University of California, Davis in the US is encouraging Afghans to use its cloud-based Article 26 Backpack to safely store records and credentials.
The institution is concerned that under Taliban control, Afghanistan will see the destruction of the country’s modern system of higher education, with access to academic and professional documentation being one area of “critical risk”.
It is likely that the Taliban will destroy academic records and limit or deny access to women or dissidents, altogether, UC Davis said. The risk is that without documents, displaced, at-risk and refugee young people will be unable to reconnect with educational and employment opportunities.
“Backpack is a way to safely curate, store and share all elements of an individual’s academic and career progress and preparation,” said Keith David Watenpaugh, professor and director, UC Davis Human Rights Studies, Article 26 Backpack.
“With Backpack we take an entire category of problems – document storage and safety – facing refugees and other displaced peoples off the table, while at the same time empowering refugees to use the tool to put forward the best case for themselves.”
The Backpack is available in five languages – Arabic, Dari, English, French and Spanish – and used by more than 1,000 young people in the Middle East and North America.
“We anticipated the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and built a Dari language version”
“As we were developing additional language capacity for Backpack, we anticipated the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and built a Dari language version,” Watenpaugh explained.
“It came online a year ago, but because of the pandemic, we were unable to get it into circulation the way we have in Lebanon where over 1,000 young people are using the Backpack. In the Spring we tried to build partnerships with Afghan institutions, but with the US withdrawal on the horizon this wasn’t top of mind.”
Credible stories suggest that Afghans are destroying documents that might be used against them, Watenpaugh continued. Developed with the help of the Ford Foundation and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, it is hoped the Backpack can prevent the complete loss of these important materials, he said.
“We are confident that we can protect users’ data and would never share with the Taliban or anyone else without the user’s permission. We built Backpack’s security features with the Syrian secret police in mind, we can protect their documents from the Taliban.”
Along with storing copies of paper documents, other points that recipients of documents will need to verify awarding institution existence, institutional authority to issue degree and accreditation status.
“Looking at the pictures of Afghans loaded onto planes with just the shirts on their backs, what have they left behind that they will need to recreate their lives in exile,” Watenpaugh added.
Writing for The PIE, volunteer mentor for conflict-affected students Abby Kawola said there are “limited examples” of scalable and proactive initiatives that prepare for potential displacement and allow for displaced students to continue their education “without the significant disruption of spending months to years rebuilding transcripts or redoing degrees”.
“A proactive support system for displaced students should include regional and global reciprocity agreements between individual institutions, and regional or global documentation platforms that will prevent future situations where documentation is impossible to obtain,” she added.
UNESCO’s European Qualification passport for Refugees, led by Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education following the humanitarian crisis in Syria aims to become a modern universal tool to facilitate the mobility for refugees with qualifications.