By Michael Corlin and Johannes Kiess
Uganda hosts 1.3 million refugees – the highest number of refugees in any country in Africa and the third largest in the world today. Half are children.
These girls and boys live in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Food can be hard to come by, and access to safe, reliable education, learning materials, qualified teachers is an ongoing challenge. Access to any sort of learning technology (even a simple computer) is extremely limited.
The good news is that the Government of Uganda is committed to continue helping these refugee children to access quality education.
Education Cannot Wait – a new global fund that seeks to mobilize US$1.8 billion to provide access to education for 8.9 million children living in crisis by 2021 – facilitated the development of the Uganda Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities and contributed US$11 million in seed funding to launch it.
Overall, the 3.5-year plan seeks to mobilize US$389 million to benefit half a million refugee and host community children and youth. This includes recruiting 9,000 teachers each year, and building 3,000 classrooms annually.
Central to Uganda’s Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities, and in line with the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, is the need for improved coordination of all aspects of education delivery. This includes the development, roll out and expansion of EdTech.
To more effectively pilot technology deployments in these settings, Education Cannot Wait has brokered a collaboration with HP, Learning Equality, the Global Business Coalition for Education, and UNHCR. HP pledged to donate technology and resources to leverage Learning Equality’s Kolibri offline learning platform to improve the learning outcomes of Uganda’s Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities. The collaboration builds on existing collective work in Uganda by UNICEF, UNHCR, Learning Equality and others.
“Technology is a tool that has the potential to elevate millions of young people out of marginalization and poverty. It empowers girls and boys with previously unavailable information, new networks and channels to learn and develop 21st century skills,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. “Technology partnerships like this mean a brighter future for the 1.3 million refugees in Uganda, and the 75 million children and youth living in crisis worldwide that are in need of immediate educational support.”
ASSESSING THE NEEDS AND DESIGNING SOLUTIONS
Technology can be a game changer, if put to work properly. Contextualization is essential. Technology deployments for education in crisis, in particular, need to be specifically designed with the user, work within the existing technological and societal ecosystem, and be collaborative, scalable, data-driven and open-sourced.
Technological solutions that may prove highly effective in the United States or Denmark, may need to be shifted to meet local needs and capacities in other places. For hardware, technology that is energy efficient, user-friendly and durable will be essential for deployment in these hardship locations. Most importantly, perhaps, technology needs to do no harm.
In November, UNICEF organized a field visit for HP, Learning Equality and Education Cannot Wait to Kampala-area sites to assess hardware and software needs in local schools, consult with government and local stakeholders, and identify suitable solutions. This included a visit in two secondary schools where students have access to resources to develop science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and practical skills through the Kolibri software.
The field visit confirmed the popularity of technology with students, the potential of supporting teachers in classrooms and the opportunity to complement teacher-led instructions with technology.
For this pilot, we determined that both hardware and software are needed. In this case, HP will be providing the hardware – an HP School Cloud – while Learning Equality will be providing the software – Kolibri, which has already been tested in the country and contains content that has been vetted and organized according to the Ugandan curriculum.
We believe that integrated technology can be a key component in delivering lessons, and connecting teachers with training materials to improve educational outcomes in refugee hosting districts in Uganda. Through this pilot program in Uganda, we aim to identify the right tools and technology to support larger deployments for multi-year education programmes that the Fund is helping to develop and launch in other countries affected by crisis.
PARTNERING FOR SUCCESS
To effectively deliver technology as a learning solution for the children and youth uprooted by conflict, or living in the midst of war zones, emergencies and disasters, we need to take a multi-pronged approach that leverages multiple partnerships, context-specific technology and human-based solutions, and to empower people with the training and tools they need to effectively integrate technology into mainstream education.
Partnership with HP
HP is an industry leader for education technology. The technology super giant aims to enable better learning outcomes for 100 million people by 2025. For the pilot project in Uganda, HP will engage Learning Equality as a key collaborator to deploy its HP School Cloud and the Kolibri learning platform in select schools delivering education to refugee and host communities children in the spring of 2019. The project will be extended to a number of additional schools over the course of the year to benefit thousands of children.
“Education Cannot Wait is the ideal partner to identify and deploy effective, scalable education solutions to marginalized populations. Together with Learning Equality and ECW, it is HP’s intention to amplify our work in Uganda to serve refugee students around the world,” said Gus Schmedlen, Vice President for Education, HP.
To engineer sustainability into this pilot in Uganda’s refugee-hosting districts from the start, UNHCR will integrate the HP school cloud in existing initiatives and plans that align to governmental priorities and ensure all children will benefit from transformative learning labs. These initiatives already deploy the Kolibri learning platform in schools and refugee centers in Uganda and other countries.
Ensuring linkages with national EdTech stakeholders
Education Cannot Wait and UNICEF organized an “EdTech event” to bring together a wide range of Ugandan and international stakeholders including Aga Khan Foundation, Maarifasasa, Response Innovation Lab, Maendeleo Foundation, Save the Children, War Child Holland, Windle, Woman in Tech, World Bank, Xavier Project, and Yarid with an interest in improving learning outcomes through information and communications technology (ICT). It was encouraging to see other pilot programmes/approaches which also have accessibility, learning, scalability and sustainability at their core. The EdTech event took place at the Hive Colab, the first technology and innovation hub for ICT entrepreneurs in Kampala.
This was also an opportunity for representatives from HP, Learning Equality, Education Cannot Wait and the Ugandan National Curriculum Development Centre to share lessons on sustainability, curricula, teacher empowerment and community involvement, providing precious guidance for effective project formulation and to ensure linkages to the wider EdTech environment in Uganda.
DEPLOYING TECHNOLOGY AS A LEARNING SOLUTION IN CRISES SETTINGS
The key element to deploying technology in emergencies is about Connecting People with Technology.
Not all refugee settlements benefit from 4G internet connectivity. In Uganda, this challenge is being addressed by creating local networks within the pilot sites. These work basically as an intranet to run offline server platforms like Kolibri, connect people, and ensure access to educational materials. Power – or the lack of electricity grid – is another obstacle to address to ensure connectivity. Yes, you need to power these devices and we will rely on existing solar powered systems or the grid, where available, and if not, bring solar power to schools.
No matter how successful one is at setting up the necessary hardware, the most important element is the human factor. You can’t just give people a computer and expect them to assimilate the new technology. The success of the pilot will lie in the users’ agency and involvement. This is why engagement with communities, and sharing lessons learned with other EdTech providers, is key for all partners involved.
- United Nations Technology Innovation Labs
- Edtech in Emergencies: What the Evidence Shows Us – INEE
- Principles for Innovation and Technology in Development – Unicef
- Digital Technology for the Education of Displaced Children in MENA – World Bank Group
- Uganda Education Response
About the authors
Johannes Kiess is an Innovative Finance Adviser at Education Cannot Wait.
Michael Corlin is the Education Cannot Wait Country Lead for Uganda.