Open Learning Exchange

Project Representative
Richard R. Rowe
Creation Date: 2007
Headquarters: Cambridge, MA. USA
Geographical Reach: Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey
Nature and number of beneficiaries: Syrian refugees age group 5-12

Open Learning Exchange

About the Project

The Open Learning Exchange program uses affordable, portable and scalable technologies that do not require Internet and can be powered locally. The approach is especially effective in remote, marginalized and unstable environments with limited infrastructure and resources. The program has demonstrated success in Ghana, Nepal, Mexico, Rwanda, and Peru.  

The Open Learning Kit provides substantial open educational resources. The low cost and portable Kit is contained in a hard case on wheels that can be locked and easily moved from one location to another.  It contains the Basic e-Learning Library that provides access to a wealth of multimedia learning resources. BeLL members use 7 inch color tablets, using a Wi-Fi router, to access the Raspberry Pi server’s thousands of free books, video and audio materials. A video camera, projector and laptop are included, supporting group meetings and the creation of local materials.
OLE engages two, full-time skilled teachers and a tech support person to lead the program and to develop sustained local leadership. The staff is trained in coaching, and are mentored throughout the program. 

The system provides access to high quality open learning resources, supports and builds skilled local leadership, and frequent, near real-time communications to provide new learning resources and demonstrate effectiveness. 

An important feature of the BeLL is its personal learning management tools which enable students to plan and track their own progress up their personal learning ladders. The content for pre-literate children will include picture books and materials designed for their levels as well as basic readers that will enable them to begin to read. The BeLL also will enable teachers to modify their courses to meet the specific needs of students and to create their own courses.

The program thus functions as a catalyst for a more active, engaging learning environment into the formal school system. In addition, the program includes parents and the camp leadership and community as a whole as they develop ways to use the Open Learning System for their own benefit. It promotes gender equality, the empowerment of women and a pathway for meeting the MDG goal of universal primary education.

Open Learning Exchange International is a social benefit organization (501c3), established in 2007 to support quality basic education for all. OLE International works with like-minded organizations throughout the developing world to develop, promote and scale powerful Open Learning Communities that address the specific needs of those communities with a focus on the needs of young girls and children. OLE will seek to integrate the program with the work of the International Rescue Committee; it currently operates four womens’ centers in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, and works with UNICEF to care for unaccompanied and separated children.

Context and Issue

Estimates indicate that nearly three million Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.  In Lebanon 80% of refugee children do not have access to education; in Jordan the figure is 58%. The need to ensure that future generations of Syrians have the needed quality primary education is compelling.  Lessons learned from other global conflicts indicate that when refugees lack proper education at a young age, it is harder for the country to progress to a brighter future free of conflict. If this trend continues, a vast majority of Syrians will grow up illiterate, adding to future crisis, and threatening to reverse progress toward reaching education goals.  

In addition, the psychological impact on children is worse when quality education, which could help them face the challenges of being uprooted, is not in place. The lack of conventional "brick and mortar" school buildings need not excuse limited access to education; innovative, new technologies can provide alternatives.  

Solution and Impact

The program demonstrates the effectiveness of an innovative and scalable community-based approach that enables adolescent girls and boys in refugee camps to strengthen their sense of agency, meaning, and connection. Children join small learning teams to improve their literacy skills while enjoying access to a virtually unlimited library of educational resources.  As they develop their knowledge, skills and relationships, children can take greater control over their lives.
The program helps strengthen the community and engages parents in the educational process as well.  In all countries where the program operates, partners are asked to establish a Community Advisory Counsel made up of an equal number of men and women. The counsel consults with teachers, coaches and children to support the educational process. The CAC has access to materials placed in the digital library to enhance their skills.

The program is designed to enroll as many children as funds allow. It operates in schools and creates Community Learning Centers that are open after school, evenings and on weekends.

The program enables children to join a Learning Team that shares a commitment to learning. Children experience self-paced learning as an active, engaging and sustained process that is directly relevant to their current and evolving needs. The program demonstrates its effectiveness, which supports its expansion for children living in refugee camps around the world.  

Future Developments

We are seeking to scale up the project to reach all marginalized children globally, including applying our intervention model to children in conflict. The library would need to develop an Arabic version for the resources that usually align with the required curriculum set by the Ministry of Education in the country of operation. There is an increase in the levels of reading comprehension and math achievement among students where this program is operating.  Teaching quality has also improved due to coaching methods, and by allowing teachers access to resources that don’t require leaving their classrooms.  

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