My name is Catherine and I am currently pursuing my Master of Education at York University, taking courses related to language and literacy along with studies in multimodal literacies and technology. Since I completed studies in and am certified to teach Primary/Junior Education, I do not have a particular teachable. However, one area of study that I am passionate about is social justice education and I am interested in finding ways to incorporate social justice education and critical media literacy into the Ontario Curriculum. One great, unresolved issue of our time that is close to my heart is definitely the refugee crisis. Although I am not a refugee myself, I do feel that it is really important for teachers to find ways to discuss what being a refugee means in their classroom, so students are aware of what is happening in the world and reflect on their role as a global citizen.
The following educational online resources all started through the following Google Search:
1. Refugee Crisis in Europe X Youtube Video / Mini-Documentary
Developed by a group of people under the username ‘Kurzgesagt -In a Nutshell’ who used After Effects and Illustrator to create this video, “The European Refugee Crisis and Syria Explained” Youtube video is a serious mini-documentary that provides an animated introduction to the refugee crisis, particularly through a European lens. Fueled with heaps of statistics, images, graphs and facts, the video attempts to answer some of the following questions: Why is the refugee crisis all over the news? How is this related to Syria? Why should we care at all?
Initially, I was drawn to this video because it alone accumulated around 10,828,082 views on Youtube and 171,475 likes, which does say volumes about how amazing of a video it is to attract so much attention. Also, since it was a video with seemingly great animation and visuals, I thought it would be a great medium to use to introduce what the current refugee crisis is. In six minutes and sixteen seconds, I learned about the statistics relating to the influx of refugees in various parts of Europe and the Middle East, the history of Syria and the Arab Spring, the cramped situation at refugee camps, the pressure on Europe and other Western powers to accept and support refugees along with their reactions towards this crisis, the fears that the Western World had towards refugees and the potential rise of Islam along with the need for other countries to unite together in order to help refugees and provide them with opportunities to succeed.
While the creators of the video list all the resources they used in the video's description, which include the use of various news media websites like UNHCR, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, The Atlantic and The Economist, their use of Wikipedia and a Muslim Statistics blog on Wordpress makes me question whether or not the video is extremely reputable with its consultation of what are regarded as some academically ’unreliable’ resources. Even though the video is full of visuals with amazing and seamless animations, it was simultaneously 'information-heavy’, with a narrator who is quickly spitting out one fact after another and does not allow the viewer to really breathe and digest the information. With this in mind, this may not be a great resource to use with primary children who tend to have much shorter attention spans, so it is definitely geared towards high school students and perhaps the Grade 7 and 8 students as well who will have a better understanding of world geography and may have been exposed to some of the news of the refugee crisis in Europe. It also spent a good deal of time talking about the involvement of ISIS, Islam, the Jihad and other terrorist groups who caused the major civil war occurring in Syria, which may be difficult to explain and respond to questions regarding these matters. Lastly, the video, for the most part, focuses on the European Union, providing specific examples and reactions that different EU countries had towards accepting or refusing refugees into their respective countries. Ideally, it would have been great if it talked about the attitudes that Canada and the United States have towards the refugee crisis and the work that Canada is doing to welcome refugees. This Youtube video satisfies my criterion as a potential education resource in that it openly humanizes refugees and emphasizes how refugees are normal people like us - they are not ‘the other’. In addition to framing refugees as regular human beings who were placed in very dangerous and difficult situations, I admire how this resource is able to provide a thorough and detailed narrative of the current refugee crisis through the use of various visuals, which include bar graphs, visual maps of the Middle East and Europe that situate these places in a way for learners to get a sense of where these affected areas are on a globe, contrasting the fears associated with accepting refugees alongside the actual realities and global economic benefits they bring, and providing side-by-side comparisons or statistics that illustrated how some countries like Jordan are accepting over 600,000 refugees while other great Western powers like the UK, US and Australia are receiving way less than that. While providing an objective account of the refugee crisis, the narrator of the video made some very thought-provoking comparisons and posed some very significant questions that can be used to instigate class discussions where upper-year students, specifically higher middle school and secondary school students, must apply critical thinking skills. Ultimately, this video concludes by strongly advocating for social impact, encouraging viewers to offer a hand to refugees and donate to the United Nations Refugee Agency. The video concludes by providing a link to donate and another link to learning more about the situation in Syria and Iraq. It does not necessarily force viewers to donate to the UNRA, but ends by encouraging all citizens of the world to unite and help refugees in their own ways, especially since other countries are downright refusing to take action themselves.
