The original story was published on April 07, 2016 on the Technology Salon Blog

UNICEF Jordan Tech Salon

Currently it is estimated that there are 4.6 million Syrian refugees; 6.6 million displaced persons inside Syria. Of these, half are children. In March, Technology Salon Amman brought together people working in education and technology to discuss how technology can support education throughout a Syrian child’s journey.

As was noted throughout the discussion, war and displacement may not be the only crises related to the education system in the Middle East – where, some argued, despite major advances in getting kids into school, education has largely failed to prepare kids for the labour market and has at times failed to inspire them to positively contribute to their communities.

If we strive to reinvent education via technology, perhaps we should seek not continuity but rather disruption in what education can deliver.

As a counterpoint, some participants underlined the urgency of delivering for Syrian children – the time we take to reinvent the education model could be at the expense of a generation of Syrian children who struggle to access any education at all.

In this context, UNICEF’s MENA Regional Education Advisor Dina Craissati outlined three overarching challenges that technology could potentially address.

Challenge 1: Mobility

Can we design an education system that moves with the child?

Schools are typically dependent on physical locations while this population is highly mobile. Even if a displaced child can access a school, the school might follow different curricula than the child is used to, or use a different language of instruction. This represents significant disruption to displaced children. Is there a solution that can travel with children, no matter where their displacement leads them?

While mobility is an obvious benefit of technology, the answer to this is not so clear. Perhaps we can deliver content that can be accessed anywhere, from Little Thinking Minds to War Child Holland’s Can’t Wait to Learn. But how will children find these programs, and if we “appify” education, won’t it result in a fragmented system?

Jordan’s Integrated Technology Group is building on its EduWave software to provide a one- stop- shop to deliver and manage content to refugees dispersed across the region, while Orange and e-Learnment have developed a hardware- plus- software solution to deliver and manage content based on the Jordanian curriculum in an on-line or off-line context.

Challenge 2: Not all education is created equal

Does technology provide an opportunity to improve the quality of education? How do we know?

It may or may not be the case that education technology can improve the quality of education – but in this discussion, a more pragmatic question dominated: the role of certification.

Some argued that a diploma has very little relationship to the skills a person possesses, and, in particular in the technology sector, the certificate is becoming less important than demonstrated skillsets. However, the rest of the world may not have caught up quite yet, and students themselves are strongly motivated by the promise of a certificate.

For the most vulnerable, in particular for those who might be engaged in child labour, the promise that education represents is likely to be closely linked to the certificate.

For those children outside the formal education system, lack of certification could mean that education technologies are, in practice, aimed at learning for the sake of learning and might only serve a few.

It was suggested that UNICEF or a similar such organization develop a test/ certificate for refugees that is accredited globally.

Challenge 3: Preserving a sense of home

How can connectivity bring Syrian children together around a positive identity and sense of community related to Syrian heritage and culture?

Many Syrian children have now been out of their country for 5 years, and it’s not clear when return will be possible. Most are living in urban areas – if they are attending school, it is probably a Jordanian school; or Turkish; or Lebanese.

If we anticipate that these children will one day return to Syria, how can technology support refugees in preserving their sense of Syrian identity, history, and culture? On the other hand, how can we avoid creating a mythologized homeland (“Syria in the cloud”), in particular for those who may never have the opportunity to return?

Can technology help preserve community while encouraging Syrians to engage fully in the present?

In conclusion

Perhaps this Technology Salon brought up more questions than answers. We in Jordan will be continuing the conversation and we welcome you to contribute. Feel free to reach out with your ideas, suggestions, or apps.

Technology Salon Amman is a bi-monthly event run by UNICEF and Souktel to foster community and debate at the intersection of technology and humanitarianism/ development. If you are interested in joining, email ekaplan@unicef.org.

Written by Eva Kaplan (UNICEF Jordan) and Yazeed Sheqem (Souktel)

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