Brussels, June 12
In anticipation of the European Union’s annual Brussels Conference ‘Supporting the Future of Syria & the Region’, Jusoor, in collaboration with the Asfari Foundation, organized two expert panels on Youth Education and Employment in Crisis-Affected Contexts. Featuring the case study of Lebanon, the event shed light on the critical need to reconceptualize traditional education curricula and intentionally integrate emerging technologies to overcome barriers faced by refugee youth in securing decent work.
The panels were motivated by findings from a research study authored by Jusoor, drawing insights from relevant industry experts, academic literature, field practitioners, and refugee adolescents themselves. The central research question explored was: "How can education be liberated to integrate future-oriented and workplace skills in resource-scarce environments?"
Suha Tutunji, Jusoor’s Head of Refugee Education, spoke about the challenges of preparing students for an uncertain future in a volatile context:
"Teaching for the unknown is the most difficult thing to do.” How do you prepare students for something when you don't know what is going to happen in 10 years or even 5 years from now?"
A diverse range of attendees participated in the event, including local education actors such as Ana Aqra (Lebanon) and regional industry leaders such as the Digital Leadership Institute. Moderators and audience members posed thought-provoking questions -- including the need to engage local and not only international businesses to prevent “brain drain” or crisis-affected communities’ loss of talent, and the challenge of preparing children for rapid technological advancements without neglecting fundamental literacy and social skills were also addressed. Moderator Dr. Alexandra Chen, Trauma Psychologist, UN Advisor and Jusoor Trustee challenged panelists to reflect on the potential exacerbation of socioeconomic inequalities through a focus on tech projects primarily supporting youth lower-middle class and above. As Catherine Stevenson, Jusoor Program Development and Funding Associate and co-author of the research paper noted,
"We often assume that technology must be an equalizer, however there is still a significant socioeconomic disparity when it comes to accessing well-paid, reliable, digital and remote work. The barriers that set certain groups at the margins of the physical world also force them to the margins of the digital, meaning that access to well-paid, reliable digital and remote work is still unfeasible for many”.
In response, the panels also showcased innovative and tangible examples of successful models, highlighting best practices of ensuring youth employment even for those without a traditional university education due to conflict and displacement, such as that of TalPods. Experts from CodeBrave and Jusoor - including Suha and a 24-year-old Jusoor scholar Samar Moussa - highlighted the importance of teaching not only coding and robotics but the mindsets of curiosity, critical thinking and problem-solving as key foundations for future success. Other panelists also highlighted the need for collaborative partnerships with governmental stakeholders to ensure sustainable pathways for labor mobility.
A consensus emerged across both panels that employers should be consulted regularly to determine the demand for specific skills, which could be incorporated into youth training programs and pipelines. Participants also offered valuable insights into emerging skills, distinguishing between local, regional and international demand and exploring the opportunities and challenges posed by artificial intelligence (AI). While it was acknowledged that AI might initially reduce employment opportunities, panelists also shared fascinating reflections on how AI can enhance education and employability.
Gaps were also identified in this emerging field, including the reminder that “tech is not for everyone” and the need to be mindful of gender inequities in tech-dominant employability interventions raised by Muna Abbas, CEO of the Asfari Foundation; the gap in support for refugees not inclined towards tech in a world with demand for trained barbers, tailors, carpenters, and others in Canada and the UK as highlighted by Naeem Sayes, Advisor at Talent Beyond Boundaries; as well as a lack of effective pathways thus far to support youth who desire decent and remote income generation but do not wish to leave their families and communities behind. It was also noted attention should be paid to educators and their psychosocial wellbeing throughout this whole process, and stakeholders should not take teachers for granted and ensure they are fully equipped in the movement to liberate education.
Rania Succar, CEO of Mailchimp and Co-founder of Jusoor, emphasized the interconnectedness of education and employment, stating,
"You can't get strong employment with a foundational education system that's strong, and at the same time, if there's no employment available for people who are being educated, there's no purpose. So, you can't convince people to continue to study."
Finally, a recurring theme was imperative to reposition Lebanon and Syrian refugees as viable and highly-talented employment options and outsourcing hubs. However, participants also recognized the need to address critical infrastructural challenges and legal barriers that hinder the realization of this potential, particularly long-term. The importance of collaboration, localization, bottom-up initiatives, and pragmatic interventions emerged as key strategies for overcoming entrenched challenges.
Jusoor and the Asfari Foundation extend their gratitude to all the participants, panelists, and attendees who contributed to the success of this invigorating event. The insights gathered will be shared in our forthcoming publication, ‘Liberating Education in Lebanon: How do we Incorporate Future Skills and Digital Skills Training into the Curriculum, in the Resource-Scare Context of Lebanon?’. Discussion provide direction for future initiatives aimed at unlocking the educational and employment potential of refugees in Lebanon and beyond.