strangers taking advantage of the hardships they are facing, life can provide a great deal of stress and anxiety. For refugee families living outside the camps where fewer services, water and food are available, life can also provide a great deal of strain and worry on the part of both parents and children. In each situation it is very difficult for children to get an adequate education. Even if schools are available, traumatic experiences such as war, violence and living as a refugee can cause many obstacles to a child’s learning. The Learning Center is planning a unique program to help children master academic skills and recover from those frightening experiences.

The Learning Center will also place an emphasis on parents being part of their children’s education and general development. There will be special opportunities for mothers in particular to acquire new skills, refresh some of those they already know and be involved in interests that might lead to job training possibilities.

Children are especially affected by war and violence and subsequent refugee experiences. Studies show that traumatic experiences when children are young such as war, violence and refugee status can affect a child’s physical and mental health for the rest of their lives – and in fact, can shorten their lives by as much as 20 years http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2009/oct/06/traumatic-childhood-takes-20-years-life-expectancy/. Other findings indicate, however, that children can recover and lead long productive lives if given assistance when they are young (“The Real Crisis of Katrina”, Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD).

Refugee women have additional trauma for they have experienced the effects of the violence which are compounded with responsibilities for the safety and care of their children – with very few resources. In addition, all too often the men in their lives have been killed or seriously injured from the war and violence. Women, then, experience a lack of money, no stable home, husbands who are gone or not able to fulfill traditional roles in the family, and frequently few ways to make a living. In addition, refugee women are vulnerable to violence in the camps themselves as well as being confronted with illegal or marginally legal schemes that, on the surface, would seem to relieve them of the stress and worry they encounter.  In fact, however, these schemes do not usually solve the problems the women face – or the schemes can even exacerbate their problems. And then there are the pressures to marry again immediately or give their young women to marriages of convenience, either of which can complicate their lives and frequently cause even greater sorrow and grief.

The Learning Center, then, will design special programs for mothers and the issues they face as well as address children’s learning and skill development needs.

Because of the Center’s special approach to children’s learning, teachers will be an integral part of the recovery process. They will plan various strategies to help children in their academic work as well as integrate learning into programs of “putting education to work”, as described in the 2012 UNESCO Education For All Global Monitoring Report. It is not only important for youth to be able to access education but spending the time and money on preparing them to use that information is time and money well spent. The UNESCO report shows that funds spent on youth education training generate ten (10) to fifteen (15) times as much in economic growth over a person’s lifetime. (EFA Global Monitoring Report 2012, Youth and Skills, Putting education to work. UNESCO.)

The Learning Center will be in the forefront of this effort.

Strategies for academic skill development will be focused on lessons that help children become less fearful, know that life is not completely out of control, regain feelings of personal competence, reestablish personal relationships, develop empathy for others – all of which frequently become damaged when experiencing a traumatic event. This will be accomplished through the study of such topics as science, functional numeracy, history, geography, functional literacy, the arts – subjects that are internationally recognized as important areas of study for children affected by emergencies. Instruction of academic learning will be integrated with social skill development, such as age-appropriate behaviors, cultural identity and heritage, conflict resolution, tolerance, creativity, and civic responsibility.

The preschool program will be organized in the form of a co-op where mothers work with the children under the supervision of a trained teacher. The volunteer receives training for this work which assists them as aides in the classroom as well as giving them ideas for working with their children at home. The preschool children will work on pre-academic learning through play.

The Center will also actively involve the mothers of the children served in mother’s committees. Programming will include discussions and activities focused on the well-being, care and learning about their children, knowing that children are best served if parents are part of their growth and development.

Among other strategies will include such things as: teacher aid and social work aid training, other work training as applicable, academic skill building for practical application, as well as opportunities to develop new ways to work with their children. When the center is not being used for specific classes or learning opportunities it will be available for family recreational activities frequently designed by participants.

II. Description of the action and its effectiveness

The Learning Center will be working on developing specific age-appropriate academic skills but in a different format than a “regular” school. In fact the Learning Center could be called “non-formal education”. While it is still unclear as to the number of children the Learning Center will be able to serve, the time the teachers have with the children, will concentrate on academic learning where trained teachers will work with children on focused academic skill development in a learning setting. Rationale for this approach is based primarily on the work the Massachusetts Advocates for Children describe in their book Helping Traumatized Children Learn.

