Education Technology for Rapid Response

Special Focus : Educational Approaches for Refugee Integration
Access and Inclusion November 16, 2016

Despite increased access to primary education in many countries, the number of out-of-school children (OOSC) and adolescents rose from 122m in 2011 to 124m in 2013. Globally, 250m children cannot read, write or count, despite many having been in school for years. The proportion of children who do not complete primary education who come from the most disadvantaged groups is increasing. 

The education crisis is worse in crises. The proportion of the primary school-age OOSC who live in conflict-affected countries is increasing, from 30% in 1999 to 36% in 2012. Up to a fifth of OOSC in conflict-affected countries are out of school because of conflict. 

Although there has been increased attention to education in emergencies in recent years, designing and delivering education responses in emergency-affected areas remain problematic: “the relationship between conflict and education is highly context-dependent and can change rapidly as conflicts escalate or are resolved”. 

The increasing scale and complexity of emergencies mean that conventional responses may no longer be adequate. The model of a classroom, teacher and students is becoming harder to establish: only 50% of refugee children are in primary school, and only 25% of refugee adolescents are in secondary. “We can no longer only rely on ‘business as usual’ strategies based on more teachers, more classrooms and more textbooks”. With numbers of displaced persons at levels not seen since 1945, there is an urgent need for more mobile, flexible, responsive, rapid and comprehensive modalities.

ICT affords an unprecedented opportunity to achieve the vision not of catch-up of education, nor accelerated learning; not of bridging learning, or remedial; but of no child falling behind in an emergency. ICT allows us to take the learning to the child, rather than bringing the child to the learning.

NRC proposes an inter-agency initiative – an education kit for the digital age. Just like the school-in-a-box, the platform would be standardised, allowing cost-effectiveness and fast deployment by any agency, but the contents would be context-specific, allowing rapid, relevant, localised response.

We envisage learners learning within 72 hours of the onset of an emergency through autodidactic ICT-based learning activities – e-learning – that enable them to continue their learning paths at the point at which they were interrupted, or to start learning at a point appropriate to their cognitive development. Learners could be reached where there are no learning sites or teachers, no books or desks, in hard-to-reach, insecure areas. Although a stop-gap until more structured responses can be established, the e-learning could support teaching and learning beyond the acute emergency phase.

Solar powered, rugged devices would host the e-learning. Pre-developed activities could be quickly uploaded and deployed where and when needed, through pre-trained mobile INGO teams, global roster personnel, local NGO or government staff. Non-specialist facilitators would show the learners how to use the devices and look after their safety.

The e-learning would be in the students’ language of instruction or mother tongue, as appropriate, covering all grades and, to the extent possible, all subjects, of the appropriate official curriculum for basic education. A range of resources on the device would enable students to do their own research. A suite of e-learning activities would be included that encompass other aspects of first response, such as peace education; information counselling and legal assistance; water, sanitation and hygiene; health; protection; climate change adaptation; resilience; psychosocial support; and mine awareness.

The e-learning would include an initial assessment and continual progress assessments of each child, who thus pursues a learning path appropriate to their needs and pace, as they master the material. Each child’s progress would be tracked. Hardware and software would be adapted to children and youth with special needs.

Multi-media e-learning for teachers would be included, ideally based on national teacher education curricula, but at a minimum the Training Pack for Primary School Teachers in Crisis Contexts

ICT hardware uses materials that consume resources and are potentially toxic if not dealt with responsibly. E-waste management of devices that reach the end of their life-span would be built into the modality.

This is an ambitious vision. The flexibility required for rapid response means that activities would need to be prepared in multiple languages and curricula. This means the product could only be developed for protracted crises, where continued or renewed conflict is likely, or for fragile environments prone to drought, flooding or other recurrent natural disasters. Although the long-term ambition is to provide a highly effective first response, this is a long-term investment needing extensive development and piloting. However, the product could also be used to reach out-of-school children in non-emergency contexts, or to support learning in formal systems, decreasing the cost-benefit ratio.

To be viable at scale, the product should be deployable by all agencies implementing education in emergencies. This needs the collaboration of inter-agency groups, such as INEE and the Education Cluster; a role for governments in affected countries; and the involvement of the relevant multilateral agencies. There are promising EdTech initiatives already developed, but not at the scale envisioned. These could form the basis of a more universal platform, accompanied by robust research into the learning outcomes achieved with each new iteration. Funds intended for the development of global goods and other joint activities supporting global and regional actors could support the initiative.

NRC is taking the first steps towards this vision, developing a cross-border response in the Somali refugee context along with partners BRCK, e-Limu and SIL International. We hope others will join us and pool their expertise and experience to bring the vision into being.