Refugees around the world can now take online classes for free

Image: Reuters/Marko Djurica
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Of the myriad troubles that come with being displaced from one’s home country, losing educational credentials may seem small. But it isn’t. Refugees who resettle in other countries often find themselves unable to continue on their previous career path due to a new set of employer standards or skills requirements.

The US State Department is posing a solution: online learning.

Today (June 20) the State Department will announce a partnership with online education platform Coursera that allows refugees around the world to take thousands of online courses for free. “Coursera for Refugees” will work like this: Nonprofit groups that support refugees in any country, as well as individual refugees, can apply for fully funded access to Coursera’s course catalog—meaning they’ll be able to take all of the platform’s classes and also skip the costs of obtaining professional certificates from them. The platform currently offers professor-led lectures on a broad range of topics, from data science to fashion design.

As the world migrant crisis intensifies, employment is more and more of global concern. The new program aims to aid refugees by offering “important skills that will help them in the global economy,” Evan Ryan, US assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, said on a press call last week. Added Coursera chief operations officer Lila Ibrahim, “What we don’t want to do is not act.”

The idea isn’t without its kinks. For one, embarking on a new career path is not as simple as watching a few videos and obtaining an online certificate; even those looking to continue previous careers can’t simply rely on an online lecture to get them up to date on standards, policies, and practices. For another, most of the classes on Coursera are in English, and though there are plans to add subtitles and translations, language barriers can be a big deterrent. Then there are the questions over the efficacy of massive open online courses (MOOCs) themselves—both for refugees and for average learners.

But it’s still early days and there are signs of hope. In 2015, a joint study found 72% of people who took MOOCs saw career benefits afterward.