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A Refugee-Run Learning Center for Urban Refugees in Indonesia

Increasing refugees' knowledge, support, and self-efficacy through a self-run, bilingual learning center serving children and adults.

Photo of Heather Biggar TOMLINSON
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Much of the conversation about refugee education assumes a refugee camp context. However, many refugees wait for resettlement while living scattered throughout large urban areas. Bringing them together reduces isolation and increases community and efficacy. Indonesia has more than 12,000 refugees, many of whom live in Jakarta. The Roshan Learning Center aims to improve teaching and learning among Jakarta refugees by: 1) providing bi-lingual learning experiences for children; 2) empowering adults to take control of their lives; and 3) building a sense of community in which participants value, respect, and support each other. We rely on unpaid volunteers – refugees, Indonesians, expats – who face teaching challenges including mixed ages and ability levels, inconsistent attendance, and limited supplies. We aim to provide support refugee teachers and managers through monthly professional development workshops provided by trained teachers; technology to enable flipped classrooms (e.g. smartphones); curricula adaptable to multiple ages; mentoring; and quarterly 360-degree performance reviews. These efforts will improve capacity, community, self-esteem, and children's learning.


Beneficiaries are mostly Afghan and Iranian refugees living in Jakarta. (1) Teachers and managers benefit by receiving practical support to teach, decision-making opportunities, and outlets for creativity/productivity. (2) Children benefit as parents gain knowledge, skills and support; children learn academic skills in an engaging environment with peers; families have predictable weekly routines.


We began conversations in September 2014 by discussing the idea with refugees and soliciting their input. Based on their interest, we found a suitable location to lease (a former art studio) and converted it into a classroom environment. We then recruited Persian-speaking refugees and English-speaking expat volunteers to teach literacy, math, and science; appointed a management team of five adults from within the refugee community; co-created with the refugee managers a set of rules and regulations for the learning center; and supported managers to hold meetings with parents. We are currently reaching out to the government, UNHCR and IOM for their approval and help. It is challenging to find the right balance between welcoming new students and ensuring dedicated volunteer teachers are in place, so we aim to grow slowly.


We would like to get feedback from: 1. Refugee families currently participating in the program (what is working and what is not?). 2. Refugee families invited but not participating (to learn more about barriers or what would better serve their needs. 3. Refugee managers and teachers (what supports are most helpful or not yet provided for successful experiences. 4. Local Indonesians (how can the learning center be a benefit to and engage the neighborhood?). 5. Researchers (what components of this program are significant and effective?). 6. Businesses (how could we meet corporations' needs to partner with them as CRS beneficiaries?).

SKILL SHARE (optional)

We welcome input from those with experience in the following areas: 1) Managing students who come into classes mid-term when teachers are building sequentially on a knowledge base; 2) Managing age groups versus ability groups; 3) Curricula for multiple age groups that include structured lesson plans and activities designed for volunteer teachers with varying skill levels; 4) Quick diagnostic assessments for English skills; and 5) Ideas for (free) quality online learning content.


Roshan Learning Center is a community of refugee and other volunteers in Indonesia. Our professional affiliations span NGOs, research/development organizations, and corporations. Our shared vision is to open doors to brighter futures for refugees through education.


  • Yes, I have implementation capacity and am interested in and able to make this idea real in my community.


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Photo of Jayson Berryhill

Great writeup Heather. If anyone wants more information you can check out Really looking forward to reading any feedback from the OpenIDEO community.

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