Students in direct provision struggle with access to education

For students in direct provision, a lack of access to digital technology hinders their ability to pursue an education. Niamh Talbot spoke with Roos Demol, one of the women behind a campaign raising money to provide these students with laptops.

2020 marks the 20th anniversary since the introduction of the direct provision system in Ireland. 

Direct Provision is intended to provide for the basic needs of people who are awaiting decisions on their applications for international protection. The system was designed as a short-term measure, However, the 2015 McMahon report found that 55% of asylum seekers had been there for five years or more. This average has now been reduced to 15 months, however many are still waiting years to hear their application results. The lengthy stays are associated with declining physical and mental health, self-esteem, and skills.

Currently, there are about 4,300 people in 34 direct provision centres across 17 counties. 38% of these are under the age of 18. 

The system restricts these people from seeking employment and engaging effectively in education.  Residents are not entitled to Social Welfare payments. Instead, they receive an allowance of €21.60 per adult and €10.40 per child, per week. For students, this environment, where their parents are not allowed to work and may be struggling with mental health difficulties, can have a very negative impact on their capacity to learn.

Many find it difficult to study or to finish their homework in environments that are often noisy and over-crowded, or indeed, in some cases, frightening and unsafe. Students in direct provision face huge barriers in continuing their education to third level. The additional costs of third level are prohibitive for students and families on a meagre weekly allowance. This means that many high-achieving students who qualify for a third level course cannot progress on to college.

Digital technology has come to play a huge role in how students are accessing education during the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst some universities in Ireland are open for a limited number of lectures, most are delivered online.

A report from the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in 2019, showed that just 76% of students had access to reliable WiFi at home and only 25% had access to recorded lectures.

Remote learning has presented unprecedented obstacles for many students. Poor broadband connection, strained family relationships, flailing motivation, and concentration levels. 

But for students living in direct provision, the challenges increase tenfold. Many of these students relied on campus computers in order to complete their assignments. The move to online education has left many people who are unable to access computers without the means to take part in lectures and coursework. 

Windows4Opportunity is a fundraising campaign started by Recruit Refugees Ireland aiming to provide laptop computers to 900 applicants currently enrolled in third-level education courses in Ireland who are in need of computers. The weekly allowance for adult International Protection applicants living in Direct Provision, means it is not possible for most people to purchase a laptop for coursework. Windows4Opportunity aims to provide people seeking protection in Ireland with the means to secure their own futures.

The campaign is raising money through their GoFundMe page but also encourages others to raise money through their own fundraising efforts.

Roos Demol, one of the women behind the campaign, spoke to The City about its importance. “Without access to technology, your chances of an education and your chances of securing employment are nil,” Demol said. “Sadly, for many students enrolled in courses that have since moved online, their ability to continue their studies is not possible. 

“Having access to technology will not just allow people access to education and job opportunities, it will instil a sense of hope for their future.”

As of the 26th November, the campaigns GoFundMe has currently raised €6,525 euro of their €35,000 goal. Demol encourages people to give what they can: “Even sharing the campaign on social media can give it a huge boost,” she said.

“The students in Direct Provision need our help.”

In a report by Edmunds Rice School Trust, students spoke of the difficulties they face in accessing education. One saying, “Being a student in Direct Provision can be socially isolating. There is no appropriate study space in the centre. The best time for me to study is very early in the morning at 4am when it is quiet. My one desire is to become a doctor! But if I am successful in obtaining a place on the course there is huge uncertainty as to whether I will actually be able to accept it.”

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