Field Stories

Education in refugee camps

Downtown_DadaabICT has become an essential tool for humanitarian aid work, and its role in both education and healthcare throughout sub-Saharan Africa is indispensable: particularly its use in educating large groups of young refugees, from diverse backgrounds and with varying levels of basic education and literacy. The eLearning Africa News Service took a look at the inspiring way ICT is being put to use in the world’s largest refugee camp to provide young refugees with personalised education and a brighter future.

The largest refugee camp in the world is located in Dadaab, in north-eastern Kenya, 100 km from the Somali border; more than 500,000 refugees reside here, many of them displaced by the civil war taking place in southern Somalia. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been working to provide not only food and healthcare for the camp’s residents, but also educational opportunities for its more than 80,000 young people. To achieve this, they have been integrating solar-powered technologies to support ICT delivery in the 39 primary and secondary schools and 4 vocational centres in the camp.

The difficulty in educating such a large and diverse population using traditional educational tools is in addressing language barriers, illiteracy, and the high drop-out rate found throughout the camp. Making the task more difficult is the absence of necessary infrastructure, materials and qualified teachers. This is where ICT is making a difference:  the use of computers and portable devices has allowed young people to obtain quality education in a safe and secure environment, taking part in eLearning programmes that can be adjusted to the needs of the individual student.

The close-knit community in the camp has played an important role in the design, sustainability and success of the project, with meetings attended by teachers, students and parents at every stage of its creation. Additionally, each school was responsible for designing solutions to the challenges of security and computer maintenance, as well as for sourcing additional funding to ensure the project’s sustainability. Erin Hayba, Associate Community Services Officer at UNHCR and a speaker at the upcoming eLearning Africa conference in Namibia, has been involved in the project for several years and explains the situation:

“When working with communities, particularly in a refugee camp, I believe that it is crucial to involve various members of the community in every aspect of a project, from planning to implementation and beyond.  Refugees in Dadaab Refugee Camp had expressed the need and desire for increased access to, and training in, technology.  Involving community members from the beginning helped to not only design a project plan that met the needs of the community, but also built in ownership and interest within the community, which will lead to the sustainability of the project.  In addition, it has helped build the capacity of these stakeholders to explore and develop solutions to challenges they face.

“This particular project that I have worked on to bring computers, Internet and solar power into the schools has sparked a new trend amongst the refugee community and partner NGOs to be innovative.  Implementing change and innovation is often extremely difficult, with many hurdles to overcome, including dealing with naysayers.  Innovation, in my mind, happens when people come together with varying perspectives, experiences, and knowledge to address a challenge and work toward a solution. Once a solution proves viable and people see positive results, this encourages more innovation to occur.”

The stakeholders involved in the project have been brought together to find innovative uses of ICT in education, particularly within the harsh and volatile environment of humanitarian work. And because the schools and communities are encouraged to participate in the design and implementation, as well as to invest in their own learning, the solutions found are more sustainable and appropriate. It has sparked a wave of innovative thinking within school- and education-focused humanitarian organisations. As a result, a foundation of learners, teachers, and community members who are more knowledgeable about ICT in education has been developed, creating a platform from which eLearning can grow and flourish.

Erin Hayba is a keynote speaker at the upcoming eLearning Africa 2013 in Namibia. For more information on the UNHCR ICT programme see here. You can register for the event here.

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