Examining the Challenges to Refugee Education: A Case Study of the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Jordan



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Background: Since 2011, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has hosted approximately 1.4 million displaced Syrians (GOJ, 2017). Nearly 83% of Syrian refugees in Jordan reside in host communities (Betts & Collier, 2017). One-third are children between five and 17 years (UNHCR 2020). The influx of school-age refugees from Syria has created unprecedented challenges for teachers, schools, and host communities in Jordan. Purpose: This three-paper dissertation addresses the challenges to refugee education through a case study of the Syrian Refugee Crisis (SRC) in Jordan. Paper one assesses the relevance, progress, effectiveness, and impact of emergency education responses (EER) the Government of Jordan implemented in the years immediately following the Crisis’s start. The analysis provides insight into these interventions, the consequences of which have not been sufficiently addressed by existing research. Paper two explores the impact of the SRC on Jordanian teachers’ professional and personal experiences and, subsequently, their ability to provide quality education for their students. Themes detailed in this chapter will help policymakers better understand the implications of EER interventions for the teachers involved. Paper three considers how the refugee experience shapes identity and affects sense of belonging. It also posits that consideration of refugee identity as a form of social identity deserves recognition in student development theory and proposes a universal approach for understanding refugees’ identity formation and sense of belonging. The literature review reveals a critical gap in the research on refugees and higher education. Collectively, these studies highlight some of the challenges to refugee education that host countries and communities face. These studies have important implications for refugee students’ ability to get to and through higher education. Methods: Paper one uses a systematic literature review approach and Collins’ (2005) framework for qualitative policy analysis. Paper two is an interview-based, exploratory case study of teachers working in public, host-community schools. I used a grounded theory strategy for data analysis (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Paper three is a synthesis of extant qualitative research (Timulak, 2009). Results: The EER interventions in Jordan allowed the Ministry of Education to hire more than 7,000 teachers and open 205 double-shift schools. These additions gave Syrian students access to formal school but also created serious unintended consequences, e.g., overcrowded classrooms, shortened teaching times, learning deficiencies, and declines in teachers’ physical and mental wellbeing. Teachers innately turned to Al-Ghazali’s Master-Pupil Relationship and Islamic Educational Psychology principles to support refugee students’ individual, educational, and psychological needs. Their practices highlighted how refugees’ unique backgrounds play a critical role in how students adapt and develop. Through intentional behaviors, teachers helped the refugees feel like they belonged. Belongingness requires inclusion, membership, and empathy. Inclusive school environments provide settings where refugee students can escape from trauma and migration stressors. The sense-of-belonging construct supports a holistic approach to student development that Western theories often overlook. Research suggests students with a developed sense of belonging have higher academic achievement and better overall wellbeing. Conclusion: This research has implications for educational policy and the effects of particular interventions on teachers and their refugee students, while also demonstrating the need to revisit student development theory in light of refugee identity.



refugee education, sense-of-belonging, EER interventions