Teaching staff from HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht will spend six days at the refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, to train secondary school teachers. After that, the trainee teachers will continue to receive long-distance supervision in Kenya for another six months. Inge Blauw, the programme manager for educational innovation: ‘We have a lot of experience and blended teaching is one of our strengths. I think we have a social responsibility to use that more widely.’
The refugee camp in Kakuma is home to about 200,000 people, about two-thirds of the population of the city of Utrecht. The refugees come from Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, Congo, Eritrea, Uganda and Rwanda and have formed a community in the camp for years. Just over half of those living in the camp are children and they are required to attend school. But there are not enough teachers for this. ‘We know of about 65 people who are educated to secondary school level and are already teaching, but they do not have any teaching qualifications,’ says Blauw. ‘These people teach one hundred to two hundred children.’ Four trainers from HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht - Nicole Reith, Stephanie Edwards, Frans Kriger and Hans van Bergen - will be training this group of people in teaching skills, designing new lessons and using a platform that will enable them to receive long-distance education themselves.
The knowledge and experience that HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht has of blended learning is well suited to this project. Blended learning is a teaching philosophy that links the different learning contexts – group meetings, the workplace, teaching teams, and individuals – using a digital learning environment. In the past, the assumption was always that teaching would take place in a classroom learning setting, but in blended learning the learning process of the student is the focus and the best learning setting is selected on that basis. All teacher training programmes at HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht are designed with blended learning in mind, and all the teaching staff from these programmes are used to working in this way.
Teacher training in other countries
HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht has built up considerable experience of developing blended learning in the Netherlands and abroad, including in the Dutch islands of the Caribbean. ‘But,’ says Blauw, ‘this is obviously a very different target group, with different circumstances and different backgrounds.’ Although this form of teaching is facilitated by HU, the content was developed in partnership with the Kenyan Moi University, a university that HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht has long had close links with. ‘Of course, we can’t just use a Dutch curriculum and transfer that to the Kenyan context,’ explains Blauw. ‘In Kenya there are different assumptions, expectations and views on education.’
High level of commitment
Institute Director, Jaap van Voorst: ‘Our teaching staff are very committed to this project, and they are very happy to be involved. But this trip is going to be very hard work. It can be extremely hot there and the conditions and facilities are a very long way from what we are used to here in the Netherlands. For example, there is not always enough food and water. But with the commitment of these colleagues, we could – if we can raise enough funding – train 600 teachers every year.’ Students have not been asked to take part in this pilot scheme.
Blauw: ‘We have worked really hard to create a suitable curriculum for the Kenyan trainee teachers. But I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot about what does and doesn’t work in this situation. Our staff will have to improvise a lot on the spot. Whether the changes will be minor or wider in scope, we’ll have to wait and see. Because there is still so much uncertainty and we don’t know exactly what to expect, we have decided not to involve any students at this point. But I can well imagine that our students could learn a lot from this project in the future.’
The project in Kakuma is a partnership involving various other organizations. As well as Moi University, which is responsible for the educational content, Vodafone, the UNHCR and Windle Trust Kenya also have a role. The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, provides assistance in refugee camps. Vodafone is providing wifi and laptops. And Windle Trust is a non-profit organization that arranges teaching in refugee camps. Documentary maker Lucas Westerbeek will also accompany the teachers to film the project.