The U.S. State Department and Coursera Offer Free Online Courses to Refugees

WILL MOOCS SAVE US ALL: Today Coursera announced the launch of Coursera for Refugees in partnership with the U.S. Department of State. The initiative lets refugees and nonprofits supporting them apply for financial aid to access Coursera’s library of online courses. Coursera is not the first to offer a MOOC-for-refugees program—edX stepped into this space in February—but it is the first to partner with the State Department, which will provide in-person facilitation at embassies and consulates and help identify partner organizations currently supporting refugee communities.

In 2013, the State Department announced its MOOC Camp initiative, hosted at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, partnering with Coursera as a Global Learning Hub. Coursera for Refugees continues this partnership, potentially enabling refugees to build career skills to find employment as now any nonprofit (501(c)(3) or international equivalent can apply for at least one year of comprehensive group financial aid.

“Over the last three years, the State Department and Coursera have provided educational opportunities to thousands of individuals around the world” Evan Ryan, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, said in a press release. “Coursera for Refugees builds on our work to help people around the world succeed in the global economy.”

The work comes with obvious obstacles, though, from language translation to digital infrastructure. Currently, the first course in the strictly English-language site under the "What You Can Learn" section is the University of Pennsylvania course, "English for Business and Entrepreneurship.” The course is only taught in English, even if users change the site language. Scalability also comes with challenges in a refugee camp without quick connection speeds or powerful computing devices.

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