SCS and Jesuit Refugee Service Increase Educational Access

Dean Otter and the SCS team visit JRS in Amman, Jordan.

This article is from the 2022–2023 Dean's Report.

Refugees in the Middle East need education, relocation, and employment services due to increasing conflict in the region, as well as forced migration from countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Somalia. Upholding and advancing the Catholic and Jesuit mission of Georgetown University to educate and serve, the English Language Center (ELC) in the School of Continuing Studies (SCS) is collaborating with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Pathfinder Project to provide critical services for refugees.

The Pathfinder Project has four main objectives: onsite general English courses; online education access from partner universities; scholarship and community events; and connecting students to legal employment or business.

Broadening Opportunities Through On-Site English Courses

In 2019, the On-Site General English Program in Amman, Jordan, first approached ELC to request an external validation of its English language programs in order to ensure that the JRS curriculum is consistent with that of the Georgetown certificate program. The aim was to review program outcomes, teaching materials, and assessments so that students who successfully complete the JRS program can be awarded official Georgetown University certificates of language proficiency. This credential is crucial to help students demonstrate skill and knowledge achievement, which will further enable them to obtain employment and additional educational opportunities.

In August 2019 and February 2023, a contingent from SCS, including Dean Kelly Otter, visited the JRS Amman site to study the English language program that was being offered. In addition to conducting interviews with dedicated JRS staff and faculty, and observing classes, the team collected evidence documents pertaining to existing curriculum, assessment, materials, and position descriptions.

“This has been an exciting opportunity to work with the Amman-based faculty and staff to refine a multilevel English language program that meets the unique challenges and needs of their students,” says Suzanne Matula, ELC’s director of programs, “while also being grounded in best practices in student-centered, communicative language teaching for adult learners.”

As a whole, JRS English language programs and courses in Amman were well-attended and met the general needs of program participants—as evident in strong attendance records and high completion rates. Instructors demonstrated passion and dedication to their work, and the staff were equally driven and determined by their mission to serve this population of migrants and forcibly displaced persons. Facilities were conducive to adequate teaching and learning. There were clearly defined class schedules, assigned instructors, class rosters, and a comprehensive registration system that includes pre-placement testing.

“The English courses of JRS are very important to the beneficiaries that took it. There are a lot of success stories of students who improved their language skills, and now they are fluent in English,” says Abbas from Iraq. “[When] you say that you have a certificate from Georgetown, that’s a big thing.”

The Inaugural Cohort Graduates

Dean Otter and the SCS team visit JRS in Amman, Jordan.
Dean Otter and the SCS team visit JRS in Amman, Jordan.

The SCS and JRS partnership marked a significant milestone this past summer: The inaugural cohort of 182 students received their first-ever Georgetown University certificate of English language proficiency. The ceremony was a testament to the students’ hard work, as well as to their resilience and determination to better their lives.

“We have learned many new words and structures, as well as the right pronunciation. We hope that JRS will open classes higher than B2 level, especially for conversation,” says Reham from Iraq. “My journey in JRS was one of the most successful trips in my life. I got to know new people and friends who became a second family for me. We were all one heart and one home despite [our] different cultures.”

Nasreddin, another graduate, fled from Sudan and arrived alone in Jordan in 2019. At JRS, Nasreddin started studying English, improving his language skills to such an extent that now he can speak confidently and proficiently.

“I want to take a moment to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude for the education I have received at JRS through my time here,” says Nasreddin. “I have had the opportunities to study a variety of courses, and I am really grateful for the enriching experience and knowledge I have gained from JRS.”

The ELC stands ready to support JRS Amman in implementing recommendations, monitoring student progress, and collaborating with JRS faculty and staff through synchronous virtual training. Furthermore, opportunities for future collaboration are being discussed.

“The partnership between JRS and Georgetown University is a testament to our deep commitment to the Jesuit values of being People for Others and academic excellence,” says Marcel Bolintiam, associate dean of executive and language education. “In coming together to address the needs of the JRS English language students, we have demonstrated that a commitment to faith and scholarship can and will continue to enhance the lives of those on the margins seeking a brighter future for themselves and their families.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from an ELC blog post.