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HOME > 29th JAMCO Online International Symposium > ICT as an Environment for Supporting Learning and Building Connections:
An Analysis of Internet Use by Refugees

JAMCO Online International Symposium

29th JAMCO Online International Symposium

February 2021 - March 2021

The Potential of Broadcasting and New Media for Supporting Education During the Coronavirus Pandemic

ICT as an Environment for Supporting Learning and Building Connections:
An Analysis of Internet Use by Refugees

Makiko KISHI(Meiji University)
Masahiko AOYAMA(Seijo University)


This paper considers the significance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for refugees through analysis of the life stories of Syrian refugees living in Turkey. The authors have observed the great importance of Internet usage to such refugees evacuated from Syria after Syrian crisis on 2011, while surveying their situation. The Internet is both a source of daily support and, at times, a life-changing tool. Members of separated families maintain contact with each other via the Internet, which is far more convenient than telephone calls between individuals. For a girl compelled to sell her own body to survive, the Internet provided a way to regain control over her life. Kishi, the lead author, heard the life stories of over 100 Syrians who had evacuated in Turkey. Aoyama, the second author and a specialist of Actor-Network-Theory, selected from among these and analyzed a number of life stories which exemplified the importance and possibilities on Internet connectivity and considered ICT’s role as an environment for supporting learning and building connections. These stories also indicate the importance of such connectivity with others to us all. We further propose that these findings show an important lesson for everyone during the particular, if temporary, rupture of connectivity brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Starting from a Single Photograph

A news photograph (Independent 2015, UNHCR 2016) shows many refugees who had fled to Turkey crammed into a single room. We instantly notice how many are holding smartphones.

A large number of people responded critically to this photograph, wondering why refugees even had smartphones and suggesting they must be well off after all. Such observers probably assume all refugees are poor, having fled with only the clothes on their back, and regard smartphones as being wholly disproportionate to their means.

In fact, a moment’s reflection tells us the smartphone is the refugee’s most important possession, second only to life itself. The smartphone is essential for maintaining contact with dispersed family members, and also with others who know who you are. When a person is confused and unable to understand the language of a foreign country, the smartphone provides a way to ask acquaintances for guidance and stay in contact with friends via social media. It is a source of comfort that reassures people they are not alone. The smartphone is a lifeline for the refugee.

2. Syrian Refugees in Turkey

As of October 2020, over 5.5 million Syrians displaced by the Syrian crisis, which erupted in March, 2011, were living abroad as refugees (UNHCR 2020). The exodus of refugees from Syria to neighboring countries continues even now without cease in what has become one of the new century’s biggest humanitarian crises. Turkey, which borders Syria, has received more of these refugees than any other country and was host to over 3.6 million as of October, 2020 (UNHCR 2020). The Turkish government does not receive these Syrians as refugees, instead, since very early in the 2011 Syrian crisis, but as a guest using the term “Syrians under Temporary Protection” and issued them with a Temporary Protection Identity Document (TPID). Syrians in possession of the TPID are able to receive social services. In this paper, we use the blanket term, refugees, for all Syrians who have fled their country to Turkey, regardless of whether or not they have been issued with the TPID.

The assistance which Turkey provides to these refugees falls into two main kinds. One is the protection of the Syrians in refugee camps. The camps are administered by AFAD, the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey, and here the inhabitants are provided with short-term basic needs as an emergency measure. The other is the assistance provided to refugees now dwelling in the cities. This is the case of 90% of the Syrian refugees in Turkey, who live alongside Turkish people in the community. Syrians who hold the TPID are granted the same basic educational services, health services at public medical facilities, welfare benefits etc. as Turkish nationals (Takayama and Sato, 2018) free of charge.

The displacement of such an extraordinary number of people is of itself a humanitarian crisis that endangers the personal safety of the refugees. At the same time, the host country faces difficult choices in balancing the interests of its own citizens with measures to protect the refugees’ human rights. Turkey, too, has had to deal with economic, political and social tensions produced by this influx of over 3.6 million refugees. The survey of Murat(2014) found the majority of Turkish people regarded the Syrian refugees as a burden and risk, and many opposed granting them citizenship.

