Teaching in Refugee Camps: Challenges and Solutions

Forced to flee their homes to seek safety, away from war and oppression, 37,000 people are displaced daily. The number of refugees has doubled over the past decade and currently stands at 25.9 million worldwide. The growing humanitarian crisis is, to many, one of the greatest challenges humanity faces today. From having to provide refugees with comprehensible information, giving them basic necessities like food, water and toiletries, to solving citizenship issues; running refugee camps for tens of thousands of people requires great effort and organization to get right.

Amidst these problems, one stands out – the need to provide education to young refugees. It has been recorded that over half of refugees are below 18 years old. Given the significant proportion of young people who had their education cut short, refugee camps have taken up the challenge of ensuring this basic human right is met. With education, they can learn skills and knowledge to improve their future prospects.

Enrolment in primary schools is 61-63% and that of secondary schools is 23-24% within camps. These low enrolment numbers fall as children get older. This is worrying and results from various challenges. In this article, we will help hash out the challenges and a solution that us here at The Patatas think will work wonders for education, no matter the refugee camp’s condition.

 

Challenges of  teaching in Refugee Camps

1) Access to Electricity

One of the most basic challenges faced in bringing education to refugee camps is access to electricity. Some refugee camps face the challenge of acquiring electricity and even if they are wired with electric cables from local grids, electricity supply is hardly stable which means power cuts are commonplace. While humanitarian organisations have worked to use diesel generators to provide electricity, this solution is too expensive and pollutes the camp environment further. Renewable energy projects such as installing solar panels have been on the rise as a result. While cheaper and cleaner, solar panels have the limitation of not being able to provide electricity on dark, rainy days when sunlight does not come in, making it unstable depending on weather conditions.

The greatest hindrance this has on education is lighting. Without cheaper, stable electricity, camps are pitch black at night and as such, any teaching and learning has to happen in the day. And even then, without lights in the classroom, learning takes place in dim lighting during the day too. This affects the quality of education received and these conditions may hinder young people’s ability to learn. Many students find it hard to keep up with school as they cannot do their homework at night, leading to many failing to complete their education.

In developed countries, doing homework to understand concepts late into the night is common practice for many students but these refugees simply do not have this luxury of time during power cuts. Furthermore, without electricity, phones and other electrical devices cannot be charged. These devices are the best alternative these refugees have to education in school as they can access material online or other pre-downloaded files to continue their learning in dark conditions. Without electricity, there is thus, little opportunity for learning at all, making this a great challenge.

2) Access to the Internet

Unlike the speed of Internet connection in developed countries, the connectivity we take for granted is lost in many refugee camps worldwide. The ability to connect is, however, crucial to refugees’ survival. Even if they have the luxury of stable electricity, without the Internet, many struggle to contact their families support or go online to translate information needed to survive in the unknown country they land in. While refugee camps do work to provide Internet access, simply put, the operation is expensive; made worst by how camps are often in the outskirts which lack the required infrastructure to begin with.

This has hindered the spread of education to younger generations in refugee camps. This is especially so for higher education which requires one to carry out collaboration and research; something refugees have no access to without the Internet. Without libraries available or physical educational institutions in refugee camps, their only hope for learning at higher levels would be online but they are still deprived of knowledge because of this.

Records have shown that many youth show interest in self-educating themselves. They want to learn and rely on the Internet to teach themselves new skills or independently pick up from where they left off at school back home. Their efforts are sadly, negated by the lack of Internet access if the required infrastructure is unavailable. Besides, as we know, the whole world is connected via the Internet, making it crucial that these youth have access to it to learn media literacy and how to use relevant software/technology. Truly, having material to learn is one thing but keeping relevant is another crucial aspect for when they go out into the Internet-connected workforce.

Of course, amazing work has been done thus far to counter the problem of Internet access and some camps have managed to successfully get infrastructure up and running. However, the truth of the matter is there are still countless camps facing connectivity issues and offline resources are thus, the most stable, useful option for them right now, given the state of camps.

3) Access to Digital Devices

Source

Even though international organizations like the World Bank have been looking towards online learning, they found that the use of educational applications or offline hardware with the content required already programmed into them is more helpful in the refugee camp context. However, this in itself requires the refugees to have their own smart devices on hand.

