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Duolingo English Test: Lowering Barriers for Refugee Students

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In this blog, Jennifer Dewar, Head of Strategic Engagement at Duolingo English Test, sets out a practical guide for how HALI organizations like ours, and anyone else supporting refugees that need to have English language testing, can use Duolingo testing to support their university applications.

In the past few months, counselors working with HALI refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda have shared their frustration with the standardized testing process. Their students are paying high registration fees and traveling for hours to testing centers only to be turned away—often with no refunded test fees—because their United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ID cards were deemed an insufficient form of identification.

The mission of the Duolingo English Test is to lower barriers for students to access education around the world. In the spirit of fulfilling our mission, we were especially concerned with the obstacles that refugee students who carry UNHCR ID cards encounter when attempting to improve their lives through the pursuit of higher education.

Duolingo established a relationship with UNHCR when we created Something Like Home, a documentary released in June 2018 about Syrian refugees living in Turkey and Jordan. Concerned about UNHCR cardholders accessing the Duolingo English Test, we reached out to the Commission. Working with them, we devised a protocol whereby we could simply and efficiently recognize and validate UNHCR IDs so that no refugee who has already overcome countless barriers would face obstacles in taking the Duolingo English Test.

If you support refugees, please share these steps with students who are without a passport or other traditionally accepted state or national ID card, but who do hold a UNHCR identification card.

Before taking the test, counselors must provide the full name and face picture of the test taker to englishtest-support@duolingo.com with the subject line of “UNHCR”.

To make sure that the setup of the test is easy and efficient, please provide students with the screenshots and instructions below.

  • Visit englishtest.duolingo.com/applicants, and click the “Take a Test” button. If you do not have an account, you can create one at this point. Please note that if you do have an account already, you will be prompted to sign into your account by clicking the “Log In” option below “Get started.”
  • After you are logged in and ready to take the Duolingo English Test, select the “Complete the Test” button.
  • You will begin your test setup and be asked questions regarding your ID.
  • When prompted to “Select the ID you will use today” please select “United Nations” and “Government Photo ID” as shown:

  • When prompted to “Check your government photo ID” select “Yes”

  • When prompted to “Photograph both sides of your physical government ID” please take a picture of the front and back of your UNHCR document

  • When prompted to “Confirm your information matches your government photo ID” please take a moment to ensure that you have listed your name exactly as shown on the document

If you or your students need assistance with this process, don’t hesitate to email us directly at englishtest-support@duolingo.com.

Finally, we would like to remind you that Duolingo is committed to fully supporting HALI students with fee waivers for the Duolingo English Test. Please request fee waivers for your students through the Access Program website.


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