The lead author surveyed the situation of Syrian refugees for two years from 2016 in association with the Turkish Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services and, since 2018, in close contact with a local NGO, witnessing many, everyday instances of cultural misunderstanding on various scales in hospitals, schools, parks, restaurants, shops, public offices and other places. Turkish people gave assistance with the basics of life – clothing, food and shelter – to Syrians in the early days of the crisis but, as the crisis was prolonged and the number of refugees continued to rise, and political issues also emerged between Turkey and Syria, the community, too, came to be disrupted. Public authorities had to deal with the rising costs of the water supply, sewerage, waste disposal, insurance, medical services and welfare, and differences of comportment in places such as public toilets and parks fueled rising social tension.

As a concrete example, here is an extract from an interview with a Turkish staff member of Arab ethnicity in his twenties who was providing official social welfare assistance to the Syrian community:

Turkish people mostly leave home at 8 o’clock in the morning, start work at 9 or 10, take lunch at 12 and go home at 4. Most of the Syrians have no job, so they hang out in the parks till late into the night and lounge around outdoors smoking hubble-bubble during daytime working hours. Turkish people see this and think they are being looked after with Turkish people’s tax money, do no work, and don’t even try to integrate themselves with Turkish society.

Underage marriage has also become a problem. The age of marriage is 18 in Turkey but it’s 15 in Syria, and people justify their marriages by saying this is how it’s done in their country, even when they know the Turkish law!

(Interview conducted in February, 2018)

These everyday complaints have mounted up and anti-Syrian feeling has grown. The anti-Syrian feeling fuels prejudice and discrimination. The Syrians realize the problem but feel unable to do anything about it. They may be accused of stealing others’ jobs, for example, but insist they have no government or community to help them and their families could not survive at all if they had no job as well. They say it cannot be helped. As for those who have no job, they say they long to work but have nothing to do aside from watching TV, eating and sleeping, and that is a hard life indeed. As for the girls, we are told they cannot work at ordinary jobs. Their parents tell them to go out to earn money like the boys but they can’t do the hard labor the boys do. So, some say, it is hardly surprising that, in order to live, without being told to do so by their parents or saying a word to others, some choose to earn money for the family by selling themselves instead.

Under these circumstances, many Syrian refugees have failed to forge connections with Turkish society and feel isolated. It would not, however, be true to say they are completely isolated in Turkish society. Most refugees have Internet access via smartphones or other mobile devices and do communicate online with dispersed family members and friends. They also join with other Syrians in social media groups, where they share information and consult with each other on whatever is troubling them, receiving important daily information and assistance in this way. The use of their mother tongue on the Internet provides safe conversation in a virtual space and a home to which they can go.

For those who start to settle down other countries such as refugees and immigrants, Internet use is an important tool of daily life. Nelly & Dafna (2009), in their study of ICT use by immigrants, describe the Internet as an important resource for individual growth and empowerment. These Syrian refugees are living in a foreign land where they are disadvantaged both socially and in terms of physical possessions. They encounter many obstacles when trying to settle in to their new environment and adapt to the society around them. In various ways, the Internet provides them with the support they need. In research on immigrants’ media use, Madianou and Miller (2012) reported that immigrants use the Internet to gather information in their own language and contact family members and friends from whom they have been separated for long periods. Tokunaga (2014) described how the Internet connects people who have common hobbies and interests. Ananda (2005) proposed the Internet provides a public space where immigrants can air their views safely.

In such ways, refugees who have fled to other countries need the Internet as an essential part of their living space. The Internet gives them an otherwise unequalled space in which to operate, and serves as an essential tool for use in their lives and plans for the future. In this paper, accordingly, we introduce examples of Internet use by Syrian refugees and consider what the Internet means to and for them.

3. Aims and Methods of this Paper

This paper seeks to interpret the significance to refugees of ICT on the basis of the life stories of Syrian refugees living in Turkey. For this purpose, we analyze the life stories of the four Syrian refugees in Turkey shown in Table 1. Here, we use the term, life story, to denote the individual’s description of his or her own life. We interviewed each Syrian interviewee about his or her individual experiences, transcribed and translated their words from Arabic to Japanese, and converted their comments on ICT use in their own daily life into data. The lead author visited each interviewee from two to seven times, went out with them, shared meals in their home with their family, and spoke with them both formally and informally until nightfall. They were asked about their life in Syria, how they became refugees, and their life now in Turkey. The selected examples are those of four people who made especially frequent comments about the role of ICT in their life. Personal names and private information have been excluded from the life stories presented in this paper to protect the interviewees from harm.

