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Prof. Dennis Shirley Works to Educate Refugee Children Globally

The Lynch School of Education's very own Professor Dennis Shirley has been actively championing the rights of refugee children in regards to education. Working with the Jesuit Refugee Service, Shirley hopes to assist in expanding the number of children the organization educates to 220,000 by 2020.

In certain regions that have experienced heightened war and economic strife in the past two years, there are an estimated 37 million children who do not have access to education. As the world responds to the current global refugee crisis, the lack of an access to education proves to be one of the most onerous challenges.

The 37 million uneducated children are among 65 million total displaced children between the ages of 3 and 15, according to the Overseas Development Institute. Nations and a global network of non-governmental organizations are trying to provide educational opportunities in order to combat the rising numbers of displaced, uneducated children.

“It is grim to look at the plight of these millions of refugee children,” said Shirley in response to Boston College’s News & Public Affairs writer, Ed Hayward. “The fundamental question is what can be done for these young people so they do not become—really through no fault of their own—the world’s most abandoned and forgotten students.”

The Jesuit Refugee Service has launched the Global Education Initiative as part of its Mercy in Motion campaign. In hopes of providing an additional 100,000 refugee children with a curriculum that can work across cultures and languages, as well as training for the citizen-teachers who will lead classes, the JRS has set a goal to raise $35 million.

The JRS has appointed Shirley to an international advisory board of veteran field staff, administrators, and education experts that will work in the areas of refugee education and services. Since his position was established, Shirley has traveled to Italy to meet with the group, which is led by Rev. Joaquin Martinez, S.J., JRS’s international education coordinator, who is based in Rome.

Shirley spoke to Hayward and laid out further details regarding his position and his vision for moving forward. “In terms of teacher education, the idea is to put together teacher education materials that could be used by a refugee with an eighth grade education who is teaching children who are most likely illiterate,” said Shirley. “These materials need to serve teachers in camps or the cities where refugees settle.”

In hopes of providing JRS field staff with a program they can begin to test and eventually establish as a pilot program, the panel will be working feverishly throughout the summer. Integration of the training program is on track to occur within three years.

Shirley has worked in teacher education for 38 years, through which he has researched educational systems throughout the U.S. and the world. He has also worked closely with teachers to help them improve their practical skills and conceptual knowledge.

“We are working with issues such as displacement, trauma, language loss, and malnutrition,” said Shirley. “There is not one second I’ve spent on this where I am not thoroughly engaged because it is so meaningful. It is far and away the most meaningful project I have ever done."

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Nicole Rodger