According to UNHCR, 89.3 million people were forced to become refugees at the end of 2021. And due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, UNHCR estimated that the refugee number in the world would soon reach the threshold of 100 million. Such a figure can be cold for others but in this reality, refugees are struggled to maintain their basic human rights every day. Undoubtedly, they are facing huge pressure in gaining education and work training. As Human Rights Watch reported, among the 660000 school-aged Syrian refugee children, 30 percent of them have never been to school in Lebanon. Imagine a six years old little boy living in a refugee camp in Lebanon. He would have no education, no basic knowledge of this world and himself. It can be seen that this kid will suffer from a lack of knowledge and identity in this childhood and adulthood.
Luckily, there is a solution to this issue today: Digital Education. As we all experienced, the covid-19 Pandemic has forced the world to accept and adopt online education, work, and training in 2022. It seems reasonable to assume that online education and training could be a mature solution to fulfill the refugees’ education and training need globally. With this assumption buried in our minds, we are curious about the current progress of digital education: Who can provide digital education? How does it help refugees?
Under the UN Framework: Digital Inclusion Program
In 2022, UNHCR, a special U.N entity dealing with refugee issues launched the “Digital Inclusion Program(DIP)”. It is dedicated to providing equal, meaningful, and safe access to and use of digital technologies and opportunities in the digital space for everyone, everywhere, without leaving behind those in vulnerable positions or traditionally marginalized and equity-seeking groups. More specifically, UNHCR begins to focus on the importance of digital access to refugees daily life including in aiding their education and training. DIP makes it possible for people like you and me to initiate digital education projects funded by the DIP and UNHCR.
In general, DIP functioned as an incubator to aid grassroots-based digital aid solutions that would promote refugees' ability to utilize digital tools. It demonstrated a trend to include refugees' digital needs in the aid program. In the academic term, DIP conducted several pieces of research on the refugee's digital connectivity reality. These researches can be used as benchmarks for further studies and practical aiding programs. In practical terms, DIP is dedicated to providing program, financial, technical, and capacity support to individual digital inclusion proposals. This support would effectively integrate resources and build a functional framework for grassroots-level digital aid programs on a global scale.
The effort of the Non-UN Stakeholders: Digital Training and High Education
In a state of displacement, students always faced huge difficulties in pursuing higher education due to the lack of resources in the refugee camps. The lack of education is devastating for any student who is pursuing a university degree or a career-directed training program. With the Syrian civil war creating the largest group of refugees since the Cold War, the demand for education and training has increased dramatically. These needs for education had triggered various actors’ attention and investment resources in digital education that are specifically designed for refugee students that wished to receive professional courses and training.
In 2015, Krion, a free online learning platform was established to aid refugees in education and professional training. It has the ambition to provide digital aid to Syrian Refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. Thus, Krion offers online studies by applying massive open online courses(MOOCs). In general, the online education of Krion is provided to college-level students and provides them with education and skills for the job market. Later in 2017, the PADILEIA program was established also to aid refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. By cooperating with The American University of Beirut and King’s College London, the PADILEIA program is able to offer students a vast range of courses in language study, professional training, and university-level courses in Business & Economics, and Computer Science. By participating in digital education programs like Krion and PADILEIA, a refugee student that lost his school and classroom can acquire high education and training with simply a laptop and wifi connection in the refugee camp. Him/her would be able to learn a foreign laguna and skills to find a job. Furthermore, he/her can apply university education with these courses they learned and begin a new life.
As mentioned above, both Krion and PADILEIA focused on a vision of digital professional training and high education. By providing digitalized certificates and training, refugees can benefit in their future academic and career paths. However, these programs required a high level of internet hardware accessibility. This reality means that students also need to master digital skills in online study and communication before and during the study program. Thus, these two programs have a natural barrier to student selection.
The effort of the Non-UN Stakeholders: Digital Basic Education
A Syrian second-generation refugee’s life in a camp in Lebanon can be difficult. Despite the physical deficiencies, the shortage in education and communication could be more difficult. It is extremely difficult for a young child in that shoes without proper fundamental education to acquire proper knowledge to build their view of the world. However, digital education provided by various stakeholders can effectively help children that lack educational resources.
To tackle refugees’ basic education needs, Learning Equality worked alongside UNHCR, it established the Kolibri platform to provide education to the groups with limited internet access. Kolibri is an adaptable set of open solutions specially developed to support learning for half of the world without Internet access. Once the user downloaded Kolobri on his/her device, it can utilize its course resources without the continuing connection to the internet. Within Kolibri, a young kid and his/her teachers can access numerously digitalized course materials. It provided him with the self-study ability to learn courses in all aspects and in multiple languages. A young kid can build an understanding of his culture and language just with a PC or a smartphone in the refugee camp.
In 2020, UAE laughed The Digital School(TDS) to provide online and hybrid education to refugee students. Unlike, what Learning Equality and Kolobri did, TDS engaged in a traditional online-course format to offer online courses. It received its first branch of students from the Syrian refugees' campus in 2021. And with an organized education system, TDS would provide students with a certificate that can be validated for their future university admission or career. With the successful result in 2021, TDS aimed to provide online education to 20000 students in 2022. In long term, it is dedicated to providing education to one million students by the year 2026.
Unlike high education, digital aid to basic education needs to overcome the barrier of language and hardware. Learning Equality and TDS had begun to tackle these two issues with efforts in resources and digital innovation. Predictably, more young kids would benefit from these programs.