Table 1: The interviewees

Pseudonym Sex Age Date of arrival in Turkey Place of origin(Syria)
/ Place of residence(Turkey)
Example 1 Muhammad Male Early 20’s 2012 Palmyra
/ Istanbul
(3-person household)
Example 2 Aisha Female Early 20’s 2014 Deir ez-Zor
/ Urfa
Both parents
(3-person household)
Example 3 Naifa Female Early 30’s 2012 Hama
/ Mersin
Husband and daughter
(3-person household)
Example 4 Roa Female Early 30’s 2015 Palmyra
/ Gaziantep
usband and 2 sons
(4-person household)
4. Refugees and the Internet

4.1. ICT Use in the Life Stories of Four Refugees

Special attention has been accorded to mentions of everyday ICT use in the life stories of these four Syrian refugees living in Turkey, and, on the basis of this evidence, we consider what ICT means to refugees.

  • (1) The Example of Muhammad

    Muhammad from Palmyra in Syria fled from Syria to Turkey in 2012 after his brother was murdered. He initially came to Turkey to join his oldest brother and sister-in-law. His brother and sister-in-law later moved to Europe and Muhammad stayed on with their financial help, house sharing with friends from his homeland.

    Muhammad makes everyday use of three social media apps: Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. He especially uses WhatsApp, which is particularly convenient for audio messaging. Muhammad never finished primary school and struggles to read or write Standard Arabic, so does most of his messaging orally using the contemporary colloquial Arabic dialect known Amiya. He posts photographs daily on Instagram for sharing with family and friends, and on Facebook he receives news from family members living in a refugee camp in Syria close to the border with Jordan. He passes on information about the situation in the camp and in Syria, sends out requests for assistance, and also shares information that might be useful to others like him who live in Turkey.

    Muhammad’s main objectives in using the Internet are, first, to keep separated family members informed about his own situation; second, to tell others (mostly people in countries of the West) about things that his friends require in terms of everyday needs and news from Syria; and third, to stay in contact with friends and foreigners he has met and who are now scattered all over the world, and keep on expanding the circle of assistance for domestic refugees in Syria.

    Muhammad has Wi-Fi in the house and lets others from his home town also use it freely in order to help the refugees who continue to flow out from Syria to access necessary information. In seeking to collect as much of the latest information as possible, he has turned his house into a hub for its exchange and gathering. Most, 90%, of the Syrians who have fled from Syria to Turkey live not in refugee camps but in urban areas, where they find houses and pay rent. Muhammad shares information in his house on such matters as rental properties, jobs that even people without the TPID can do, everyday life in Turkey, how to deal with various other specific problems, and basic Turkish words and phrases for getting by in the country. His cohabitants collate the information and distribute it on the Internet.

    This loose network Muhammad has created provides a foundation on which Syrian refugees can lend and borrow support. One time when the lead author accompanied Muhammad on a shopping trip, for example, and was unsure about the identity of a spice, he took a photograph of it and sent that to a friend who knew Turkish to confirm which spice it was. When taking a taxi, too, he handed his mobile phone to the driver for a friend to explain to the driver in Turkish where he wanted to go. For Muhammad, the fact of being connected constantly on the Internet enabled him to overcome many of the disadvantages of not knowing the language. Likewise, he has been able to receive help from a man who worked as an electrician in Syria when he had an electrical fault in the house, borrow the right tools for repairing the plumbing, and obtain the services of a restaurant chef for a party. These refugees can help each other through such loose networks even without money. All were people who had found assistance with everyday matters at Muhammad’s house when they arrived in Turkey. This loose, Internet-based network has produced a set of mutual-help relationships to which people can turn when they need assistance from each other.

  • (2) The Example of Aisha

    Aisha was raised in a provincial Syrian city. She started but did not finish university and fled to Turkey two years ago with her parents, where they now live as a three-member household. She has four siblings. Her two older brothers fled immediately to Gulf states when the Syrian crisis erupted. Her older sister fled to Europe and her younger sister is presently waiting to be admitted as a refugee at a town on the Turkish border.

