MIT is poised to become a global educational hub for displaced populations and refugees. With the launch of the Refugee ACTion Hub (ReACT), which was announced at the SOLVE at MIT annual flagship event, the Institute will develop digital and blended learning opportunities and serve as a catalyst for anyone dedicated to solving the problem of refugee education.
MIT ReACT stems from the vision and personal journey of its faculty founder, Admir Masic. “During the war in Yugoslavia my family lost everything, and I became a teenage refugee. I had access to a great deal of humanitarian support, such as food, clothes and shelter, but what changed my life was access to education,” he says.
It was “pure luck” that put Masic on the path to eventually becoming a faculty member at MIT, he adds. Now the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Masic has long dreamed about how to “bring this luck to everyone.”
“One of the greatest things I get to do as dean of engineering is to help catalyze ideas from faculty like Admir,” says Ian A. Waitz, dean of engineering and the Jerome C. Hunsaker Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “When I heard his personal story about how education became his 'ticket out' of living as a refugee, I wanted to do anything and everything to help him create opportunities for others.”
MIT ReACT will focus on three main objectives: community engagement within MIT and beyond; the development of a certification system for displaced learners; and an outreach effort to connect with broader audiences. The founding team includes Hala Fadel MBA ’01, founder and chair of the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Pan-Arab region; Said Darwazah, CEO of Hikma Pharmaceuticals; Thomas Ermacora, futurist, urbanist and humanitarian; and Riccardo Sabatini, scientist and entrepreneur.
“With very limited educational and employment opportunities, there is little future for refugee populations,” says Fadel in reference to the nearly 65 million forcibly displaced people around the world. “The MIT community and technological innovation can become an inflection point and change a curse into an opportunity.”
To create a scalable program that meets the needs of displaced learners, MIT ReACT will initially pilot two efforts. Coding For Life, a hybrid learning program, will customize MIT's MicroMasters concept, offering a professional and academic credential for online learners with the possibility of applying for campus-based programs. Through a partnership with MIT Media Lab's Refugee Learning Accelerator, a parallel effort will aim to increase the digital innovation capacity in higher education institutions across the Middle East.
Masic and Fadel, who both served as judges of the refugee education challenge at SOLVE, are already building upon that experience and expect to offer seed research funding for faculty, postdocs and students and support for student-led ﬁeldwork projects.
MIT ReACT will leverage other related global learning, engagement, and innovation activities throughout MIT such as the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program, and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Additionally, the debut of ReACT follows on the heels of the recent announcement of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL), aimed at learners in the developing world and those now underserved by education.