Focus on...

Refugees and VET


The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) defines refugees as people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country. They often have had to flee with little more than the clothes on their back, leaving behind homes, possessions, jobs and loved ones. The UNHCR has estimated that more than 100 million individuals have been forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. This is the highest level of displacement on record and includes 27.1 million refugees in the world - the highest number ever seen. This issue of Focus on... outlines the role vocational education and training (VET) plays in helping refugees and displaced persons integrate into their new communities. It also discusses the barriers and obstacles refugees face and the potential role of technology to improve access to VET and deliver innovative educational solutions.

What's happening in the VET sector?

The current conflict in Ukraine has resulted in a humanitarian crisis affecting millions of people. The OECD in How vocational education and training (VET) systems can support Ukraine: lessons from past crises looks at how VET can and is assisting the Ukrainian people who have fled or been displaced due to the war with Russia. The VET system is an important part of education in in Ukraine, and there is a great deal of interest from young people in pursuing skilled trades. For students who have had their studies interrupted, host countries have implemented policies and measures to make it easier for refugees to integrate into the local VET system, including removing entry requirements that would otherwise apply. Other measures have included proactive career guidance, recognition or validation of prior VET learning, and employer support and engagement. Being able to continue education and training will not only result in labour market participation for refugees in their new communities but enable refugees to build the skills required to rebuild damaged or destroyed infrastructure when they return to Ukraine. This brief recommends that host countries address potential barriers for refugees in participating in the local VET system, which could include providing information about VET opportunities, considering language and financial constraints, and eliminating discrimination.

Egypt has long been a country of transit destination for refugees in the region, but Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) mapping for refugees, asylum seekers and host communities in Egypt finds that the number of refugees enrolled in TVET is very low. Key issues identified include inadequate career guidance and counselling services capable of enabling refugees to navigate the Egyptian TVET system; procedures and regulations regarding the enrolment of refugees in TVET institutions are rarely documented nor clearly communicated internally or externally; and there are no major initiatives focused on encouraging refugees to investigate opportunities provided by the Egyptian TVET sector. Instead, parallel informal training provision is offered. The notion that refugees in Egypt are in transit, encourages supporting agencies to focus more on short-term educational services, short-term training, and skills development programmes. However, the resettlement of refugees from Egypt has not been consistent throughout the years and many refugees stay in Egypt for long periods (more than five years). There is a clear need for refugees to access training that leads to real qualifications that would allow them to become competitive within the Egyptian labour market and in the final destination countries.

The AMES Australia response to the Expert Review of Australia's Vocational Education and Training System highlights the importance of VET qualifications as a key component in securing employment for newly arrived refugees. Refugees need to normalise their lives as quickly as possible and commence study pathways. Insufficient levels of English language can present a significant barrier to retention in and successful completion of vocational courses. The VET system is generally not set up to cater well to refugee learners - there is a strong imperative to provide more flexible access for learners who require foundation skills to be developed concurrently with vocational skills.

Inclusion of refugees in technical and vocational education and training: self-assessment tool, developed by the British Council, provides a practical and easy-to-navigate instrument for carrying out an analysis of the status of VET in respect of refugees' inclusion and to trace progress in this area over time in a specific country or across different countries. The tool contains fields to describe a country's overall refugee context alongside a series of checkbox questions to assess how suitable the country's VET provision is for refugees, based on the availability of services, their accessibility for refugees, acceptability to refugees and adaptability to refugee circumstances. It is designed to help any interested party, such as government officials, practitioners, researchers, international development agencies, non-government organisations (particularly in the field of refugees, human rights, education, and skills) to understand high-level factors that influence whether a country's VET provision works well for locally hosted refugees, assess countries against those factors and access initial information on how to improve.