    Aisha and her parents hold the TPID but have not been granted permission to work in Turkey. They are unemployed and depend on money sent by her brothers. Aisha helps around the house. The remittances from her brothers do not provide for luxuries, and she rarely leaves the house. Educational assistance for school-age children was readily available in Turkey but, as of the 2016 financial year, only minimally available for students of higher education, and with strict conditions attached. Accordingly, Aisha has given up hope of continuing her education and, unemployed as she is, has very few opportunities to engage with Turkish society or use the Turkish language except when shopping. Even so, in order to ready herself for work at any time, she makes a point of watching the programs and music she likes in Turkish on YouTube, and of looking up words and phrases she doesn’t know on web dictionaries, in order to teach herself Turkish.

    Aisha and her parents spend many hours every day on the Internet. They video-chat with family members in distant places during tea breaks, while cooking, at meal times, and in many other everyday situations. The Internet gives them the opportunity to talk with relatives face to face and share aspects of daily life with each other as if they were still together in Syria.

    Aisha mostly uses Facebook and WhatsApp, where she likes to obtain information and socialize in Arabic. On Facebook, she gets news of her friends, belongs to a group which shares information about Urfa, the town where she now lives, and also news of her betrothed, who is in Greece. Conversely, she hardly ever sends information herself. She is particularly concerned about news relating to the situation on the Syrian-Turkish border, where her younger sister and younger sister’s family are awaiting refuge in Turkey. The border zone is dangerous and the question of which borders Turkey will open and when is a matter of life and death for them. The social media are awash with inaccurate information and whenever Aisha finds a news story that the border has been opened, she immediately checks it via several social media resources and sends the more reliable stories on to her sister.

    Aisha places high importance on one-on-one communication. Her reason for this is that her sister on the Turkish border used to become very subdued during family conversations involving not only Aisha but also her sister in Europe and brothers in the Gulf region. Life is stressful and insecure along the border due to frequent aerial bombings and food shortages. Her siblings in the Gulf and Europe, on the other hand, and Aisha herself, live in safety. Even everyday small talk along the lines of asking each other how they are doing breaks down in this situation because their circumstances are so different. Aisha now prefers to adjust her conversation to each person and talk one-on-one.

    Aisha’s smartphone is an inseparable tool for everyday life. She mainly shops at stores owned by Arabic speakers but has to use Turkish when they do not have what she needs. She looks up the words and phrases she does not know on online translation sites to communicate her requirements and chat. When she feels isolated in town, she also chats with friends and family while walking in the street. When something strikes her as beautiful, she sends a photograph and text message to her betrothed. This makes her feel constantly connected to others.

  • (3) The Example of Naifa

    Naifa lives in the town of Mersin in southern Turkey together with her husband and young daughter in a three-member household. They are a conservative family and she always covers her face and body with the abaya overgarment when going outside. She hardly ever meets anyone apart from family, but they do have Wi-Fi in the home and she works there online as a graphic designer. Naifa studied geography at the University of Aleppo and made regular use of ICT from her time there. She left Syria for Jordan in 2012 at the age of twenty-five and there was able to take a free graphic design course offered by a British educational foundation. She also met her husband-to-be on the Internet while still in Jordan. They married and crossed together to Turkey, where they now live with their two-year old daughter.

    They are a working couple. Naifa, as mentioned, does graphic design from home, and her husband works at a fast-food restaurant. Naifa has found a graphic-design group on Facebook where she posts her own works and finds clients. People conversant in both Arabic and Turkish help as go-betweens, so language is not a problem so far as her work is concerned. As a young mother, being able to use the Internet to work from home is a big help to her. Life would be hard for them on her husband’s wages alone but her additional income provides them with some leeway.

    Naifa considers the isolation to be the hardest part of her life in Turkey. Her family is scattered across Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey and she cannot meet other members. She would need special permission to travel to areas of Turkey outside the place where her TPID is registered and that is not easy to obtain. Instead, she talks with them daily on WhatsApp. She studied Turkish after arriving in the country but has now forgotten almost everything for want of opportunity to use it. She has no friends or acquaintances in the neighborhood and, unable to speak Turkish, also cannot create such opportunities. Further, she is convinced Turkish people dislike Syrians and unmotivated to engage with them. She says they are strongly averse to the abaya, which she always wears outside, and think all Syrians are poor and only want money and assistance. In fact, she explains, although many are poor, there are also others like her and her husband who work and pay taxes, and she dislikes how Turkish people assume all Syrians are poor.

