Refugees Can Take Free Online Classes Through State Dept and Coursera Partnership

The new initiative gives displaced people access to an education.

ByCatherine Thorbecke
June 23, 2016, 2:21 PM
PHOTO: Two girls surf the internet in the child and family protection zone for Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Two girls surf the internet in the child and family protection zone for Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Thomas Koehler/Photothek via Getty Images

— -- The U.S. Department of State and the online education provider Coursera have teamed up to provide displaced people around the world access to an education.

"Coursera for Refugees provides access to world-class, career-relevant education at no cost, to individual refugees and the nonprofits that serve them," Rebecca Taber, head of government partnerships at Coursera, told ABC News today.

The initiative will provide financial aid for more than 1,000 online classes to an unlimited number of nonprofit groups that work directly with refugees, Coursera said in a statement.

Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Edinburgh are among the schools that offer classes through Coursera for Refugees.

“Our mission is to transform lives by providing access to the world’s best education,” Lila Ibrahim, chief operations officer at Coursera, said in a statement. “We know that one of the best ways to reach the people who need education opportunities the most is by working with organizations that understand the local needs. We’re excited to partner with these organizations including the State Department to provide refugees with comprehensive support as they take Coursera courses -- at no cost -- on anything from English to Python programming.”

"We know we can’t do this on our own. Our theory of action is to support the organizations that are on the ground," Taber said, citing the company's partnership with the State Department.

The State Department will open up U.S. embassies and consulates for facilitated discussions for course participants, "targeted specifically at communities with significant refugee populations," it announced in a statement. "The first program will be hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon and will focus on English language learning for a mixed group of refugees and local Lebanese students."

The State Department will also help connect Coursera with eligible nonprofit organizations in its network.

"Starting with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, the State Department will host in-person facilitation of online Coursera courses, targeted specifically at communities with significant refugee populations. These facilitated sessions will offer learners the support of an in-person community -- which provides a deeper, richer learning experience," Evan Ryan, the assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, said in a statement. "We really feel this public/private partnership is one of the many ways we can make a difference in the lives of real people by bringing educational opportunities to them."

The U.N. Refugee Agency emphasizes the significance of an education for refugees on its website, stating "In times of displacement, education is crucial. It can foster social cohesion, provide access to life-saving information, address psychosocial needs, and offer a stable and safe environment for those who need it most."

In the coming months, Coursera for Refugees will launch with groups of displaced people in Kenya, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Taber told ABC News.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events