2. M.I.A.’s “Borders” X Music Video and Opinion Essay
Released on February 17, 2016, M.I.A.’s music video for her song, “Borders” garnered a whopping 7,696,208 views to date along with 101, 011 likes on Youtube, portraying her international influence as an artist and the exposure that her video “by refugees and for refugees” had. In four minutes and forty-three seconds, “Borders” illustrates some powerful imagery that symbolized the journey that refugees embark where then forty-year-old recording artist, M.I.A., is climbing an iron fence with hoards of dark-skinned male refugees, leading the way as a captain on top of the masses of refugees who formed a human vessel with their bodies and huddled together with large numbers of refugees who filled various boats to the brim. When I turn the English subtitles on to view the lyrics, I find that she poses some critical questions about how nation-states are building borders to further disjoin people. M.I.A. highlights what people in the 21st Century prioritize, asking what’s up with “borders, politics, police shots, identities, privilege and boat people” while contrasting this with a mockery of hashtag activism that is the latest craze on social media sites by asking what’s up with “slaying it, being bae and love wins”.
As a huge fan of M.I.A.’s music, I was interested to see what kind of a song she would release about the current refugee crisis, especially from the perspective of being a former refugee from Sri Lanka herself. Knowing that she uses her music as a vehicle to comment on or question global politics, I wanted to know what kind of political stance or message she wants to elicit through her music video that was also self-directed. Despite its aesthetic appeal, this music video left me with a lot of questions and in order to gain some background information, I found an opinion essay by Sinthujan Varatharaja, a doctoral student in Political Geography at University College London, on Warscapes.com, which is "an independent online magazine that provides a lens into current conflicts across the world." While I am quite wary of using opinion essays as a supplementary resource to the music video, I found Varatharaja’s piece quite objective where he also examines the video’s backlash and negative feedback including some images of tweets about “Borders,” such as M.I.A.’s exploitation of refugees or the absence and invisibility of female refugees. Conversely, he also provides some background on M.I.A.’s history as a former Tamil refugee who fled from Sri Lanka to the UK for asylum and how “Borders”, which was purposefully released on Tamil Independence Day, is "not a mere abstraction or theory to M.I.A., but a very personal tale that reflects her own journey from Jaffna to London."
Although there was no vulgar imagery, M.I.A. does mention a few curse words that will deem this video inappropriate to elementary school students and may discourage secondary school educators from using this video as a pop culture media tool to engage in discussion on refugees. For this reason, I am on the fence with advocating it as a potential educational resource, especially if the students and teachers are not familiar with M.I.A. and her history as a refugee or comfortable enough to analyze some of the questions she asks. I do recognize that some of the imagery used in her video, such as the refugees climbing an iron wall, can be used as conversation starters in classrooms where teachers can relate the supposed wall that Trump plans to build on the US-Mexico border and how Mexicans may become the new refugees. However, I do acknowledge the great potential this resource has in illustrating the power, messages and contributions to society that refugees can make. Educators would be able to use M.I.A. as an example of a refugee who was able to escape the dangers of civil war in Sri Lanka to the UK in order to pursue artistic and musical endeavours that offer political commentary on the refugee crisis and other global matters, depicting how artists and musicians can choose to become political or social activists who use various mediums to convey their messages and struggles to wider audiences.
