Teaching coding to refugees

Disham notes that seven million job openings in 2015 were in occupations that required coding skills, and programming jobs overall are growing 12% faster than the market average. This has led many countries including Sweden, Denmark and the UK to experience a severe shortage of talented Software Developers.

We are also currently witnessing unprecedented growth in levels of displacement ever with 65.6 million people forcibly displaced and 22.5 million refugees worldwide.

What if refugees could be trained to fill this gap in the job market?

Coding is one of the most sought after skills in the world. Coding is also a universal language that can be done remotely from anywhere in the world, as it only requires an internet connection.  By teaching refugees how to code and become software developers it can enable them to work and build for a future from refugee camps and to secure jobs in host countries.

This is an idea already being recognized by the software development industry, and in 2016 industry leader SAP and UNHCR co-founded Refugee Code Week which aims to empower young refugees with software coding skills as ‘the [EMEA] region has an acute lack of skills in the ICT area […] bridging this skills gap is a great opportunity for those countries most affected by the refugee crisis.’

Whilst many initiatives exist to ensure the education of child refugees in both refugee camps and host countries, there is less of a focus on the education of young adults and how this could lead to future employment. Refugees living in camps often have a lot of time to kill, and this time could be used to teach them valuable software developing and coding skills. But once taught to code will refugees will be able to gain employment? who provides the education? and what challenges exist?

Housan Chanin at UNHCR believes that:

‘Teaching refugees to code empowers everyone in the community: parents, teachers, volunteers, children, universities, schools, and nonprofits. Including IT education in education programs for refugees equips thousands of young refugees with highly job-relevant skills for future employability and self-sufficiency.’

This belief is echoed by Hack Your Future, a code school teaching computer programming to refugees who state that:

 ‘we see a very large demand on the job market for web-developers. A lot of companies struggle to grow because of the lack of qualified developers. Here we see an enormous opportunity for a win-win situation. By training refugees in web-development we increase their chances of employment significantly, and at the same time we increase the amount of developers on the job market.’

But what are some of the challenges?


Although coding itself is a universal language, more often than not the courses available to refugees are taught in English and demand a decent grasp of English to participate, which is also often key to employment prospects after the course.


Organizations that teach refugees to code are beginning to pop up all over the globe and often have a clear focus on employability and careers, but funding remains a clear issue and the organizations are often fully reliant on volunteers. CodeYourFuture, a London based non-profit that runs an intensive coding course for refugees is one organization that experiences this challenge. Matt Reynolds writes:

 ‘the course is attempting to provide the kind of intensive education that some companies charge upwards of £7,000 for. They’re partly able to do this because of the wide availability of online teaching resources, but a greater part is down to the fourteen mentors and volunteers who give up their time to teach, cook for and support the students.’

Recognized qualifications and credentials

Often the courses available to refugees are skills focused and do not offer recognized qualifications which may hinder future employment prospects. It seems however that this is becoming less of a challenge as initiatives often use their own networks to help refugees into employment.

Batoul Husseini, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, SAP MENA explains that following the SAP coding course offered during Refugee Code Week:  ‘the most promising master class students have the opportunity to join a 16-week-long coding boot camp, where they would emerge as top entry level computer engineers. […] More than 75 participants have found employment, with an average salary of $1,100 per month.’

Adam Enbar, President of the Flatiron School, a coding bootcamp working in partnership with non-profit Re:Coded, states that the school has a focus on not just learning skills, but building a career in code and how to be successful in the field, and that once students graduate the course Re:Coded works with global companies to help them find jobs and freelance work.

Whilst other challenges may exist such as rights to legal employment, access to facilities, computer ownership and internet access, it seems that the potential of refugees to fill a large and growing gap in the global job market is beginning to be more widely acknowledged. Furthermore, with the rise of free online open education, there are more opportunities than ever for refugees to learn new skills that may have seemed previously unattainable.

Do you know of any interesting initiatives that aim to teach coding to refugees?


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