This Road Should Never End: Connected Learning Reflections from Kiziba Refugee Camp

CLCC Hero Image

On February 28th in Kigali, Rwanda, I attended the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium (CLCC) meeting, headed by the UNHCR and University of Geneva (InZone), as a representative of IIE’s PEER program. Founded in 2016, The CLCC aims to promote, coordinate and support the provision of quality higher education in contexts of conflict, crisis and displacement through connected learning.     


At the conclusion of the three-day meeting, CLCC members traveled in a caravan of SUVs over roads more suitable on foot than wheels to the Kiziba refugee camp.  Kiziba is situated near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Rwanda’s western province. Many refugees were born there and countless more will be, as the camp has been in existence for 23 years and is home to more than 17,000 Congolese refugees feeling violence and instability in the DRC.  


At Kiziba our group heard presentations from Kepler university program* students about their studies, toured the camp, made home visits and observed two classes.  We entered one classroom amid a lively debate among women. Students respectfully shared opinions over ways in which stereotypes perpetuate gender norms in the community. With fierce faces turned quick smiles, their arguments not only impressed me, they taught me. I thank these students for providing me both a deeper understanding of gender norms, and for teaching me that education isn’t just a pathway to the highest-level degree, it is a pathway to embracing the life-long right to learn.  

Students at the Kiziba refugee camp rejoice after winning a debate on gender roles
Students at Kiziba camp rejoice after winning a debate on gender roles. 


The increasing calls to widen participation of all learners by removing unnecessary barriers to higher education is being heard by universities around the world.  Just as individuals are experiencing global change at a rapid rate, so too are higher education institutions racing to stay on pace with the more than 262 million students expected to enroll in higher education around the globe by 2025, according to OECD.  It is a staggering number if we consider that in 1970 only 28 million people worldwide had access to higher education (OECD).  


As advocated by the CLCC, the dissemination of new learning technologies and connected learning pathways requires people-oriented programs and front-line teachers.  Tech solutions alone are not enough.  But people solutions coupled with new technologies may be.  Many universities are making a great effort to extend their libraries, courses and curricula to non-enrollees, typically through technology platforms, and many more should.  But it will take university graduates to help build those platforms, and it will take community members to do the hard work on the ground and take hold of the belief that education never ends.  We as higher education institutions can support that effort.    


There isn’t one panacea, be it tech or otherwise, for solving the world’s challenge of changing the abysmal fact that only 1% of all refugees have access to higher education.  So where does that leave us?  It leaves us with the tough work of reaching learners in remote areas through tech-based platforms coupled with face-to-face workers on the ground.  But let us not forget that our greatest teachers, refugees themselves, have the toughest path of all. 


*I wish to thank Kepler university program for hosting our CLCC delegation to Kiziba as well as their teachers for providing the high-level education in a context many universities are afraid to enter.  One university that has entered is Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), which in partnership with Kepler provides American accredited university degrees to refugees in the Kiziba camp.  SNHU aims to educate 50,000 refugees in 20 locations around the world by 2022.

Coordinated by UNHCR and the University of Geneva (InZone), the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium (CLCC) was founded in 2016. The CLCC aims to promote, coordinate and support the provision of quality higher education in contexts of conflict, crisis and displacement through Connected Learning. Connected Learning is an innovative form of higher education that uses information technology to combine face-to-face and online learning. It enables students living in remote areas to connect with top universities and to exchange knowledge globally. Since 2010, over 6.500 refugee learners in 11 countries have participated in Connected Learning programs.


-Written by Katherine Miller, Global Education in Emergencies Specialist, IIE 

Publication Date, February 5, 2019