Duolingo given permission to operate English test in Syria

Duolingo told The PIE News that it decided to seek an exemption from the Office of Foreign Assets Control to help provide Syrian students with access to language learning as education is an “undeniable human right”. 

“We invested significant resources into this effort to make sure that everyone has access to high-quality education”

Last month, The PIE reported on the barriers that Syrian international students were facing when trying to take English proficiency tests. 

At the time Duolingo was not available for Syrian students – but now students are once again able to use the company’s tests which are being recognised by an increasing number of institutions around the world – something Syrian students have called “a breakthrough”. 

“We are grateful for OFAC’s support for our mission of making education more accessible around the world,” Sam Dalsimer, head of PR at Duolingo, told The PIE. 

“While we have a relatively small number of learners and test-takers in Syria, we invested significant resources into this effort to make sure that everyone has access to high-quality education. This outcome affirms our belief that education is an undeniable human right,” he added. 

Gabby Wimer, managing director of Paper Airplanes, an NGO that works with conflict affected students in the Middle East, said that the fact that the test is being offered marked a “great opportunity for students”. 

“Because of Covid-19, getting to Beirut, which is the closest place for many students to take the IELTS, is nearly impossible and very expensive given the travel and accommodation costs that students have to pay for in addition to the test fee,” she said. 

According to Wimer, the Duolingo English Test is a “great way” for many students to demonstrate their English proficiency, especially now that it is being accepted by a growing number of higher education institutions. 

Syrian students also welcomed the news around Duolingo being able to operate its test in the country. 

I would say that this is a breakthrough alongside TOEFL offered online as well, which would boost opportunities for Syrian students,” said Tareq Layka, a Syrian student. 

“The test would help in various ways, not only for Master’s and PhD degrees but also for exchange programs and training. The pandemic is still putting a halt on travelling to neighbouring countries, and it is still hard to go anywhere to do the usually recognised tests,” he added. 

Issues around internet and power instability present a significant obstacle”, Layka noted.

“Despite the availability of the tests, the majority of Syrian students, including myself continue to hope for better conditions to be able to take the tests without any concerns,” he said. 

Non-political, non-governmental youth organisation Syrian Youth Assembly has said many edtech companies are currently not operating within Syria, while it has launched a campaign to tackle the damage caused to education provision in Syria by US sanctions. 

In an open letter the organisation said that US sanctions have “produced an extensive impact on stopping all educational and development services provided by various American institutions and institutions from other countries around the world, which has led to the deprivation of Syrian youth from benefiting from these services.”

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