By Ushu Mukelo, Kyangwali News Editor In Chief
It may seem obvious to credit online education as an option to in person class learning during this never ending pandemic. This is very true especially with the continued spread of Corona virus. It is the best way to keep social distancing, both for students and teachers. Experts in recent days have warned that children can also transmit this disease, potentially putting the teachers at risk. Some teachers are older and may have health complications, which if they happen to catch Corona virus risk dying. All this means online learning is the only option that works best, especially here in the United States where the numbers are still high. But in fact, online learning could as well be a great threat to refugee and immigrant families with children in High, middle and elementary schools. Many immigrant and refugee families that resettled here from refugee camps, and other places, had zero experience with technology. The other challenge is that many of the refugee and immigrant parents do not speak or even write English. They are not able to police their children online. These children can easily lie to their parents by pretending to be learning or doing homework yet they are doing something else. Many refugee children are being introduced to technology and this means they are vulnerable to internet related destruction; chatting on Facebook, or scrolling pictures on Instagram. They did not have the computers and WiFi in refugee camps and now is the opportunity. They are young and are not able to make the right decisions for themselves. They will choose chatting, not doing homework or taking classes. This worries many refugee intellectuals who find this threatening because children risk losing a lot in terms of academic coverage. In addition to the technological challenge, parents have always complained about rushed graduations of their children. A good example is the Scranton High School, in the City of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Many Congolese refugee families have seen their children graduate from High school but unable to speak and write English at all. Many have asked why and left with no answers. According to an analysis by a group of local elders from this refugee community, it was revealed that the reason this High School was doing this is to get rid of these children, they are older than the rest of the children and not able catch up with the requirements. These refugee children seemed to be a burden to the teachers and they needed to graduate them as soon as they could and avoid them completely. "This is not fair, they don't know anything," Ekongwa Pala, a wife of a local refugee elder told Kyangwali News. Even after joining College, these students are required to take English as a Second Language classes, why? Some of these children come from refugee camps where English was not spoken or even taught in schools. They came from refugee camps like Nyarugusu in Tanzania where classes are taught in Kiswahili and English not taken serious because it is considered foreign. Unlike those that come from refugee camps in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Namibia with an English background, they are just introduced to English the first time, which means a very complex problem. They are put in a situation where they have to catch up with academics while learning basic English at the same time.
Another fun story? What about the Congolese mothers pushing their 18 and 19 year old girls to get married and just quit school? Education is and has been threatened before by mothers who prioritize the marriage of their young daughters, some with an aim of making money from bride price or dowry whichever you may want to call it. The Congolese refugee communities across the United States are a good example of this. Mothers are constantly competing for whose daughter will get married first, education is no longer a priority, they think their daughters can find any casual job to earn them a living. Going to school was important before the families got resettled, at least for some families, and resettlement assured them jobs, of any kind and the idea of earning a degree immediately became useless. Yet, the reality is contrary to this thought; going to school is extremely important anywhere including in this country. Someone with a degree earns more than one that doesn't have one. A person with a college degree can secure a good job, he has options to choose from, and ones without will never be different from their parents. Many of the refugee parents came here in their late 30's and 40's or 50's, they are not able to get into school anymore. Their jobs are warehouse positions, restaurants, cleaning or packing on production lines. No person of sense would wish to let their children avoid school and just do these same jobs. But what is motivating all this? Greed for money or lack of value for education ? Well, answers depend on individual families. This is not fair, girls need just the same opportunities like boys and their education should in fact be a priority, not marriages at 18. Our parents, specifically mothers should be told this. The other challenge is that most refugee parents either work longer hour shifts at night and sometimes during the day and even when they are able to check on these children, they are limited by time. The only time they have is to rest when they come back from work. Some of these parents do not take education seriously, they think since they never went to school, it is not necessarily important that their children also go school. Just to be clear, things have not been well even before Covid-19 broke out and it is going to be worse with everything going online. But there are some options to avoid this getting out of hands. First, the local organisations have to offer resources like interpreters and volunteers to work with parents. The parents need to be taught how to navigate zoom and other platforms used in teaching online, this can help equip them with basic skills on how to check the progress and when their children are learning. They may also be able to communicate with teachers directly if language line is available. Some refugee families have older children in school and may be able to translate for their parents, something they have to be encouraged to do. It may be ignorant to just think that since a family has an older child, they have the support they need in terms of helping the young ones. Some families have inner misunderstandings and the older children don't like to help their siblings, it is a reality. In situations like this, external help from local organisations and volunteers is a big plus. For refugee and immigrant communities that are organized and have committees, someone in charge of education has to obtain information necessary from schools and share it via a messaging app so parents can get it. Families have to be visited at least once a week to ask parents how the children are doing with online classes, and ask if they need extra help. This is all extremely important because as explained before, it was bad before Covid, and it will just get worse during this pandemic. There many refugee students in colleges and universities across the United States, they can help, but how? Please let us know in the comments below how you are helping refugee children with school work in your state or locality, others can obviously learn from you and apply the same idea in their places.