In this important book the Advocates in their work with children who have been traumatized through child abuse (They say this approach is also applicable with almost any situation of experienced trauma.) describe the importance of academic support and skill building as essential in helping children heal from their experiences. The center will be organized to use the strategies and techniques described in the guide for schools, Children of Disaster, The Role of Schools after Disaster. Whereas the guide will be used for training teachers and other staff, the implementation will be designed to have needed structure but also include more flexibility than one frequently thinks of as “school”. Another important aspect of the Center is that the teaching will be focused on the practical use of educational theory. Save the Children has developed international standards for education in emergencies which stress the development of the basic academic skills of functional literacy and numeracy, world learning, science, history, geography, the arts. These priorities are based on survival skills, developmental skills and academic skills.

Aim and Objectives:

The aim of this project is to develop a Learning Center for Syrian refugee children in Jordan through intensive academic learning. Children to be served could be living either inside or outside the camps, depending on need. Such focused academic skill building will help make up for any learning skills they may have missed if they have not had an opportunity to go to school in their home communities before they fled the violence. The school systems in Jordan have accepted many Syrian refugee children into their schools but have found the transition has been difficult at times. The Syrian children may not have attended school for 18 months to 2 years so may not be up to grade level. Focused teaching can help fill that gap. The Learning Center will work with the Jordanian Department of Education to ensure the Center is giving maximum assistance to students transitioning into the Jordanian education system.

Children between the ages of 3 and 15 will be served. Throughout the work there will be a special emphasis placed on involving parents in the education and learning of their children. Children whose parents are involved in their growth and development are better able to learn and become productive adults.

Specific objectives include:

1.         Teach children academic skills at developmentally appropriate grade levels. The academic work will be focusing primarily on the normal responses children make after surviving a traumatic event.

2.         Integrate academic learning with practical skill development.

3.         Develop special recruiting protocols to invite girls to participate in the program. Many girls may not have had the opportunity to attend school in their home communities, or may have only attended a few years.

4.         Develop a co-op preschool with one trained teacher and a mother volunteer aide in each classroom.

5.         Provide training for mothers in various skills, including such things as functional literacy and numeracy, caring for and teaching children, social work, office skills, technology and others.

6.         Develop operational and supportive partnerships with local organizations and individuals as well as international organizations

Project Activities:

1.         Develop a start-up budget as well as an operational budget.

2.         Establish funding sources for start-up as well as ongoing programmatic and administrative costs to implement the program.

3.         Find adequate space to serve as classrooms for the Learning Center.

4.         Purchase equipment and supplies that will be needed for program implementation.

5.         Develop lessons focused on normal responses children have to disaster.

6.         Develop training plan for all staff for working with children and information needed for their specific job assignments – social work staff, teaching staff, administrative and cleaning personnel.

7.         Hire and train staff.

8.         Implement program.

9.         Develop an evaluation system to ensure continued monitoring of the effectiveness of the program and the flexibility to make changes that may be specified from assessment activities.

III. Implementation of the project (Methodology)

The Learning Center will be open 5 days a week from approximately 8:00 am to 6:00 pm with evening and weekend activities as needed for either Center or community use. The actual schedule of a day or week as well as the exact spaces set aside for programming, will be determined when we know how many children need services, what their ages are and the level of education already attained,  as well as the hours children will be attending their regular school.

The program is designed for both focused academic lessons with children as well as women’s activities that may occur. The exact form this will take will also be determined when we have more specifics about the children and mothers we will serve as well as the skill levels of staff who will be hired. If possible, we will hire staff from the camps – and expect that teachers be persons already teacher-trained.  If absolutely needed to fill a gap in experience or training we will find a qualified staff person in the surrounding community near the camps.

The training structure will be as follows:

•           Training of Trainers (TOT) – initial training and periodic up-grades

•           Training Teachers and other staff – Pre-Service training, initial

o          In-Service training – monthly

•           Coaching – on-going/scheduled basis

There will be a minimum of one (1) week training program for all staff prior to opening our doors to children and mothers. Trainers for that week will be individuals who have undergone intensive training from Disaster Training International. They will be Arabic speakers and, as much as possible come from Middle East backgrounds.  DTI will design a Training of Trainers week-long training (minimum) to include information needed to train teachers and other staff as well as teaching and practical methods on how to train adults. It is important that all persons at the Learning Center who come in contact with the children use the same techniques of working with them, whether the adult is a cleaning person or a teacher.

Written by Beryl Cheal

Disaster Training International

On the Board of SCM

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