    Accordingly, the time she spends connecting with family and friends via the Internet is an extremely important element of her life in Turkey. On the other hand, she does consciously limit the amount of time she spends chatting with family members on the web in order to prevent them from worrying. This is because she did convey her anxiety about her new lifestyle to them in her early days in Turkey and they became very concerned for her as a result. Indeed, because they live apart, she now takes special care not to talk about things which might alarm them.

    Naifa spends almost all of her time at home. There, she is connected to her family and friends. She can also work on the Internet. She is constantly connected to others but does feel isolated even so.

  • (4) The Example of Roa

    Roa comes from eastern Syria and has four sisters and two brothers. She fled to Turkey with her family in 2015 after fierce fighting broke out in her town. She now lives in an apartment in the center of the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep with her husband and two sons as part of a four-member household. Her husband previously ran a car rental company and arrived in Turkey with personal capital. They came to Turkey by car and, with this, were able to launch a taxi service between Gaziantep and the border. Gaziantep had a large Turkish-Arab community even before the crisis and Arabic is widely spoken in the town. Roa experienced no inconvenience from not speaking Turkish.

    Her husband’s taxi business has provided for the family but Roa, too, had started selling handicrafts on the Internet two years ago. Roa’s birthplace, Palmyra, has a World Heritage site, and Rosa’s mother taught her traditional embroidery and weaving techniques from an early age. Rosa was able to sell items she made as a hobby to tourists. She is clever with her fingers and has continued the embroidery and weaving in Turkey as well, where she now contributes to the family income through her web sales. She made the necessary devices for weaving with the help of a friend. Starting out from small-scale production, her business has gradually expanded and, as of 2017, she was making handicrafts together with about twenty other Syrian women. These women had all been struggling to make ends meet, and included a girl who had been supporting herself by prostitution. Roa not only helps the women to earn a living but also endeavors to help them regain the confidence they lost when their lives were turned upside down.

    European buyers who sympathized with her project have stepped in to support their activity by purchasing their products. Roa introduces the products on Facebook and WhatsApp and sells them through her Syrian friends in Europe, who trade them there and send money back. The revenues from this business are very small but the women are pleased simply to be able to sell the things they have made and delighted to be producing goods that are recognized by others. These things mean more to them than the money itself and they work with great enthusiasm. The group’s members combine various skills. Some are better at sewing and others at knitting or weaving, and they divide the labor according to their respective strengths. If they do not know how to do something, they find out by searching for it on the Internet.

    Internet sales for them mean more than just a source of income. This work has given these refugee women and girls respect and purpose. The activity has enabled many women and girls to become self-sufficient, and their friends in Europe have provided their support by sharing information on the web. The group provides these female Syrian refugees with a place to go, and that place is supported via the Internet by Syrian friends and family members now living in Europe.

4.2. Thoughts on the Significance of Connection

We saw a photograph of refugees clutching smartphones at the beginning of this paper and have considered what smartphones can mean to such people through the examples of four life stories. For the refugee, the Internet means more than just the convenience of the instant telephone call or access to a wide range of information. It is an essential tool that provides vital support for life.

Interactions via smartphone and the Internet have enabled these four refugees to rebuild or rearrange their lives through their own efforts. Their experiences are moving, and assuredly not so remote from those of our own everyday lives as well. In the following, we consider ICT’s significance on the basis of these four life stories from the perspective of Actor-Network-Theory, which reinterprets personal autonomy as a product of relationships with others.
  • (1) The Virtual Home as a Source of Mental Support

    The refugees are linked via the Internet to friends and family members dispersed by the civil war. The ability to chat online in Arabic with people they know, their friends and family, gives them a sense of security and of being together. The civil war has deprived them of their home, work and even documentary evidence of who they are, including ID’s and school records, but, on the Internet, they can be themselves, not refugees. Here, Muhammad can be the dependable older brother, Aisha, the dependable older sister, and Roa can make her way through her own efforts, because their relationships with family and acquaintances exist on the Internet. These relationships sustain their identity and give them a place where they go for mental support. The Internet is extremely important to them as the place for meeting people who know them.

