Penn Global Learners Program: Language and life skills for individuals facing displacement

The Global Learners Program, taught by LPS English Language Programs instructors, offered more than 300 people in Ukraine English skills useful on the job hunt—and provided some normalcy and hope in the process.

Instructors in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies English Language Programs (ELP) are accustomed to and passionate about teaching a range of learners around the world. So when Penn Global and the University’s Online Learning Initiative (OLI) reached out with a proposal to teach displaced learners affiliated with a girls’ school in Kabul, Afghanistan, ELP didn’t hesitate.

Grid of faces on a screen with an instructor in the middle.
Image: Courtesy of OMNIA

“That was the pilot for the Penn Global Learners Program,” says Sarah Arva Grosik, ELP’s director of programs. That iteration, a collaboration between Penn Global, OLI, and an NGO in Afghanistan called 30 Birds, included the ELP class English for Leadership and Innovation, as well as courses from Penn Engineering Online, Wharton Online, and Wharton Global Youth. Twenty-two Afghani refugees enrolled, most of whom were in Pakistan at the time, awaiting resettlement in Canada.

By then, the war in Ukraine had begun. Spurred by the success of the pilot and at the encouragement of Vice Provost for Global Initiatives Ezekiel Emanuel, Penn Global put together a second cohort, this time in Ukraine and working with an NGO there, Goncharenko, which has English language and cultural centers around the country. ELP reupped, too.

In Ukraine, 312 learners participated in four sections, which started in mid-June and ran for five weeks. Most of the learning took place asynchronously—whenever the learners could fit it in—but unlike most previous course iterations, this one included a live session weekly that allowed for real-time interaction with the instructor and peers. “Building community and engagement is one of the biggest challenges in the online learning space,” says Rebecca Stein, executive director of OLI. “Adding that aspect helped keep them connected.”

More broadly, the program expanded the access of this Penn resource, Grosik says. “Our instructors find these kinds of programs exciting and rewarding to be part of, because they’re a way to make this content available to more people. That’s important to us.”

This story is published in OMNIA. Read more about the Global Learners Program at Penn Giving.