Barriers and Improving Access to Education for Refugees

With the doubling of refugees over the last 10 years to reach the current estimate of 25.9 million, the demand for improving access to refugee education has never been higher. As refugee populations grow, their proportion of young people below 18 has only increased. From under-18s making up 41% of the refugee population in 2009 to 50-52% in recent years, the number of young refugees appears only to grow with time and should be catered for. Many had their education path severed when they were forced to flee home to seek asylum, compromising their futures.

While these younger generations in refugee camps often live without quality infrastructure, we must remember that their education is still a basic human right. Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26 states that people have “the right to an education” and that education should be made fully accessible to children. Besides, for refugees, it is key they learn relevant knowledge and skills for advancement through life, rather than being stuck in a poverty cycle after losing everything back home.

Even though the importance of education is acknowledged, we continue to see unsatisfactory refugee camp enrolment statistics. Given this, there is no doubt that there are barriers preventing refugees from accessing education. In this post, we look at the barriers and ways to help in improving access to education for refugees.

 

What are the barriers refugee education faces?

Access to quality education is greatly hindered by the inability to access essential elements needed: electricity, the Internet and digital devices. 

Electricity

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Part and parcel of lives in the developed world, refugee camps face troubles in obtaining stable electricity supplies. Given how far refugee camps tend to be from city centres, being connected from local grids to the camps is very expensive due to the pre-existing lack of infrastructure to support electrical poles or wires. As everything has to be built from scratch, the process is long and costly; even when it is done, the distance causes disruptions to supply. As such, the power often gets cut sporadically, leaving the camp in complete darkness at night. The United Nations have come up with alternative internal electricity supplies like diesel generators and solar panels but these are too costly and polluting or unstable respectively. 

This has taken its toll on allowing the refugees access to education. Classroom lighting is dim or reliant on sunlight and research has shown that this affects learning, cutting refugees off from a quality education. Furthermore, as nights are often pitch black, it is dangerous for children to be out late and besides, learning cannot take place in the dark either as no one can see. Students are confined to times when the sun is out to learn or do their homework.

In fact, the reason why so many refugee children fail to complete their education, causing the low enrolment numbers, is because they cannot finish their homework at night and cannot take time to understand what they are taught. This is made worse by how they could use their phones (should they have one) to find answers or watch educational videos online but may not be able to in times of power cuts. Phones cannot be charged during these times and understandably, any battery life will be saved for emergencies. Therefore, refugees are at a loss in these cases as education is completely inaccessible and there are no alternatives to go to, all because electricity is unstable.

The Internet

Not having access to the Internet is one of the main barriers to education faced by worldwide in the 21st century. The world has become highly connected online since the Internet’s introduction and education has become a distinct part of the online experience. Be it the ease with which knowledge can be searched via articles and videos; or the interactive platforms which aid online discussions even after official class times, the Internet is important for learning. Refugee camps, however, while increasingly being granted Internet access, like with electricity, are held back by their distance from city centres. The areas close to country borders are not often built with infrastructure to accommodate Internet connection and thus, results in the familiar problem of cost and time to build.

The Internet is the obvious alternative option or supplementary material to hardcopy notes and since connection is hardly stable, it completely prevents access to educational material at all. This is tragic as many refugees have been found to enjoy educating themselves via online resources.

When the Internet is available, they independently source knowledge or useful skills that they can learn or perfect. It is even particularly touching to know that many young refugees make the effort to search up content to pick up from where they left off at school before they fled. We see how sincere their intentions are in wanting access to education in any form and find need in bringing a relevant solution to them – one that not just provides old-school content but also uses technology to keep them up-to-date with recent advancements. Even if there is no choice and they are unable to gain access to the Internet, we think an alternative way can be conjured up; with how far technology has come, there are more ways to use it to bring education to refugees while remaining offline.

Digital Devices

Perhaps not as serious as the other two barriers in recent years but not to be overlooked: access to digital devices. Having a phone is seen as life or death for today’s refugees. As such, most refugee households already own a phone and in the realm of education, these devices are used as educational tools for accessing online or offline resources.

