IIE Platform for Education in Emergencies Response (PEER)

In response to the world's global education emergencies, the Catalyst Foundation for Universal Education and the Institute of International Education (IIE) developed the Platform for Education in Emergencies Response (PEER), an online clearinghouse enabling displaced and refugee students to connect with educational opportunities so they may continue formal and informal higher education. Due to the devastating impact of the Syria crisis on the country’s students, PEER will initially focus on the educational needs of Syrian students at the university level. Prior to the war, almost 30% of Syria’s youth was enrolled in higher education. Today, over 200,000 university-aged Syrian students have had their higher education disrupted.

The Syria conflict is unprecedented in its impact on university-aged students and has highlighted the need for increased collaboration and coordination between public and private sector stakeholders to respond to higher education in emergencies. Governments, NGOs, foundations and volunteers are undertaking great efforts to assist Syrian students but are often unaware of parallel or similar initiatives in the field. Students find out about scholarships and other opportunities through coincidence or word of mouth and often lack the resources and knowledge to navigate the application processes. To bridge this gap, PEER aims at creating a holistic platform that offers a database with educational opportunities and additional resources for students. PEER strives to engage with partners to share knowledge and best practices in higher education in emergencies, build capacity within the PEER network and create new opportunities for collaboration among PEER partners.

While PEER initially focuses on Syrian students, the platform will at full scale become a global resource for all refugee and displaced students connecting them to scholarships, language and online learning, and other educational resources. Additional services such as virtual advising will be added to the PEER platform. PEER will also feature a multilingual site providing information for students and partners in Arabic and English.

The PEER platform currently hosts hundreds of scholarships and other learning opportunities for Syrian refugee and displaced students. To learn more, visit the PEER website here.


The Education Quality and Learning for All (EQUAL) Global Research Network

The EQUAL Global Research Network is a group of education researchers based out of the Global TIES for Children Center at New York University. This research network will study and develop learning outcome measures for children at every grade level in order to improve regional education systems and reduce inequality in learning. The goal of the project is to realize the promise of UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, which calls for every child to have access to a quality education by 2030.

The Catalyst Foundation’s support for the EQUAL project is designed to build the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) portion of the network by providing seed grant funding for individual education researchers from universities and NGOs in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, the UAE, and elsewhere in the MENA region, for projects that will measure learning, development, and quality in education programs on a national scale. Many countries in this region are struggling to provide equitable access to quality education. This is due in part to the significant numbers of people who have been displaced by ongoing violent conflict in the region: over half of the refugee populations in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan are children and youth under age 17. The overwhelming majority of these children lack access to a quality education that would promote effective learning and healthy development. The projects funded by these seed grants will take into account the particular challenges of educating children who have fled conflict zones and experienced trauma, and will include the examination and development of context-specific learning measurements that are broader than traditional measures of reading and math.

The project assumes that networks are more powerful than single researchers: the more nodes there are in the network, the more the ideas and research in this critical area can be shared, and the more that children in these countries and regions will benefit. Building on the premise that sharing information within regional and global networks will bring about more innovation and greater impact, Catalyst’s support will also allow the Global TIES Center at NYU to convene participating researchers periodically at regional and global conferences to share the results of their research and propose policy solutions.

To learn more about the Global TIES for Children Center, please visit their website here.


The Bridges Educational Inclusion Project

The Bridges Project will provide access to the highest quality education in Slovakia for Roma children and children with physical disabilities, two of the most vulnerable, least integrated, and least educated populations in a country where political extremism is on the rise. The project supports the efforts of the C.S. Lewis Bilingual High School, an academically rigorous and progressive high school in Bratislava, to recruit and retain talented youth from disadvantaged groups that have long been relegated to low-quality, segregated education, offering them hope for a better future. In addition to establishing a scholarship fund for these students, the Bridges project will develop an integrated curriculum and programming to address issues of bias against the Roma and individuals with disabilities.

The Bridges Project seeks simultaneously to support a critical mass of young, educated Roma students and students with disabilities, and foster a school culture for all of its students that emphasizes inclusion, tolerance, and cross-cultural understanding. In the way, the school hopes to create future leaders with integrity who are committed to principles of inclusion. The project will have three interrelated components: (1) a program for scholarships, outreach, and support of disadvantaged students; (2) a program for curricular and cultural development at C.S. Lewis High School; and (3) a program to ensure the sustainability and impact of the project.

To learn more about C.S. Lewis Bilingual High School, please visit their website here.


Sky School

Sky School was established in 2016 in response to the high number of refugee teens who have had their education interrupted. Sky School’s innovative approach aims to create a blended online/offline learning model for refugee youth around the world. Catalyst is supporting Sky School’s curriculum development process, which will allow Sky School to launch its full diploma program and enable refugee learners to earn a recognized high school diploma.

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Globally, only 23% of refugee adolescents are enrolled in high school. Displaced youth are more likely to face language barriers, discrimination, and segregation in their host countries. Additionally, many refugee youth lack the documentation they need to enroll in school, such as identity papers and past transcripts. However, access to education is critically important for refugee youth. UN research shows that for each year of additional schooling, an individual’s future earnings increase by 10%, and the likelihood of males becoming involved in conflict is reduced by 20%. Sky School is working to develop and provide secondary education courses for refugees. Their innovative “blended learning” approach will allow refugees to complete their courses from anywhere in the world. Students will be able to access course material online at their own pace and communicate with their teachers via the Aula education-communication app. Students also will have access to in-person support with local support hubs in places such as Athens, Greece; Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya; and Amman, Jordan. Sky School has already begun working with universities and colleges around the world to ensure that its high school diploma will be recognized; this will give refugee youth who have completed its courses the opportunity to pursue higher education, work, and training.