    These relationships provide them with support, too, for everyday life in Turkey. They make it possible, for example to find an electrician when repairs were needed, or a person with the right tools for a plumbing job. The networks may be loose but they provide support for life in society. These loose relationships provide a place where people help and borrow from each other. For the people concerned, this signifies they have a raison d’être in relation to other people.

  • (2) Ambiguous Cultural Boundaries

    The difficulties of starting out anew in an unfamiliar culture would conventionally have been compounded by the need to learn a new language. The four interviewees featured in this paper, however, hardly knew any Turkish but still managed to cope without too many problems with life in Turkey. Muhammad, for example, was able to ask friends who knew Turkish for online help when he had trouble with the language. When he did not recognize a product in a shop, he could take a picture of the label and send it to a friend who read Turkish for advice.

    Aisha, likewise, used online translation tools when she came across a Turkish word or phrase she could not understand when shopping or watching TV. Whereas refugees in earlier times faced considerable everyday difficulty if they failed to learn the language of their host country, these refugees get by well enough using the Internet even when they do not understand what is written or said around them.

    On the other hand, the ability to cope without learning Turkish does become an obstacle to participation in Turkish society. This applies also to the comments about having a place to go to made in (1) above. The fact that the virtual space, their virtual home, is so comfortable reduces their need to study Turkish and stands in the way of building relationships with the people of their host country and adapting to their way of life.

  • (3) Considerations Relating to Links with Widely Dispersed Family Members

    We have been told how refugees are linked to and chat with distant members of their family on web video sites at any time during their daily routine, in tea breaks, while cooking, at mealtimes and so on. The Internet provides a space where entire families can congregate, talk, and share parts of their daily life with each other as if they were all still together in Syria.

    These family members stay in constant contact thanks to the Internet but, when the conversation turns serious, one-on-one communication is also common. Each family member is in fact placed in a different situation and they do also make allowances for this when communicating with each other. In Aisha’s case, she replied immediately to any message from her younger sister, and, when her older and younger sisters did not see eye to eye, stepped in to mediate. She also chose what information to pass on to her mother depending on her mother’s mental state at the time. Roa, too, chose her conversation topics and mode of speech in one-on-one communication geared to her interlocutor so as not to cause concern to distantly dispersed family members.

    Let us address these cases in terms of Actor-Network-Theory. Regarding both the people, e.g., these refugees, and the artifacts, e.g., the social media etc., they use as actors, this means looking at the networks they constitute. In consideration of the points raised in (1) to (3) above, we understand that the smartphone or other Internet connections hold special importance for the refugee. They may indeed be considered as essential enabling threads for refugees to live their life in connection with others. Michel Callon, one of the proposers of Actor-Network-Theory explained this as follows:

    Take the case of the cell phone and SMS (short messages of a maximum 160 characters in text mode which are written and received on mobile terminals). One can hardly say that this innovation simply met a communication need that already existed, satisfying it most effectively and productively! In reality it contributed to the creation of new social groups or, sociologists say, new social identities. Teenagers-with-mobile-phones are for instance profoundly different, infinitely more diverse in their behaviors and desires, than teenagers who never even imagined the existence of this technology.

    Following Callon’s lead, we can say that refugees, too, generate new social groups through their dependence on ICT. The groups are different from those of either the groups they knew while living in Syria and those of the Turkish citizens of their host country. They have generated new identities.

    These new ties, as in (1) and (2) above, simultaneously accord the refugees various opportunities and impede their integration to Turkish society. Further, as in (3) above, when issues arise in their connectedness with each other, these new networks do undergo revision and rearrangement.

    In such ways, as the actors use the various resources available to them, Actor-Network-Theory, which examines how networks change over time and asks what is absent from them, may be regarded as a useful tool for organizing and comprehending the problems encountered by refugees.

5. Reflecting on our own Realities

For these refugees, ICT is necessary as a link with others and an important support for the self. The need for ICT increases according to the degree to which social ties have been forcibly broken.

