October 2nd, 2014
Photo credit: http://www.dnaindia.com
The devastating impact on education brought on by conflict, civil wars, foreign invasions and occupations, and environmental disasters is huge. Each and everyday we hear and read news reports on conflict regions around the world. Displacement of people, the disintegration of infrastructure, destruction of education structures, breakdown of school systems through absence of teachers and unsafe environments for teaching and learning are all direct results of such calamities.
Education that may have been accessible to both sexes and peoples of different religious beliefs, and races prior to the period of conflict may suddenly be permanently disrupted and perhaps even limited by sex, race and religion. Where once women of all ages may have had access to education, that opportunity may be taken away from them during the times of conflict and war.
Civil unrest, wars and environmental disasters lead to displacement of people from their homelands fleeing to safer friendlier (or at times, not so welcoming) neighboring countries giving rise to refugee camps; the numbers of which continue to multiply each day as a new region becomes afflicted with conflict. At times makeshift schools with the help of NGO’s, religious charities and UNICEF are set up in refugee camps offering the displaced children some semblance of normalcy. The Zaatari camp in Jordan is the now the 2nd largest refugee camp in the world with a population approaching 150,000.
Some families manage to make their way out of the camps and to countries that allow them entry to settle as political refugees. In most cases, many have fled their homes with little or no belongings, much less their academic transcripts and diplomas. Then there are those who amidst the chaos and conflict choose to remain, unable to leave, trapped in a situation which they cannot control and forced to adjust to the ‘new normal’ as best as they can, given the difficult challenges that have disrupted their lives.
How do the international admissions and credential evaluation professionals, assist those who have fled unimaginable circumstances and arrived with the proverbial shirts on their backs? Think Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Palestine, Sudan. One thing to be sure is that these individuals did not arrive in our country with the intention of studying as international students. They are not afforded that luxury which means the regular requirements we have in place whether for admission or evaluation do not apply. They may have financial issues, lack adequate documents that may have been damaged or partially completed because of the conflict, are unable to request their schools or universities to issue official transcripts to be sent elsewhere, or have fraudulent documents, and may even suffer psychologically and physically from the trauma brought on by their experiences.
Collect all documents the individual is able to provide; these could be partial transcripts, a certificate or diploma, report cards. If they have the originals, request to have them submitted with the promise they will be returned once reviewed.
Request they provide a detailed chronology of their education beginning with their elementary school, with names, address, dates of attendance and any diplomas/certificates they received
Verification of Dates
Check the dates on their educational chronology against documented information you have on file about the country or region in question to see if they corroborate.
Contact In-country Sources
If there is a U.S. Embassy in the country from which your applicant has fled, reach out to the OSEAS Offices or REACs for assistance with verification.
Given the precarious nature of documents from conflict zones, we must exercise due diligence in vetting the information provided and do the best we can. After all, we may never know if the recently arrived refugee on our shores will be the next Albert Einstein or Madeleine Albright. For a list of famous (and not so-famous) refugees making a difference, click on this link:
Famous (and Not-So-Famous) Refugees Making a Difference
Please share your tips and experiences you have had with helping refugee students.
[In Part II of this blog I will offer tips to international admissions officers at U.S. schools and colleges in ways they can help students from conflict zones.]