Online Badges Help Refugees Prove Their Academic Achievements (CHE)

Online Badges Help Refugees Prove Their Academic Achievements (CHE)

APRIL 28, 2016

As Europe’s refugee crisis intensifies, a university in Berlin has created a pilot program to support migrants who have a college education and help integrate them into the German work force.

The New Education Landscape

Of migrants flooding into Europe to escape war, persecution, and poverty, almost half seek asylum in Germany. In 2015, the country received more than 500,000 asylum applications, although officials there estimate its refugee population to be more than a million. And for many college graduates who are migrants, documentation has been lost or simply doesn’t translate to a European degree, so the program is using digital badges to fill in the gaps and provide them with evidence of their applicable skills in information technology.

Online open badges are becoming a more popular way for people to market specific credentials to employers, which is particularly useful for those entering a new labor market.

Beuth University of Applied Sciences’ pilot program, called Beuth Bonus, helps migrants earn badges that confirm their competencies in information technology, teamwork, and communication, among other skills. Though it wasn’t designed exclusively for refugees, the program has so far supported about 30 migrants coming from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Ghana in the year it’s been operating.

“Sometimes we had a person who didn’t have any certificates, a refugee who we could only reconstruct his educational path based on what he was telling us he did in his country,” says Ilona Buchem, a professor of digital media at Beuth and director of the program. Such degrees often fall somewhere in between a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, she adds.

This information, combined with observations instructors make during coaching sessions, allows the university to grant students a badge for knowledge they already have as well as for knowledge they pick up while studying at Beuth. Students can choose to enroll in the program for one month, one semester, or one academic year. Those who qualify for the program — which requires that they have adequate German-language skills and hold a degree from a college outside of Germany — attend free of cost. The program is supported by grants from the German government and the European Social Fund, the European Union’s main program for promoting employment and social inclusion.

“People also need some support, language learning and updating their skills they brought from their countries because often it’s been a long time since they studied,” Ms. Buchem says, “or what they studied isn’t really up to date or state of the art in Europe.”

Program modules are entirely individualized, so students select which skills they want to learn and are given private coaching. Students choose from courses already offered at Beuth, taking most of their courses online but meeting in person with their coach.

Students don’t earn an overall certificate at the end signifying a master’s or doctorate. Instead, they pick up digital badges after each skill is achieved or confirmed. The program’s primary focus is helping the students become more digitally savvy with western media and building up their online portfolio, Ms. Buchem says. Coaches help students apply for jobs, practice for interviews, write résumés, and create digital portfolios.

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