Purdue University Graduate School
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Understanding Engineering Education in Displacement: A Qualitative Study of "Localized Engineering" in Two Refugee Camps

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posted on 2020-05-08, 14:08 authored by Claudio FreitasClaudio Freitas
The duration of exile in refugee communities has grown immensely over the last two decades. Recent humanitarian reports have called for actors to create more coordinated global support for the refugee crises. In these recent calls, the desire to break a cycle of dependency between the refugee community and international aid has been a clear priority. Hence, education has emerged as a strategic action to foster refugee self-reliance, particularly higher education (HE) and technical and vocational education and training (TVET). There are many opportunities to use HE and TVET to benefit the refugee community, including: developing solutions to improve living conditions, enabling new opportunities for learning pathways, allowing refugees to contribute to the economy in hosting countries, or preparing them to rebuild their lives once they return to their home countries. However, the economic, political, and cultural complexities of refugee communities often add layers of challenges to typical formal HE and TVET programs. In addition, the existing literature in refugee education still lacks a coherent analysis of these factors and conditions for adoption of HE and TVET programs, especially for refugees living in camps.
To address these gaps, this dissertation presents three studies that investigate an undergraduate introductory engineering course for refugees called Localized Engineering in Displacement (LED). Specifically, I draw on effective learning and policy frameworks to understand how to situate engineering education across HE and TVET and advance LED in refugee camps. The first study presents a case study examining the iterative processes of creation and implementation of the LED course in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. As a general outcome of my study, I describe the novel approach to teaching engineering design for learners in the Azraq refugee camp and its applications to other contexts. The second study examines the LED course implemented in the Kakuma refugee camp. The Kakuma refugee camp is situated in Kenya and considered the largest refugee camp in the world, thus providing a different context of refugee camps. I discuss the contextual challenges to transfer, develop, and implement to a new context and present the course outcomes and experiences based on the course participants’ reflections. The third study extends findings from the first and second studies by using a comparative case study to critically examine the development process and challenges of engineering education in refugee camps. Central to my analysis is the connection between the challenges identified in both camps and existing actors involved with refugee education.
My research uses two case studies to underscore the complexity of the LED course development in the Azraq and Kakuma camps. I seek to foster a debate about the challenges that influence the development of higher engineering education programs in refugee camps and how different actors can collaborate to advance high-quality engineering education initiatives in refugee contexts. Overall, this dissertation clarifies some of the biggest challenges to implement engineering education in refugee settings, how different actors can collaborate to mitigate these challenges, and how these findings expose the misalignment between the international rhetoric and reality on the ground in refugee camps.


CAREER: Assessing and Improving Online Learning Spaces for Diverse and High-Attrition Engineering Students

Directorate for Engineering

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Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Engineering Education

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jennifer DeBoer

Additional Committee Member 2

Brent Jesiek

Additional Committee Member 3

Ruth Streveler

Additional Committee Member 4

Barbara Moser-Mercer