In fact, there are some schools in refugee camps that have taken to providing educational content sharing via social media – requiring the child to have social media, and thus, a digital device to access it. Even if camps are linked with stable electricity or the Internet, if some households own no phone, they lose a prime opportunity for individual learning. To us, it seems unfair that some students from around 29% of families are left behind in this way. A solution is, therefore, required to break down this barrier and provide a quality, technology-facilitated education equally available to all students, not just those with digital devices.

 

How can we help improve access to education for refugees?

The Patatas has come up with a solution to the barriers preventing young refugees from accessing education – CaseStudy. Basically, it is a briefcase packed with customizable audio-visual materials essential for conducting classes in refugee camps.

Here are its qualities:

Shockproof and Waterproof: While still retaining the appearance and thus, portability of a briefcase, we have designed CaseStudy to be hardy enough to endure harsh weather conditions. Especially in regions which suffer frequent natural disasters, the strength of CaseStudy’s material is perfect for keeping classroom equipment safe and usable regardless of the conditions faced.

Easy to set up: With all the materials needed packed neatly in one case, this creates room for hassle-free setups. From transporting the case to and from classrooms to starting and ending classes with few issues with settling logistics, CaseStudy is ideal as a portable classroom.

Use of technology: The equipment provided in CaseStudy constitutes technologies and their required accessories to provide the best modern classroom experience possible despite the barriers aforementioned. Even without stable electricity, Internet or digital devices, us here at The Patatas have thoughtfully put together a combination of elements that require none of this. We have ensured to keep the limitations faced in mind while helping these young refugees experience the use of relevant technology from a young age. In our digital era, it is crucial they develop media literacy skills and know-how to utilise such devices on top of their usual curriculum to keep their knowledge relevant to the times. 

Let’s explore its contents!

Firstly, we have the Raspberry Pi, a small-sized computer used to store pre-loaded educational resources in. 

With the variety and number of files (about 8GB) that can be stored within it, education for refugees is just a few clicks away at all times. It costs around $50 less than normal tablets and teachers simply need to connect it to a projector and speakers to allow its resources to be fully available to their classes. Since everything is already in the Raspberry Pi, the Internet is not required to access digital educational resources. It also does not require constant electricity supply, seeing as it uses a portable charger and thus, does not need to be plugged in. Even better, should the teacher see fit for the purposes of their class, the contents of each Raspberry Pi can also be easily customized, teachers can load different files into it depending on their teaching style and their classes’ learning style. 

Secondly, a portable projector has been included to help project the educational contents for the children to see clearly. 

Like the Raspberry Pi, it comes with a portable charger or alternatively, a battery to power it. In the same vein, this means a power supply is no longer necessary for classes. Besides, projectors require dim lighting to work which caters perfectly to the unstable electricity supply at camps. Personal digital devices are also not required as the projector disseminates information for everyone in the room to see. 

Thirdly, speakers are also provided to display audio/ audio-visual material effectively. With no need for power supply or the Internet to use, speakers will provide classes with the full education experience using technology. 

Lastly, we included any other accessories needed to operate the above materials. 

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Be it in the form of wires, power banks, remotes or mini keyboards, The Patatas has got it covered! These elements will ease the usage of the technology provided to make for a smooth learning experience, free from the barriers faced in refugee education.

We are happy to have found an easy-to-use alternative to the more expensive laptops or tablets which often have to be shared in refugee camps, preventing effective individual learning. The Raspberry Pi, which is like the heart of CaseStudy, together with its complementary accessories are on the other hand, able to efficiently display digital files to large classes at once which allows for more refugees to have access to digital education. And with that, we are confident that CaseStudy will be useful for use in refugee camp conditions.

To wrap up, in light of the barriers in place, improving the access to education for refugees is, to us, possible. With our intention to use technology effectively to create change for underrepresented communities in the world by catering our solutions to meet their specific needs, we believe that CaseStudy is a viable solution to implement at refugee camps to provide digital educational support for teachers.

The Patatas is dedicated to supporting those who need access to digital education. Should you want to help support CaseStudy or our future projects via sponsorships, you may reach out to us via email or Facebook.

 

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