Refugee children today understand the importance of such devices for connectivity and many communities see digital devices as crucial for survival. In communities with access to phones (majority of refugees today own smartphones), they are used as tools for education. Teachers and students in refugee camps use social media like Facebook to receive homework feedback and discuss curriculum. Phones are used to give presentations or to find answers to unknown questions, making them essential for effective, interactive classroom learning.

In 2017, it was found that refugees are 50% less likely than people in the developed world to own phones which are new enough to allow for Internet connection. And 29% of refugee households do not have a phone at all. While refugees’ ability to connect is greatly improved today, youth without such devices should not be left out in the learning experience. Furthermore, laptops which may facilitate learning better than phones should students want to type out documents or notes are expensive and bulky. Laptops, if any, will have to be shared due to their limited quantity which hinders the ability to teach large classes. Therefore, there is demand for a more efficient education solution which does not leave any child out of a quality, modern, technology-run education system because of the accessibility of suitable digital devices.

Clearly, there are many interconnected challenges revolving around connectivity when it comes to having access to quality education for refugees but The Patatas would like to propose a solution addressing them that may be of interest.

 

Solution for teaching in Refugee Camps

The Patatas Casestudy

Under The Patatas’ own Project Digi-Eskwela, we came up with CaseStudy, an innovative solution to the aforementioned challenges to education in refugee camps. This creation keeps in line with our vision and mission to use technology effectively to bring positive change to communities in need and we are happy to introduce it to you!

In essence, it is a durable, waterproof, shockproof briefcase packed with ready-packed audio-visual materials required for teaching. CaseStudy has been designed to be easy to carry and able to sustain harsh weather, important for regions with poor infrastructure or prone to natural disasters. The materials are also easily set up regardless of location and it is especially helpful as classes can be carried out without Internet connection, electricity or personal digital devices. In its simplicity, our innovation will allow refugees to experience the education they deserve using technology, helping them keep up with the times.

Besides necessary accessories and audio-visual equipment, we included a Raspberry Pi to store educational resources in. It works as the main content bank in CaseStudy. It works like a charm and can be reprogrammed to suit the teacher’s needs; with about 8GB capacity. It is an asset to countering the challenges of bringing education to refugees as the teacher simply needs to connect the Raspberry Pi to a projector and the content can be displayed; no Internet connection needed! Even better, it comes with a portable charger and does not need a constant electricity supply to run. Cheap and simple, this was a must-have in CaseStudy.

We have also been able to include a portable projector, powered by battery or portable charger as well as speakers to facilitate the dissemination of information in the Raspberry Pi. The best part about CaseStudy is that classes can be conducted even if the lights in camp have been cut. Unlike with using hardcopy worksheets to learn which cannot be read in the dark, CaseStudy’s creative use of technology is specially suited for refugee camp conditions. Besides, projectors work best in the dark anyway, a huge plus point!

With that, our CaseStudy will be suitable to meet the challenges faced in refugee camps. Education will be accessible anywhere, anytime, no matter whether digital devices are available or not; making it key in bringing much-needed education to young refugees, many of whom are not yet engaged in the learning process. Perhaps our use of technology will be the change needed, to bring a modern twist to education in these camps, for the good of the younger generation.

Furthermore, CaseStudy can act as an alternative improvement to the UNICEF’s (The United Nations Children’s Fund) School-in-a-box. School-in-a-box comes in an aluminium case which may rust  and damage quickly. And while the traditional materials offered are necessities in education, it fails to meet the challenges faced as the hardcopy materials cannot be seen clearly if classes are forced to continue in low-light conditions. CaseStudy, however, uses a durable plastic case and makes use of technology which suits the conditions in refugee camps while keeping relevant to these technologically-advanced times. Therefore, we suggest using CaseStudy to improve current educational packages sent to refugee camps – no doubt they will prove a useful addition in meeting current limitations in this movement towards using portable classrooms for refugees.

There is a wide range of issues to address and as populations at these camps increase, more children who ought to be given learning opportunities will be present. It is thus, best that we work on solving this humanitarian crisis together in the most effective ways within our constraints, by making full use of modern technology. We are excited to expand our projects to see what changes CaseStudy can bring as well as to continue innovating and using new technologies to help the world’s underrepresented communities.

Do look out for our future work and if you would like to show your support by sponsoring some refugee camps, feel free to email us here.

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