×

Technology and smartphones could help to educate refugees

As more migrants travel to Europe or are displaced by conflict in the Middle East, various organisations are now seeking to solve an important problem – how to educate thousands of refugee children.

According to a report released in September by UNICEF, more than 13 million children are not attending school in Middle East and North African countries affected by conflict, while one in four schools in Syria cannot be used because they have been destroyed, damaged or been repurposed as shelters or military headquarters.

"Education protects and saves lives in conflict settings," Paul Frisoli, education technical advisor for the International Rescue Committee, explained to CNBC in an email.

"It protects children from harmful child labor, recruitment into armed forces, being forced into early marriages and unwanted pregnancies, and helps children with multiple healthy life trajectories."


Internally displaced Syrians at a refugee camp near the Turkish border in Atmeh (Qatma), Syria
Joel Carillet | Aliim
Internally displaced Syrians at a refugee camp near the Turkish border in Atmeh (Qatma), Syria

Those who flee towards the relative safety of Turkey and Europe also struggle to obtain education. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims less than one third of the 700,000 Syrian children who have entered Turkey in the last four years are attending school. According to the HRW, language barriers, the cost of schooling and difficulty integrating into Turkish society are the main obstacles stopping Syrian children being taught.

Aliim, a non-profit organization, is attempting to tackle this issue with a smartphone-based educational program. Last week the organization launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $75,000 to finance the program, which will allow them to teach 250 Syrian refugees through an Android smartphone.

Using an app on the smartphone, Aliim will be able to track each student's progress, while mentors can contact students remotely to help them with problems.

"Mobile learning is far more adaptive than formal schooling, making it a perfect fit for refugee students who need that kind of flexibility," Janae Bushman, founder of Aliim, explained to CNBC in an email. "Refugees are in a mobile state, they are in survival mode, and are not necessarily in the same physical location for a full school year. Due to their transient nature, one of their key survival tools is their smartphone.

"With our Smartphone Schools program, we can leverage technology and mentors to give Syrian refugee youths access to safe, quality, and relevant education, wherever they may go."

The pilot program will last for nine months and additional crowdfunding above their target will allow Aliim to teach more young people.

"We have the ability to grow as fast as we can get mobile learning devices into the hands of refugees. A simple Android smartphone becomes the refugee child's classroom, and where ever they happen to be, they can be in class," added Bushman.

Other organisations are trying to implement electronic learning programs. UNICEF is developing a virtual school which will teach refugee children Arabic, English, math and science using online assessments and certification, and providing hand-held Raspberry Pi computers to children in Lebanon to teach them numeracy skills and programing.

Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee is providing educational access to around 40,000 Syrian children in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. One of their key programs is Healing Classrooms.

"Healing Classrooms is a program designed to help teachers create a safe, nurturing and caring environment where children can process and develop essential skills to help them bounce back and cope with the chronic stress they have faced due to displacement as well as daily stresses due to living in a new and often temporary location," said Frisoli.

Follow Luke on Twitter: @LukeWGraham