App Academy Open Curriculum Now on PEER Platform to Help Displaced and Refugee Students

Photo: NESA by Makers/

Starting March 2019, App Academy became a part of the Platform for Education in Emergencies Response (PEER) network, an Institute of International Education (IIE)’s initiative to help displaced and refugee students through educational opportunities. As part of the admissions team at App Academy, I personally know continuing education can transform lives. Specifically, I know people with new coding skills who were hired to high-earning positions, changing the trajectory of their lives for the better. This new partnership promises to affect even more people.

So how did this partnership come about and how can people get in on it? Read on.

My Connection to Student Education and the Outreach to IIE

Photo: Marta Lezzerini at App Academy

In my previous position as International Partnerships Officer at Universities UK International (UUKi) in London, I supported students and researchers in connecting with their UK counterparts to access educational opportunities like scholarships. I also worked with students and researchers in partnership initiatives between the UK and official development assistance (ODA) countries. Through that position, I saw first-hand how providing access to new educational experiences makes a difference. I still remember working with Nitish, a student who’d never been outside of India, applying for a PhD placement scholarship that led to important research focused on disease management.

So these type of partnerships do contribute to the economic development and social welfare of collaborating countries but also enrich people’s academic paths with experiences that impact their personal lives.

When I moved to the U.S. in 2018, I sought to work at a place that similarly sought to improve students’ lives. That led me to App Academy. I joined the bootcamp as an Admissions Counselor in September 2018 to help candidates navigate the admission process and to support them as they embark on the path of a massive career change or further education.

Once I was a part of the bootcamp, one of my goals was to connect App Academy to a larger company that could expand its educational coding model to the larger world of students. And that led me to think of connecting App Academy to IIE.

During my time at UUKi, I got to know the work of IIE in fostering international education. Founded in 1919 by Nobel Peace Prize winners Nicholas Murray Butler and Elihu Root, IIE was built with the idea it’s impossible to “achieve lasting peace without greater understanding between nations.” Over 100 years, IIE grew into an organization that now runs programs serving more than 29,000 people from at least 180 countries each year.

Since the Syrian conflict started on 2011, displaced and refugee students have been facing numerous barriers to higher education, such as lack of funding, language barriers and general failure to recognize education as a catalyst for socio-economic recovery by hosting countries and, generally, the whole international community.

When IIE launched the PEER platform in 2017 to help refugees and displaced people access educational opportunities, the call for collaboration was extended worldwide. And UUKi participated in the discussion around the need and scope of this new platform. So IIE developed the PEER platform as “an online clearinghouse enabling displaced and refugee students to connect with educational opportunities (such as scholarships, online learning, language training etc) so they may continue formal and informal higher education.” Originally focused on helping Syrian students in 2017, the platform announced expansions to students in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Ukraine, and Yemen.

So when App Academy launched its Open platform, it made sense to include it in PEER so beneficiaries can access software engineering resources and join the App Academy community.

The Effect of App Academy on Individuals’ Lives

Photo: App Academy Open

It’s important to note the substantial socioeconomic effect App Academy has had on its students. Since 2012, the bootcamp has graduated about 3,000 people from its Software Engineering Track, many through a deferred tuition option. This tuition has enabled students from modest economic backgrounds, some similar to those of displaced and refugee students, to attend App Academy. On average, an App Academy graduate’s first job pays him or her about $105,000 a year, often doubling their previous salary.

This level of empowerment is part of the reason App Academy launched its free online curriculum, App Academy Open. Many people were at first confused, though. Why would App Academy offer a free version of a paid product? For many, it didn’t seem like a cost-effective business model. But CEO Kush Patel wanted to offer the curriculum to those who couldn’t attending its San Francisco or New York hubs.

“We want to empower people who are looking to enter this industry, no matter who they are or where they’re from, to gain access to these high-paying positions,” he said. By opening up its curriculum for free, anybody with an internet connection and a passion for learning can go through the bootcamp course.

We hope the App Academy Software Engineering Track-PEER partnership will spark a similar light in the minds of people interested in coding anywhere.

Why There Is a Need for Help for Displaced and Refugee Students

Photo: iie/PEER

It’s important to understand the problems displaced and refugee students currently face to know how our partnership can possibly help them.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a record 68.5 million people today have been forcibly displaced. Only one percent of them have access to higher education and more than half of these are children. That’s a dire, terrible problem.

The steady increase of people being cut off from their studies, many believe, signals a huge risk of creating a lost generation of people. In refugee-centric countries like Turkey, for example, around 40 percent of people are now under 25 years old and all need directed, positive opportunities to education and steady work or they’ll likely face growing mental and physical challenges that come from unemployment. Sadly, a similar situation happened before. In the aftermath of World War I, millions went without education and, during Mao Zedong’s China “Down to the Countryside Movement,” more than 17 million educated young people were sent to the countryside where their talent and promise went largely unfulfilled.

So in these challenging times, alternative solutions that open access to continuing education are essential. And tech is a part of the PEER a global resource suite moving forward. The platform will also offer services like virtual advising as well as multilingual sites. Additionally, it will provide advisors that work with students directly to mitigate the challenges of accessing online resources, like cultural unfamiliarity with online learning. We expect PEER will offer all of these resources to help students go through the App Academy Open curriculum online or let them know about App Academy’s programs.

So in this unprecedented crisis, creating opportunities and opening up access to further education can only help people recreate the sense of belonging to a community. Whether that’s helping to develop technology back in their homeland or to enrich their new homes, it’s up to them. We only know positives can come from it.  

We hope you can help us further the goals of IIE and App Academy in the near future, starting by either donating to IIE or by leading someone you think has the potential and passion for coding to our Open platform.

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Written by Marta Lezzerini

Marta Lezzerini was born and raised in Italy and lived in Belgium, the UK, and now, in the U.S. She joined App Academy as an Admissions Counselor in 2018 with a background in international higher education and international project and program management.

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