SEATTLE — Education remains difficult to access for many students, with 75 million children around the world out of school. Conflict, natural disasters and weak state infrastructure can make school inaccessible for youth. Additional difficulties such as a shortage of teachers in 74 countries, less than 2 percent of humanitarian aid going towards education and mass displacement means that students across the globe have their education interrupted.
Working against these devastating realities are innovative educators who found learning alternatives to continue children’s education outside of schools. Mobile learning, schools outside of traditional settings and educational innovations for interrupted learners are all changing the landscape for students out of school.
Mobile learning is on the rise as technology transforms education outside of schools. A mobile phone is one of the few possessions displaced people will bring with them, and educators are capitalizing on this resource. Other innovators are using programs that just require a computer and internet access for learning. Some organizations have even started using solar-powered technology.
Many Syrian families use smartphones. The EduApp4Syria competition has created two learning applications to build literacy skills in Arabic, improve psychosocial wellbeing and educate about Syrian culture. The necessity of education outside of schools during a six-year conflict has prompted this initiative, which allows children to learn through engaging games requiring minimal adult supervision.
In South Sudan, the NGO Across uses solar-powered digital audio players to train teachers, enabling previously unreached children to learn how to read and allowing 39 new schools and learning groups to give lessons.
Funded by the European Commission, Erasmus+ Online Linguistic Support is a program accessible with any computer, tablet or smartphone with an internet connection that is helping 100,000 refugees gain the language skills to integrate into Europe’s education systems. This program allows an interrupted education to continue in a new space.
Schools without walls are changing the game for education access. While the typical vision of a school as a building with desks and a blackboard may not be possible in certain areas, some educators are taking education outside of schools literally. Teachers and community leaders around the world are gathering learning groups wherever they can find space, whether that means outside, in tents, mosques or private homes. Even if governments are not providing official schooling, teachers and students are continuing to create educational spaces.
Rahmatullah Arman, the founder of Teach for Afghanistan, is working to provide quality learning to students who continued to gather even when there were no desks, no chairs and sometimes no teachers. Working with the local community, Arman is inspiring graduates from Afghan universities to teach. Thanks to these efforts, 23,000 students are now receiving an education through Teach for Afghanistan fellows.
Read India, a program pioneered by the Pratham Education Foundation, is utilizing education outside of schools to enhance learning within. While enrollment levels are high, foundational skills weren’t being built. Read India is addressing this through Learning Camps and community libraries that improve reading, writing and arithmetic skills for children based off of skill level, not grade level. The community libraries can be in schoolyards, public spaces or a community member’s house. Families and community members use the libraries to help children receive learning support outside of classes. So far, there are 19,587 libraries, and the number continues to grow.
A lack of school buildings hasn’t stopped Syrian refugee children from receiving education in Turkey. The Turkish government created Temporary Education Centers. With 432 currently in place educating 302,777 children, these facilities are providing education outside of schools while the government builds new schools over the next three years. To further ensure no interruption in Syrian children’s education, Turkey introduced the double-shift school system: Turkish schoolchildren remain on their day-to-day school schedule, and in the afternoons and evenings the schools are used to teach Syrian children to maximize educational spaces.
Education after the interruption is another important consideration for children who have been out of school. Interrupted schooling can mean that students are old for their grade and displaced with a different primary language, and some struggle to adjust or face anxiety. Even if students experienced education outside of schools, the transition back into the school system requires educational innovations specifically for interrupted learners.
UNICEF is working in eastern Ukraine to rebuild schools, but its educational efforts don’t stop there. Providing students with psychological support, counseling, catch-up classes and education on avoiding landmines, UNICEF understands that simply rebuilding the educational facilities isn’t enough; interrupted learners need support outside of schools to successfully transition back.
Due to high numbers of school-aged children, schools for refugees sometimes have a maximum age for attending, which closes educational opportunities for students displaced after secondary school or for long periods of time. Vocational training is one way for students to find education outside of schools. Lynke is currently working with tech companies to employ displaced people, providing them with a six-month training course that gives them a globally-recognized certificate from Microsoft. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency has also created a vocational training program helping young folks find jobs.
Teacher training can make the largest impact on interrupted learners; the best educational innovators around the world are creating training materials to help educators with interrupted learners. From classroom strategies, conflict-sensitive educational programs to responsive practices that account for student development before, during, and after interruption, teachers across the globe are trained to better support children whose education has been interrupted by the crisis. No matter the level of education the children have received, teachers are equipping themselves to meet the challenge.
For the 75 million children out of school, the situation is dire. Yet, hardworking organizations, teachers and communities are working with scarce resources to create opportunities for education outside of schools. With creativity, collaboration and commitment, these innovators are finding education alternatives that can turn the tide for millions of children.
– Irena Huang