UNICEF Lebanon is investigating innovative ways to provide non-formal education to the millions of displaced children as a result of the Syrian crisis.

Recent studies have highlighted the scale of the crisis and put forward some recommendations on what can be done. Innovation has a major role to play in addressing the need for basic education:

Education Interrupted” highlights that since 2011 nearly 3 million children from Syria have been forced to quit their education as fighting has destroyed classrooms, left children too terrified to go to school, or seen families flee the country. Progress achieved over decades has been reversed in under three years.

Source: Decline in education for Syrian children “worst and fastest in region’s history”

I believe we can harness innovative solutions to address this problem and provide access to non-formal eduction to both Syrian refugees and the host community affected by the crisis.

In the UK (where I am from) a revolution is happening. Children are being empowered to learn essential skills for the modern age. Initiatives such as the Raspberry Pi Foundation have created a low cost ($25) computer they can use to both learn and play. This can be used as a low cost platform to deliver non-formal education into areas where many displaced children reside including refugee camps and community centres. The ability to repurpose existing televisions in refugee camps is an incredible advantage; for a small cost a television can be converted into a learning portal with no major installation or technical knowledge.

As well as repurposing existing technology, new technology is emerging that is specifically made for children. An example of this is the low cost high resolution screen specifically designed for the raspberry pi computer.

The first prototype of a low cost computer for accessing learning resources using a raspberry pi computer and a screen from: http://hdmipi.com/ - created by the innovation team in Lebanon. Photo credit: James Cranwell-Ward, UNICEF Lebanon
The first prototype of a low cost computer for accessing learning resources using a raspberry pi computer and a screen from: http://hdmipi.com/ – created by the innovation team in Lebanon. Photo credit: James Cranwell-Ward, UNICEF Lebanon

In parallel, initiatives in educational software are appearing and are becoming more comprehensive and sophisticated. The Foundation for Learning Equality has developed an offline version of Khan Academy specifically designed for children. This allows low cost devices (such as the raspberry pi) to run the free learning software through computer monitors, television screens and even tablet computers where available.

Khan Academy Lite (KA Lite) features and example deployment. Credit: the Foundation for Learning Equality (FLE), source: http://kalite.learningequality.org/content/kalite/
Khan Academy Lite (KA Lite) features and example deployment. Credit: the Foundation for Learning Equality (FLE), source: http://kalite.learningequality.org/content/kalite/

Another exciting project is Kano, a computer kit (based on the raspberry pi) specifically designed for children to put together themselves. Kano provides all the cables and accessories needed to build the computer in one box, including a specially designed keyboard with a built in trackpad and beautifully illustrated guides to get started. What I particularly like about the Kano is the operating system (OS) that has been designed from the ground up with children as the primary user.

The Kano project kit with raspberry pi, cables, case, keyboard/trackpad, operating system and printed guide books. Credit: the Kano project, source: http://press.kano.me/
The Kano project kit with raspberry pi, cables, case, keyboard/trackpad, operating system and printed guide books. Credit: the Kano project, source: http://press.kano.me/

The powerful combination of free software and cheap hardware will enable children from all over the world to access learning resources regardless of their nationality or economic means. This will create a level playing field globally where displaced children can have the same opportunities for learning as any child.

I am very excited of the potential we have as UNICEF to pioneer these innovations into the work we do globally for children, we are in a unique position to leverage this movement to bring education to those children who need it most.

If you are working in this field I would love to hear from you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my team and let us know your story.

James Cranwell-Ward, UNICEF Lebanon Innovation Specialist

Nathalie Hamoudi, UNICEF Lebanon Education

See also:

http://www.raspberrypi.org/

HDMIPi Affordable 9″ High-Def screen for the Raspberry Pi

http://kalite.learningequality.org/

http://www.kano.me/

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Narrative of a partnership: Open source hardware in Uganda

Measuring quality education and child friendly schools in Kenya

UNICEF encourages the use of educational technology

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