The Borderless Higher Education for Refugees program (BHER) runs an ambitious connected learning programme in Dadaab refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya – the world’s largest refugee camp complex, home to 277,000 mainly Somali refugees and asylum seekers, but also Eritreans and Ethiopians. The program is designed to educate untrained teachers and those interested in working in the education sector from among refugees and the host community.
Funded by the Canadian government, BHER’s driving ambition is to improve the quality of teaching in the Dadaab camps, where 70% of teachers were untrained, and thereby raise the educational attainment of primary and secondary students. It also seeks to improve employment opportunities.
The BHER Consortium currently includes four universities, two of them from Canada (York University and the University of British Columbia) and two from Kenya (Moi University and Kenyatta University); and one NGO, Windle Trust Kenya.
BHER offers an international accredited two-year diploma in teacher education either in primary or secondary education, during which students are trained on the job; followed by the opportunity to go on and take a bachelor degree in community health education, education in science/arts, or geography.
The students in Dadaab take the same courses as students enrolled in the Canadian or Kenyan universities that are members of the BHER Consortium, although some of them are adapted to the context in Dadaab. Assessment is carried out by the relevant university, with instructors teaching and grading just as they would at their own institution.
In 2016 BHER Learning Centre in Dadaab supported 206 students (17% were female, 78% were refugees, 64% were teachers) and served 37 instructors and 8 teaching assistants (71% female) including 23 on-site.
In September 2016 the first cohort of students embarked on bachelor degrees in four areas – geography at York, Toronto; community health education at Moi, and education (arts) or education (sciences) at Kenyatta.
A key factor in the BHER approach is the credibility of the internationally recognised university programmes at the level of certificates, diplomas, degrees in education and social science.
Another is that instead of selecting the highest educational achievers to join its courses, BHER’s remedial tuition approach focuses instead on students who have struggled at school for various reasons, including disruption to their education due to poverty, and poor provision.
A significant achievement is that by mid 2016 as a result of the teacher training, the 23 primary schools in the camp had an average of ten trained teachers instead of two or three.
Feedback indicates that the classroom experience has improved, the performance in national exams has risen, and so has the number of students qualifying for higher education.