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Bay Area Organizations Help Refugees Access Free, Online Educations

PALO ALTO (CBS SF) -- Bay Area organizations are helping refugees access free, online educational courses through Coursera via Stanford University, the University of California, and other major universities around the world.

In an effort to increase access to education for refugees and non-profit organizations that serve refugee populations, Mountain View-based, launched the Coursera for Refugees program on Monday, in honor of World Refugee Day.

Globally, a record 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes by persecution and conflict in 2015, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Coursera, a for-profit, venture capital-backed provider of online courses, is now offering thousands of courses to refugees, as well as specialized courses such as English for Business and Entrepreneurship via the University of Pennsylvania, Career Success via the University of California, Irvine and Python for Everybody via the University of Michigan.

The program, created in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, Samaschool, Libraries Without Borders, Blue Rose Compass, and the Institute of International Education, allows refugees and an unlimited number of non-profit groups that serve refugees, to not only receive comprehensive financial aid for Coursera courses, but also gives those organizations access to services to help them communicate with students, gauge student engagement and receive Coursera technical support.

The U.S. Department of State plans to use the program to offer English courses for refugees in Lebanon, while San Francisco-based Samaschool is launching pilot technology training programs in both Jordan and Kenya.

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Lila Ibrahim, Coursera's chief operations officer said in a statement Monday that "one of the best ways to reach the people who need education opportunities the most is by working with organizations that understand the local needs."

"We're excited to partner with these organizations to provide refugees with comprehensive support as they take Coursera courses - at no cost - on anything from English to Python programming," Ibrahim said.

The U.S. Department of State will be promoting these courses via its embassies and consulates.

Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan said, the State Department staff is "excited to partner with Coursera on this important initiative to expand learning opportunities for refugees."

The Institute of International Education said the new collaboration with Coursera for Refugees will allow them to scale-up their efforts in Jordan, where they will be able to help more refugee students gain skills that they can either put to use in their new communities or one day bring back to help rebuild their home countries.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.

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