Developed by reputable organizations like the NSW Government, Department of Education and Centre for Refugee Research at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Roads to Refuge is a website designed to provide students, teachers and the community access to 'relevant, factual and current information about refugees.’ Essentially, it is an online database that provides teaching ideas and sample lessons on how to introduce the following topics: who is a refugee, refugee journeys, refugee settlement and refugees in Australia. Initially, I was drawn to this resource because the website layout is a simple interface, is easy to use and is very well-organized. All the topics are clearly worded and all the links work, so it looked like a great resource teachers could use for teaching ideas concerning refugees. However, once I started to engage with the resource outside its home page, I realized that the website tended to be heavy with text, having a few videos and images, which requires a lot of reading on the part of the user. Each topic has lesson ideas under several sub-themes that introduce cross-curricular connections on ways to discuss this theme during geography or creative arts. These lessons are quite general and can be adapted to suit the needs of elementary, middle and secondary school students. It also provides electronic resources such as short documentaries and art projects that educators can use to facilitate conversations around these topics. While the website does focus on refugees in Australia and what Australians can do to help refugees, educators can still add this educational resource to their teaching toolkit as it provides an excellent framework and great lessons that teachers can use to introduce the refugee crisis into their respective subjects or curriculums. From this website, I was able to learn more about the distinctions among refugees, migrants, asylum seekers, stateless persons and internally displaced persons; the laws concerning human and children’s rights along with the historic UN 1951 Refugee Convention; how other countries are able to support refugees through repatriation, local integration and resettlement; resettlement challenges and contributions of some Australian refugees. An amazing characteristic of this resource is the resource page outlining the various forms of online resources that you can access, which includes a glossary, DVD gallery, comprehensive list of further readings (i.e., magazines, novels, documentaries, training materials and reference materials) from reputable sources like the UNHCR. Lastly, this resource advocates for social impact and on its homepage, there is a small section with links that outline ways you can support refugees as an individual, school and community. Teachers can use these tips and ideas possibly to start a class project to help refugees in their local community.
Designed by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) in 2005 and funded by huge sponsors like Microsoft, Ericsson and Datareal AB, “Against All Odds” is a free game available online that allows players to experience what it is like to be a refugee. It is based on the global refugee experience from when people are forced to leave their native lands to begin a new life abroad. I was drawn to this game because I was interested in seeing what kind of simulations the game included about refugees, if they were extremely graphic or age appropriate, and if younger students would be able to meaningfully engage in the game.
The game begins with a short video portraying African refugees in a refugee camp, asking the viewer to imagine themselves as one of them. Subsequently, the player can choose his or her character and I was surprised to see there was an equal balance of male and female character selection with modest clothes and different physical features. Players have the option to partake in three different modules entitled: War and Conflict, Borderland and A New Life. Each module contains a series of four challenges that portray the dangers and difficulties of the refugee experience. An example of one of the challenges includes being called in for questioning since the military suspects that you have dissenting opinions that may conflict with the interests of your country. The game provides a simulation of your character being in an actual interrogation room where a military officer is monitoring you as you respond to ten realistic yes-or-no statements that give them a sense of your interests. Every time you answer a question that increases the officer’s suspicions of your conflicting interests, a smear of blood will appear on the screen along with an explanation as to why your answer was correct or incorrect according to the military’s standards.
Other challenges include having to flee your town and leave your country, finding shelter for the night along with an interpreter, and looking for a job in your new land. To learn more about each sub-theme, each module gives you an external link to a “Web Facts” page that gives access to some articles, films and external links from reputable resources like Amnesty International, The European Court and Human Rights.
Link to the Web Facts Page:http://www.playagainstallodds.ca/factualweb/us/1.1/index.html While the website does not provide lesson plans, I would definitely add this potential educational resource to my teaching toolkit as it can be played by students from Grade 4 or 5 and above and can guide teachers on how to approach teaching about refugees. From this educational resource, I learned how video games could be used to promote empathy where students get to put themselves into the shoes of a refugee and make complex and challenging decisions related to their safety and survival. Through this game, students can attain a better understanding of refugees as regular human beings who have been put into complex and perilous situations. Through these interactive simulations, students can deeply engage with their refugee character and gain valuable insight into the decision-making process or view of life that refugees have, interacting with military officers, other refugees, non-refugees, interpreters and other individuals. By playing this purposeful game, students become more educated through serious play and ludic epistemology on what life as a refugee entails, particularly some of the horrors, dangers and difficulties that refugees encounter and how their journey constantly continues. What is great about the game is that it also provides the option to play the game in several languages in addition to English, which include Danish, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Greek, Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish, Estonian and Russian. This would definitely appeal to the English Language Learners or multilingual students in one’s classroom where they have the option to engage with the game in possibly their native or more fluent language.