Catalyst is supporting Sky School’s efforts to develop a high school curriculum that emphasizes transferrable skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. Sky School is currently developing this curriculum through a series of two-day ‘hackathons,’ in which volunteer teachers, curriculum specialists, and refugee students share ideas and build curriculum modules specifically targeted for online refugee use. In November 2017, Sky School successfully engaged 50 young refugee learners in their pilot course ‘Social Entrepreneurship – How to Become a Changemaker’ and is now piloting another module titled ‘Peacebuilding in Our Community.’ Sky School plans to launch its full 10-module curriculum in Fall 2019.

To learn more about Sky School, visit their website here.


Global Citizens Mentoring Initiative

This high school mentoring program provides ladders for talented students around the world to develop character, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and leadership skills for the 21st century. The program begins each year by inviting 28 students from schools around the world to a week-long summit at Harvard, where professors from Philipps Exeter Academy guide them in discussion-based learning, design thinking, and human connectivity. After the summer seminar, students return to their home regions and work with their mentors to develop their own social responsibility projects.


Another emphasis of the GCI mentorship method is helping connect students with international higher education opportunities. Since Global Citizens Mentoring Initiative began in 2014, many of its alumni fellows have received full ride scholarships to elite universities in the United States.

Catalyst is supporting the Global Citizens Mentoring Initiative in expanding its outreach and participation in the Middle East and North Africa region, with a particular focus on supporting and mentoring disadvantaged youth.

To learn more about the Global Citizens Initiative, please visit their website.


Asian University for Women

The Catalyst Foundation is helping to support a scholarship program at the Asian University for Women (AUW). For over a decade, AUW has sought to counter educational inequities in Asia – including the Middle East region - and to provide a place where hundreds of Asian women from 16 countries and numerous socioeconomic backgrounds can learn together in a multicultural setting that fosters the values of self-respect, empathy, and courage.


AUW focuses on recruiting excellent students who would not otherwise be able to attend university due to political conflict, economic injustice, or social norms that create hurdles to access. For example, AUW recruits women from garment factories in Bangladesh as well as women from conflict zones. The majority of AUW students are the first in their families to go to university, and 89% receive full or partial scholarships.

Many students spend their first two years at AUW in the Pathways for Promise and Access Academy programs, which solidify English language skills and enhance competencies in other key subjects. Students are also introduced to methods of student-centered learning, such as the Socratic method, presentations, and debate. The final three years at AUW are devoted to receiving a liberal arts education. AUW also helps to place students in three internships during their course of study: one in the public sector, one in the private sector, and one with an entrepreneur. Catalyst Foundation support will be channeled to students from Afghanistan and Syria.

To learn more about the Asian University for Women, visit their website here.


University of the People in Arabic

The Catalyst Foundation is supporting University of the People’s development of an Associate’s Degree program in Business Administration in the Arabic language, which will prioritize refugees and displaced applicants. This program will be the first-of-its-kind online, U.S.-accredited, degree-granting university designed for Arabic-speaking refugees and other qualified students.

Dedicated to opening access to higher education globally, University of the People is designed to help qualified high school graduates overcome financial, geographic, political, and personal constraints on their ability to pursue a university education. To date, University of the People has enrolled over 1,000 refugees—more than any other university in the world. However, these numbers represent a fraction of the number of refugees seeking a university education in the Arabic language.

This program will be open to all students who wish to study in Arabic toward an accredited American degree, and will employ refugee scholars as teachers. The Associate’s Degree program also will provide tailored, English-immersion courses designed to provide a pathway for students to integrate into one of University of the People’s Bachelor’s Degree programs taught in English.

To read more about University of the People’s Arabic program development, please visit their website here.


Habesha Project

The Catalyst Foundation is supporting Habesha Project’s initiative to help young Syrian refugees pursue higher educational opportunities in Mexico. This project, an initiative of the Diálogo Intercultural de México Activo (DIMA), partners with eight top Mexican universities to cover all costs associated with Syrian students’ study towards a bachelor’s or master’s degree in Mexico. The universities provide full tuition scholarships, and Habesha Project then covers all other costs, including travel to Mexico, room and board, and up to a year of intensive Spanish language study and cultural immersion.


Habesha Project works with trusted partners, including the Institute of International Education, the Global Platform for Syrian Students, Kiron, and Jusoor, to identify talented potential students. Priority is given to applicants living in vulnerable areas inside Syria or in refugee camps with limited access to education alternatives.

Habesha Project helps students through every step of their educational experience in Mexico. This includes assistance obtaining visas, validating identification documents and certificates, arranging travel to Mexico, up to 12 months of culture and language immersion courses in Aguascalientes, full university scholarships, health insurance, monthly stipends to cover housing, food and transportation, university holiday activities, assistance finding internships, psycho-social support, and monitoring academic progress while students are at universities throughout Mexico. This comprehensive support ensures that every scholar has the opportunity to integrate fully into Mexican culture during their studies, and maximizes their chances of success.

To learn more about the Habesha Project, please visit their website here.