Education is the fundamental right of every child and key to combating cyclical poverty. But, in most emergency relief environments, limited financial resources and shortages of qualified teachers make the provision of quality education incredibly difficult. This challenge is especially acute in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp located 100 kilometres from the Somali border in eastern Kenya. Here, over half of the population is under the age of 18 and school enrollment rates remain alarmingly low.
In response, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Vodafone Foundation (the telecoms company’s philanthropic arm) have teamed up to create Instant Network Schools, an innovative mobile education program designed to improve the quality and accessibility of Dadaab schooling. The Instant Network Schools program will facilitate the training of 378 teachers in tablet-based education targeted to reach 18,000 Somali refugees between the ages of seven and 20. It was announced on World Education Day (October 5), which calls attention to the shortage of qualified teachers globally.
The program will also leverage existing school infrastructure to set up 13 instant network centres throughout the Dadaab camps. These solar-powered centres will provide access to internet and communications technology, and have been made possible through support from Vodafone’s Kenyan affiliate Safaricom. The program’s 235 tablet computers have been provided by Chinese telecoms equipment company Huawei.
Tablet computers offer an excellent educational tool, particularly in Dadaab where class sizes are large and teaching materials are scarce. Students now have access to unlimited educational content and a link to life outside of the camp. As part of the program, students will be encouraged to connect and exchange knowledge with schoolchildren and professionals from around the world. UNHCR Kenya Representative Raouf Mazou says, “we are happy with this partnership, which brings technology to our education system. Education is central to the lives of refugees since it is the most important thing that they can carry home.”
The Dadaab camp was established in the early 1990s to support refugees from Somalia’s longstanding civil war. Over the last two decades, it has grown to shelter hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violent conflict and food insecurity throughout East Africa. Due to the protracted nature of the region’s crises, aid agencies are shifting their efforts from emergency relief to recovery and are working to establish more long-term sustainable development initiatives, including improving education.
The Instant Network Schools program aims to fill a critical gap in student retention and engagement. Currently, there are 279,000 school-aged children living in Dadaab and of those, only 41 percent are enrolled in primary schools and only 8.5 percent are enrolled in secondary education. Through the donated tablets, new learning centres and tablet-based teacher training, students will benefit from a more comprehensive, engaging and collaborative learning environment.
Digital technology certainly holds the potential to transform education in low-resource settings and bridge the global education gap, if used effectively. However, due to the high cost of digital tools and connectivity constraints in impoverished areas, corporate partnerships like this one will likely be necessary to scale up tablet-based learning programs in the future.
Source: UNHCR, http://www.unhcr.org/5436a6cf6.html