5. “Crossing Borders” from the Global Oneness Project X Photo Essay
The Global Oneness Project is an online resource library that hosts a collection of photo essays, multicultural films and articles that can be used as a visual springboard to initiate conversation on “cultural, social and environmental issues with a humanistic lens.” One particularly resource from this website that relates to refugees is a photo essay entitled “Crossing Borders" by Slovenian world-renowned photographer, Ciril Jazbec. Through a slideshow of twenty-nine high-quality images with captions that provide specific details on the locations, numbers and characters involved in this crisis, I was able to see and learn about various refugees from multiple generations, the long waits they experienced due to sudden border closures or to board different systems of transportation that would take them to their next stop, the burning of plastic and some abandoned belongings to keep warm, the little food and shelters available to them in which most just slept in a sleeping bag on the ground, and the long walks through cornfields and villages they took while carrying their heavy luggage and lives in their bags.
Beneath this photo gallery, Ciril Jazbec also includes a short eleven-paragraph essay reflecting on his experience of documenting the refugee situation at the Croatian-Serbian border for just over two weeks as he felt he "had to see and understand the situation with [his] own eyes." Jazbec emphasizes how this became a personal project to him as the Syrian refugees changed their route to Western Europe by passing through Slovenia, his homeland, since Hungary closed its borders. In his essay, he further explicates the situation in prose, sort of like an extension of the captions he included in his photo gallery, but including some thoughtful reflections that can be used as potential essay and journal topics or questions that can initiate classroom discussions, such as “What must it be like to pack your life in a suitcase or backpack and leave on such a long and arduous journey?” If you had to pack one bag with five items, what would you pack and why? On top of a photo gallery and an essay, there is also an external link to a lesson plan called “Far From Home” that educators can possibly use with their high school students in conjunction with “Crossing Borders”. The lesson plan outlines the key idea, background to the refugee crisis, connections to National Common Core Standards for various subjects and secondary school grade levels, how to set the stage, how to engage with the story, discussion questions to delve deeper, reflective writing prompts and a list of reputable resources from BBC News, the UNHCR. The New York Times and The Washington Post.
I was initially drawn to this resource because I was curious to see how a photo essay would be able to introduce the refugee crisis to students—what kind of images would be included, who would be featured and what kind of activities or interactions would these photographs portray? Even though the captions are quite small even when magnified and the text is definitely meant for secondary school students and perhaps upper middle school students, this resource satisfies my criterion as a potential educational resource because it demonstrates how one person can really make a difference as Jazbec has and that if you are willing to know more about something, it all starts with taking action—whether it is through self-directed research or actually going to the front lines. Through engaging with this resource, I learned the value of the statement: ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ “Crossing Borders” showed me how powerful photographs are to convey a narrative in such a visually, compelling way. Since it provides intimate glimpses into the challenges and journeys that refugees encounter, of how flooded and overcrowded the refugee camps are and how some countries are still reluctant to accept and welcome refugees. While most of the photographs focused on the refugees, Jazbec included some photos that depict the interactions that refugees had with other important characters, namely the police officers who were ensuring things were under control and were taking their identification as well as some onlookers in their homes merely watching and remaining idle while the refugees walking through the streets. Ultimately, I admire how the artist concludes his essay with rays of optimism, highlighting how the situation has improved in that the Schengen border rules have changed to allow refugees to be taken into Slovenia by train instead of making an exhaustive, long foot-journey.
Developed by the British Red Cross, “Over Under Sideways Down” is a 28-page comic book story available online that outlines the actual journey of 15-year-old Ebrahim, a Kurdish Iranian teenage refugee, who embarks on a long journey from Iran to the UK in search of a safer life. Although the resource is free to view through the link above, it is unavailable for download and can only be shared through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr. Initially, I was drawn to this resource because I am a visual learner myself and I was immediately attracted to the amazing graphics of this comic strip. Reminiscent in some respects to Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis, I was interested to see how this online medium based on a true story would approach the issue of refugees in a kid-friendly manner, particularly what details the author(s) would include and omit. I was also interested to see what kind of message about refugees that this resource is trying to elicit.
