J-WEL and Save the Children come together to tackle refugee education crisis in the Middle East | MIT J-WEL

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J-WEL and Save the Children come together to tackle refugee education crisis in the Middle East

teacher with student

A new education initiative for conflict-affected regions

The Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL), co-founded in 2017 by Community Jameel, a social enterprise organization, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently announced a major initiative tackling strained education systems across the Middle East due to the Syria conflict. J-WEL has been working with Save the Children’s global education team in understanding the areas of need to propose the joint program that will strengthen the capacity of teachers. The initiative aims to improve teachers' wellbeing through the use of practical approaches that incorporate compassion and empathy into education-based systems thinking, drawing on the work of Dr. Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan, and Dr. Mette Boell, Visiting Scientist at MIT Open Learning, as well as other approaches. 

With support from MIT and Community Jameel, J-WEL and Save the Children experts will support teachers' wellbeing, as well as improving quality teaching practices and student learning through a blended approach to professional development. The ambition for the collaboration between Save the Children and J-WEL is to deliver a pilot programme that can then be adapted and scaled in other emergency contexts. 

The crisis in numbers

Almost six million people have fled Syria since the crisis began in 2011, most of whom have remained in the Middle East. According to government figures, more than a million now reside in Jordan, which has placed considerable strain on the country, specifically in the education sector. In Jordan, teachers have worked exceptionally hard to maintain an internationally recognized education system in extremely challenging environments. Many have been recruited quickly to meet the increased school-aged population, including Syrian refugees.

A commitment to education in the Middle East and experiences of trauma among war-afflicted children

At a meeting on the new initiative, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International, and Hassan Jameel, President of Community Jameel Saudi Arabia, affirmed their commitment to transforming education across the Middle East.

Speaking at the meeting, Mr. Jameel commented:

“Community Jameel sees education as a tool for people to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. This is what perfectly ties the work of Community Jameel, J-WEL and Save the Children in the project launched today. We recognize that teachers need compassion and empathy to support children with their emotional development – especially in a crisis setting. As such, improving quality teaching practices and student learning through a blended approach to teacher professional development is fundamental.”

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Save the Children International CEO and former Prime Minister of Denmark also commented on the program:

“Jordan has shown great compassion by offering refuge to hundreds of thousands of children who have fled the brutal war in Syria. Many of these children have seen and experienced things that no child ever should. What they need most is to return to the normality that education and a good teacher can offer. Our program will aim to help teachers support these children so they can recover from the invisible wounds of war, and get the quality education that every child should have.”

Save the Children’s Invisible Wounds report – the largest study of its kind conducted during the course of the Syria civil war – revealed a terrifying mental health crisis among Syrian children. Children they spoke to described increases in self-harm, suicide attempts, bedwetting, speech problems, and aggressive or withdrawn behavior. Mental health experts have also warned that Syrian children are showing signs of ‘toxic stress,' which can lead to developmental issues. 

An international commitment to refugee education

The announcement was made during a high-level meeting that took place during the United Nations General Assembly, calling on world leaders to accelerate and improve long-standing commitments to deliver on education for refugee populations. The meeting, attended by Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, among others, explored efforts to include refugee populations in national education systems and supporting greater responsibility sharing, including financing. 


Images and photos

Top photo: A Lebanese teacher with a Syrian refugee learner in Zaatari, Jordan (Credit: DfiD)

Statistics image courtesy of Mercy Corps; figures based on UNHCR data

Bottom Photo: J-WEL Executive Director Dr. Vijay Kumar with Save the Children International CEO Helle Thorning-Schmidt