For the last two years, AACRAO has highlighted and examined education-related issues affecting refugees and displaced persons. Last month, AACRAO staff traveled to Lebanon with human rights experts from University of California-Davis to discuss the development of a cloud-based academic credentials “backpack” to help students fleeing war, economic collapse, or natural disasters.
Called the Article 26 Backpack™ in reference Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserting everyone’s right to education, this project aims to build a platform that can safely store and share evaluated documentation of transcripts, diplomas, and other forms of certification for students whose education has been interrupted. The project is directed by Dr. Keith David Watenpaugh, Professor and Director of Human Rights Studies at UC Davis.
Refugees and vulnerable young people attempting to continue their education or gain employment face significant social and institutional barriers. The Article 26 Backpack™ is designed as human rights tool to empower academic and employment mobility by providing displaced students with a universal tool to shape, store, and share their professional, vocational, and educational stories. The portfolio is secure and private, accessible only by the Backpacker, with the option to share selected parts with employers, universities, scholarship agencies and so on. In addition, the project will train teachers within camps who can help others create and maintain their Backpacks and connect with international credential evaluators.
“AACRAO is working with other credential evaluation agencies and organizations to help develop best practices around document reconstruction and assessment for displaced students using a global knowledge base,” said Melanie Gottlieb, AACRAO Deputy Director. “The Backpack can then store assessments done by trusted professionals, so it’s something the student only has to do once, rather than something that they have to do over and over.” Initially, the project will rely on volunteers but over time a more sustainable model will be developed.
“We cannot afford to lose this generation of young people,” Watenpaugh told the local newspaper The Daily Democrat. “Through education and better access to training and mentoring opportunities, Article 26 Backpack will help these young people become part of the societies where they must find refuge, and eventually, play a critical role in rebuilding their homeland.”
Lebanon workshop and looking ahead
The Backpack team, which included Watenpaugh and Gottlieb, as well as AACRAO’s Executive Director Mike Reilly and Associate Director Anetta Stroud, spent a week in Lebanon meeting with universities, refugees, non-governmental organizations, and representatives from the Ministry of Education. These discussions were held to further understanding and cooperation with the project. The team also held workshops with refugees and at-risk young people in Lebanon to discuss opportunities and challenges and to practice prototype implementation, with full implementation expected in April 2018.
From there, the Article 26 Backpack™ will be developed for broader implementation throughout the Middle East, particularly in those areas most affected by the war in Syria, but also beyond the region to bring the tool to even larger numbers of young people.
For more information, visit AACRAO's Trending Topics page on Displaced Students.
Photo credits: Liz McAllister, Mike Reilly, and Mona Finucane