In the span of a mere twenty-eight pages, this comic book was able to depict the events that led Ebrahim to becoming a refugee, particularly the possibility of him being exiled from Iran for distributing political flyers, along with the rollercoaster of challenges that he encountered while fleeing his homeland in search of a new refuge, which includes dehydration and lack of food, constant travel through rough terrain and homesickness. It also portrays the difficulties that refugees experience once they reach their “land of refuge” and the complicated process involved in applying for asylum, particularly in the UK. Since it was a comic book, I found it pretty easy to engage with this resource, easily reading and then flipping the pages to figure out what happens next. While examining the design elements of this resource, I realized the very intelligible choices that the artist(s) made. In fact, the font choice made it seem like the comic book was written by an actual teenager and the simple, yet consistent colour scheme of various shades of blue contrasted by black and white sets a mood of serious reflection throughout the narrative.
Since it was a comic book with lots of visuals, I thought I could definitely use this resource with primary students. However, this book contains some serious language that the younger students will not understand, such as ‘exile', ‘ostracize’, ‘asylum' and ‘rape'. Considering this, I would deem that this resource should be geared towards upper primary students, such as Grade 6s and above, with the teacher making clarifications on what some of these “higher level” words mean. As insinuated through the last few pages of the comic book, I feel that this resource may serve as some sort of propaganda for London as "the land of opportunity" and for the British Red Cross as a “saviour for refugees”, especially because Ebrahim volunteered with the British Red Cross to help other refugees and since the UK accepted his application for asylum, Ebhrahim acclaims that London is a safe haven and a land of opportunity.
Despite this, I feel that “Over Under Sideways Down” would be a great potential education resource to add to my teacher toolbox. For the visual learners and students who are interested in comic books and graphic novels, this resource would definitely be a great introduction into what life as a refugee may entail and may find ways to relate to Ebrahim who is only fifteen-years-old and had to go through such an epic journey in search for safety. While the comic book is twenty-eight pages, I never found a dull moment - every page is compelling, interesting and thought-provoking. This resource also serves as a testament to what refugees can accomplish on their own once given opportunities to do so in their ‘land of refuge’. Ebrahim is definitely an inspiration and example of a refugee who was able to give back to his community through volunteering with the British Red Cross, but was able to pursue further education at Hammersmith College and Brunel University.
Through this engagement, I learned that refugees do not choose to become refugees and that they do not opt to undergo a long and complex journey for pleasure - they flee in the name of their safety as well as to survive. I also learned that the challenges they experience do not immediately stop once they reach their “land of refuge” as they encounter a series of new difficulties, such as bureaucracy, interviews and form-filling involved in applying for asylum. While some educators may look down on comic books as an equally important ‘literary tool’, I feel that this comic book was able to portray and illustrate the true story of an actual refugee in a compelling and engaging way where entire pages or even one image can be used as a discussion piece in class. I acknowledge that students can create their own ‘serious comic books’ using Comic Life or various other computer programs or apps to develop their own narratives regarding new understandings of refugees as a potential learning project.
Ideas for Final Paper
While researching educational resources for my digital auto-ethnography, I aimed to find a diverse range and variety that provided ideas and various mediums or uses of multimedia that educators can use to engage with their students regarding the refugee crisis and what life as a refugee entails. Accordingly, I compiled this list of interactive resources that includes a mini Youtube documentary, a music video and opinion essay, an online database, a photo essay, a video game/online simulation and a comic book. In terms of potential ideas to frame my final paper, I am quite lost, yet open-minded. Perhaps I can write a reflection that discusses how the media portrays refugees and the refugee crisis, referring to these educational resources and how they do so, and emphasize the need for critical media literacy discussions concerning refugees in school classrooms. Another idea is to examine and make cross-curricular connections with Ontario Curriculum expectations on how to implement education and critical media literacy discussion about refugees and the possible incorporation of these educational resources. Otherwise, the possibilities are endless and suggestions are most welcome.