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Partnership with Microsoft has given us a head-start in responding to education crisis

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The digital platform allows students to access lessons on their mobile devices at any time. © NRC

Mahira Karim

Our partnership with technology providers like Microsoft has given us a head-start in responding to the Covid-19 crisis. We have been able to quickly pivot our education activities to ensure continued access to learning.

Leveraging technology has allowed the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to continue delivering quality education to displaced young people whose education has been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead of becoming paralysed by the lack of opportunities for face-to-face learning, we have responded by swiftly adapting our programmes. We have ensured that young people can continue to learn despite widespread lockdowns, school closures, and health concerns.

We are using technology to support education projects in countries including Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon and Libya, making sure that children and young people from both the displaced and host communities don’t miss another day of learning.

Emergency distance education through technology

“Investing in technology and partnering with the private sector, such as Microsoft Philanthropies, has enabled us to find innovative solutions to this latest crisis,” says Annicken Saxlund, Head of Global Corporate Relations at NRC.

“In Kenya, Ethiopia, and Jordan, we have piloted technology developed by Microsoft, using their e-learning platform to deliver education and training to refugees. The digital platform allows students to access lessons on their mobile devices at any time,” she says.

The platform has enabled us to help displaced young people to expand their digital literacy while at the same time developing the skills that will be vital for their future careers.

“In Kenya, we used this technology to deliver tailored education programmes to trainee hairdressers and car mechanics. Through­­ online training, we are providing them with the basic digital skills they need to succeed in the 21st century,” explains Saxlund.

Hope for education in times of crisis

This technology has also been successfully applied in Ethiopia. Digital literacy learners Merhawi, 18, and Birhane, 26, are from Adi Harush refugee camp in Ethiopia. They explain how they are benefitting from the platform.

“When schools were closing because of the state of emergency, we were confused and losing hope for our education. Now we can learn from home, and at the same time be introduced to the globalised world,” they say.

By helping young people to receive training online, we are giving them an opportunity to create pathways for future employment. “I was worried that the pandemic would affect our training, but online learning makes everything possible,” says Merhawi.

In Jordan, young people and adults from the refugee and host communities have continued their learning from home with the same technology.

“When Covid-19 hit Jordan, we immediately loaded the livelihoods Arabic content to the Microsoft platform, allowing 600 refugees and Jordanians the opportunity to continue their learning from home,” says Saxlund.

Through this technology, refugees in Jordan are accessing soft skills and employability skills as part of the NRC’s Transition to Employment (T2E) project. The online platform has received excellent feedback from students. In a student satisfaction survey, respondents rated the platform more than 9 out of 10 on average for ease of use.

Challenges and opportunities

In times of emergency, we see that investing in technology and private sector partnerships is critical to delivering a rapid response. NRC aims to become a leader in using data and technology to deliver better.

Technology allows us to be better equipped and able to mobilise immediately, providing distance education to children, adolescents and youth when more traditional education responses are not possible, as in the case with Covid-19 pandemic.

However, despite the successes, we face challenges with weak or expensive internet connections and inadequate equipment and infrastructure. We are also facing difficulties in training teachers to use technology in the classroom to improve the learning experience for students.

There is an urgent need to continue to work with the private sector to meet the needs of displaced children and young people, and develop new and lasting solutions.