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Addressing barriers and obstacles

VET plays a crucial role in refugees' social inclusion. The article, The role of vocational education and training in the integration of refugees in Austria, Denmark and Germany and the conference paper, Access and barriers to VET for refugees: a comparison of Austria, Denmark and Germany, compare how the VET systems of the three countries have responded to the arrival of refugees since 2015. In Austria and Denmark, refugees have few opportunities for gaining access to regular VET programmes and experience social and institutional exclusion with only some individual cases leading to successful participation in VET. While Germany enhanced access to apprenticeships for asylum seekers and introduced various initiatives to support refugees' integration, barriers for refugees at the operational level are also evident there. Comprehensive support measures are necessary for all three countries to help refugees overcome various barriers that result from their disadvantaged position in VET. In particular, sufficient language training, comprehensive social support, recognition of prior learning, and adequate vocational guidance are crucial for improving refugees' precarious situation and facilitating their social inclusion.

Recognition of prior learning for highly skilled refugees' labour market integration discusses problems and opportunities related to the recognition of prior learning (RPL) targeting highly skilled refugees in relation to the three key concerns of object, subject, and process of recognition. The authors outline a range of policy implications, including: (1) RPL is not a 'one-size-fits-all' solution. There are different approaches to RPL that need to be considered, depending on context and conditions, in order to reach its potential; (2) Recognition of formal qualifications from a country of origin and recognition of actual competence are different types of process; and (3) Prior learning, competence and highly developed skills in a certain professional area imply neither an immediate understanding of formal competence requirements, particularly in a new national and cultural context, nor the skills of presenting ones actual competence in an assessment situation. Thus, the RPL process should be designed to develop mutual understanding and learning opportunities, to reach the full potential of recognition.

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How can technology help?

Poor literacy skills can result in exclusion and reduce people's capacity to participate in political, social, cultural, and economic life. This is especially important for refugees seeking to live and work in a dignified, safe, and fair environment and to be engaged members of their new communities. Leveraging innovative technology in literacy and education programmes for refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons contends that more open access to learning opportunities and high-quality learning materials can be created through the effective and meaningful use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as radio, television, mobile phones, and personal computers, and more advanced technologies such as big data and artificial intelligence. Moreover, ICTs are already being used to improve health and intercultural understanding, language learning, literacy development, communication skills, and digital skills and competences. This compilation of 21 case studies highlights efforts from around the globe to use ICTs in innovative and effective ways to offer literacy and educational opportunities to young and adult refugees.

Better access to digital devices, improved internet connectivity, and the increasing availability of online learning platforms open new opportunities for education and literacy programmes. From radio to artificial intelligence: review of innovative technology in literacy and education for refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons argues that we need to fully exploit the potential of technologies to improve literacy learning and enhance the lives of people on the move. The report analyses 25 programmes from across the world that have used innovative ICTs in literacy and education for refugees, migrants, and internally displaced persons, and finds that ICTs play an important role in overcoming barriers to learning for these target groups.

Digital storytelling with youth from refugee backgrounds: possibilities for language and digital literacy learning addresses the urgent need to develop innovative pedagogies that build upon and enhance the digital literacies and representational practices of culturally and linguistically diverse youth from refugee backgrounds. For many, learning English, may be a formidable challenge. A growing corpus of case studies is beginning to show how pedagogies that draw on youths' everyday meaning making, including their digital literacies, can effectively engage English learners in academic learning. By linking the curricular content via inquiry to students' interests and experiences, youth can become deeply invested in their learning and become active, autonomous knowledge producers.

Online and blended learning opportunities have been proposed as one solution in resource-constrained environments. However, refugees' online learning capabilities and preferences remain poorly understood, as existing research has mainly relied on key stakeholders without involving refugees directly. No longer a 'lost generation'?: opportunities and obstacles of online and blended learning programmes for Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon presents results from a survey of 350 secondary level educated Syrian refugees to assess their online learning capabilities and subject preferences. The research shows how adapting online learning materials to enable smartphone learning with low bandwidth would significantly increase the potential pool of online education students.

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News items and opinion pieces

Published: October 2022