South Sudan is the newest country on the map, but newfound independence might not always be a call for celebration. After a ghastly civil war, South Sudan gained independence in 2011, but that did not put an end to the unfortunate blood and violence. Two years later, a conflict emerged in South Sudan again, with internal tension between the country’s two largest ethnic groups— the Dinka and the Nuer. The resulting violence, economic decline, disease and displacement of vulnerable individuals is a crisis in itself. The dangerous situation in the country forced millions to leave their homeland in search of a better life, while many are left displaced within the country. This has also impacted on the education of the children within this community, with many of them pausing their studies due to unsuitable learning environment. Most of South Sudan’s refugees currently congregate in refugee camps in the neighbouring countries of Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many of these refugee camps are strained to their maximum capacity, each housing thousands of refugees packed into cramped and unsanitary conditions. Potable water, food and electricity might be things we take for granted in our own countries, but these are all lacking in most refugee camps.
More than 80 percent of those leaving the country fall into the vulnerable demographic of women and young children. Children form the majority of South Sudanese refugees, making up a whopping 63 percent. Many of these children have been separated from their parents amidst all the chaos; some have even had to go through the painful experience of losing their parents amidst the strife.
Essentially, they also lack access to a proper education, driving illiteracy levels in these camps to a peak. In fact, approximately 36 percent of children in the refugee camps within the Maban County in South Sudan have missed significant amounts of proper schooling due to ongoing conflict and displacement from their homes.These children lack access to sufficient nutrition in their developing years, paving them towards a lifetime of poor health. They lack access to crucial vaccinations that can protect them from communicable diseases, leaving them particularly vulnerable.
Life in the refugee camps is harsh— with no guarantees for even sufficient food and clean water, education is the last thing on most refugees’ minds. However, with the significant percentage of children stranded in these camps, providing access to a proper education in these camps is of utmost importance. The lack of education would mean that hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese children will grow up without the opportunities that a proper education brings. As such, there is an urgent need to improve education in the refugee camps.
It is well acknowledged that a proper education is one of the only ways to break the perpetual poverty cycle— providing young children with access to schooling can allow them to develop and gain skills that they can use in the future to secure better jobs and provide more for themselves and their families. Those who grow up without education will usually be stuck in a cycle of low wage, unskilled labour, which translates to a lifetime of hard work and little pay. Escaping the poverty cycle often requires extensive public educational programmes or the foresight of a parent to ensure that their child obtains a proper education. However, these are not options for the South Sudanese refugees, whose conditions severely limit the options available for their children. Thus, despite the need to improve education in the refugee camps, the solutions proposed have to be low cost and innovative.
Within these camps, space is scarce, and classrooms are a luxury that they cannot afford. Teaching and education materials are limited, as priority will go to meeting the daily necessities of food and water. The difficulties in providing the child refugees access to physical educational materials make— not only can a digital device provide access to thousands of online education materials, a single digital device can also be shared among multiple students, making them highly versatile tools for learning. This will help us to overcome the problems of the lack of space for actual physical education materials, make sure that the children are able to learn from a broad variety of updated materials which improves the education in the refugee camp.
The use of digital devices can also help to overcome the problem of a lack of teachers present in the camp, and the difficulties external teachers or volunteers have in travelling to and accessing these camps to carry out lessons for the children. With the use of digital devices, lessons can be conducted remotely via the internet, using online tools such as video conferencing and collaborative documents. The added benefit to online learning is that the children will have the opportunity to become acquainted with using digital devices from a young age, equipping them with valuable basic digital skills when they enter the workforce in the near future.
However, as appealing as online learning with digital devices is, most refugee camps do not have the resources to support such programmes. Basic access to electricity is a rare luxury in the camps, and even when access is provided, they experience regular shortages and disrupted availability. Digital devices such as computers, tablets or smartphones are also hard to come by in the refugee camps. For the children in the refugee camps, this means that most of them will be unable to access educational products online that they can use to further and supplement their studies. The barriers to a proper education for these child refugees remain high, which makes it difficult to improve education in refugee camp. There is a need for us to source for solutions to break down these barriers, bit by bit, so that they can receive the education and opportunities that they deserve. Every child deserves a chance at making the best out of their lives, and providing them with access to a proper education is the first step to that.
Teachers or volunteers who wish to leverage on digital devices to teach in the refugee camps often have to bring a dozen or so devices along, ranging from mobile routers, to projectors and laptops. They often face problems transporting these devices to the refugee camps and back, as they are bulky and heavy. The paths to the refugee camp are also not the most accessible, bringing greater challenges to transporting these devices to the camps.
CaseStudy houses the Raspberry Pi in a waterproof and shockproof unit, ensuring that the device is kept safe amidst all the tough terrains a teacher might encounter on the way to the refugee camp. The Raspberry Pi is a device that functions like a CPU of a computer— but compressed into a small and compact form. It is based on Linux, and can be programmed fully to the needs of the teacher. The Raspberry Pi can store information such as PDFs and videos, and can also be connected to a projector via HDMI ports or a phone or tablet. It is highly versatile and can even be powered by a portable power bank, making it usable even in camps without a constant supply of electricity. It is also extremely affordable compared to a laptop or tablet, as each Raspberry Pi device will only set you back by less than S$100. The Raspberry Pi is a simple way for teachers to utilise technology in teaching the children at the refugee camps, and is integrated into CaseStudy designed by The Patatas. In just a single unit, teachers will be able to supplement their teaching with digital audio and visual aids, opening these communities to technology and lowering the barriers to their education.
The Patatas is currently working with several organisations to bring CaseStudy to communities in Kenya, Myanmar and Bangladesh, so do contact us if you are interested in working with us to improve access to education for child refugees. Education is one of the most valuable things we can provide to a child, as it helps them to grow up and develop cognitively, enabling them to make better decisions when they grow up. A proper education will also equip them with invaluable skills that will help them to get better jobs in the future, securing a better life for themselves and their families. South Sudanese child refugees are stuck in a situation fraught with uncertainty and turmoil that no child deserves to grow up in, and they really would benefit from any help possible. Securing their education is one of the most important steps we can take, and we hope that you can work with us to bring CaseStudy to them to supplement their learning.