Needless to say, these considerations do not apply only to Syrian refugees. With the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, many people have been facing the same issues according to the degree to which they have been separated from others. In higher education, too, Classes went online from around April, 2020. In such a unexpected circumstances, ICT performed a considerable role for people deprived of ties with others and places to go. Many teachers and students commenced on online teaching as a necessary evil, something that could not be helped. Before long, however, as experience grew, we began to hear affirmative opinions about online teaching as well. The method enabled students to take in the lessons at their own pace, for example, and look things up while hearing what the teacher said. That said, many people also continued to long for face-to-face teaching. Students do not seek only to absorb academic knowledge. The inability to meet other students and teachers may indeed have represented for them a loosening of ties and produced feelings of isolation. In face-to-face teaching, students can watch and ask others when there is something they do not understand, and confirm the point that way. Online, where those options are unavailable, students also become worried that perhaps they are the only ones who does not understand. Considering university functions from this perspective, a university may be termed a community of people who learn together.

Separated from the physical environment of the campus, connected only online, students are unable to participate in and sustain this co-learning community. The online lessons become simply a source for acquiring academic knowledge. Students do want that knowledge, of course, but they also need the ties. The sense of being linked to others provides the foundation for study, ambition, and purposeful life.

ICT has performed important roles both for these refugees and for university students constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic. We can aver that ICT has performed essential roles in terms of the exchange of information and imparting the sense of connectedness. Even so, these, too, are insufficient alone to keep refugees from feeling isolated, or students from longing for face-to-face instruction. The question for us all remains not only what ICT has made possible, but also what has been left out.


  1. Ananda Mitra (2005) Creating immigrant identities in cybernetic space: examples from a non-resident Indian website, Media, Culture & Society, Vol 27(3), pp.371-390

  2. Independent(2015)Surprised that Syrian refugees have smartphones? Sorry to break this to you, but you’re an idiot: (2020年11月8日アクセス)

  3. Madianou,M and Miller, D.(2012) Migration and New Media: Transnational Families and Polymedia.Routledge

  4. Murat, M. E. (2014). Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Integration, Hacettepe University, Migration and Politics Research Center-HUGO

  5. Nelly Elias, Dafna Lemish(2009)Spinning the web of identity: the roles of the internet in the lives of immigrant adolescents. New Media & Society, Vol.11(4), pp.533-551

  6. Yumiko Takayama, Naoe Sato(2018)An Analysis of Turkish Governmental Welfare Assistance for Syrian Refugees Today: A Case study on Services Provided by Social Service Centers (トルコ国シリア難民支援における福祉行政の現状に関する考察──社会サービスセンターの活動を事例に), Lutheran College Research Bulletin (ルーテル学院研究紀要) .51, 95-105.

  7. Tomoko Tokunaga (2014) The Virtual Home Transcending Borders / Imagining Homes in the Deterritorialized World: Use of Media and Popular Culture among Asian-American Girls (国境を超える想像上の「ホーム」), Journal of the Intercultural Education Society of Japan (異文化間教育40号) pp.70-84

  8. UNHCR(2020). Syria Regional Refugee Response. 8/11/2020)

  9. UNHCR(2016)Mobile connectivity a lifeline for refugees, report finds (Accessed 8/11/2020)

  10. Callon, Michel (2004) The role of hybrid communities and socio-technical arrangements in the participatory design  Journal of the center for information studies(武蔵工業大学環境情報学部情報メディアセンタージャーナル), 5, pp.3-10

Makiko KISHI(Meiji University)
Masahiko AOYAMA(Seijo University)

Makiko KISHI
Associate Professor, School of Global Japanese Studies, Meiji University.
Field of expertise: educational technology. Pursues research on education and learning environments for diversity and inclusion. Has focused on the comprehensive learning periods and other exploratory learning in Japanese schools. Outside of Japan, has focused on the Middle East (Syria, Palestine, Turkey), studying the design stages where anyone, including the children of refugees and other socially disadvantaged children, can perform beyond who they are and mutually develop with their diversity, in terms of their personalities, experiences, strengths, and so on.

Masahiko Aoyama
Professor, Faculty of Social Innovation, Seijo University. Specialist in Cognitive Science and Cognitive Psychology, engaging in theoretical research on workplace learning from the perspectives of situated cognition and activity theory. Has a special interest in learning that crosses boundaries through encounters with values very different from those of one’s own community, and “wildfire” activities that people engaged in similar practices from unrelated fields. In recent years, he has also taken an interest in support systems for sustainable learning, and surveys concerning hobby learning, notably with regard to handicrafts.

Past Symposiums

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