SEATTLE — The six-year civil war in Syria has displaced millions of families and forced 2.5 million children out of school. Many displaced children experience trauma and high levels of stress as a result of their experiences in the Syrian civil war. Adding to this trauma is their limited access to educational opportunities. In January 2016, recognizing the need for education for refugees, All Children Reading partnered with a Norway-led coalition to introduce the EduApp4Syria competition.
Up to 86 percent of children in Syrian refugee camps have access to a smartphone, and smartphone technology can facilitate continued learning for millions of out-of-school children.
EduApp4Syria is a competition that asks game developers to create and submit open-source smartphone apps that encourage literacy and psychosocial skills for Syrian refugee children aged five to 10. A total of 78 developers from around the world submitted games. A jury evaluated the apps for literacy, psychosocial well-being, Arabic language and Syrian culture and tested these apps on Syrian children.
EduApp4Syria announced two winners at the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week in March. The winners were “Antura and the Letters,” a smartphone app developed by Cologne Game Lab that uses a dog named Antura to give vocabulary lessons, and “Feed the Monsters,” a puzzle game by Apps Factory that teaches children how to read in Arabic. Players create their own pet monster and help it grow by feeding it words and letters that the monster shouts back to the player. “Feed the Monsters” helps children practice literacy, accuracy and speed.
The winning apps allow children to learn despite their trauma and stress. Not only do the games teach basic literacy skills, but they also impart social emotional learning skills that help with positive brain development. The EduApp4Syria competition partners want to move to the next level, partnering with humanitarian organizations and mobile operators to facilitate easier access to learning games. Because of their open source licenses, “Antura and the Letters” and “Feed the Monsters” can be adapted into other languages for children around the world.
The world cannot wait for conflict resolution to address the global education crisis. Innovative solutions, like smart phone education for refugees, help children develop and learn despite the conflict around them. Literacy affords children more economic opportunities, which in turn helps the overall stability of societies.
The rise in personal technology is a reality of today’s world. Contemporary refugees have access to technology, like smartphones, which creates an opportunity for creative refugee education. Phones offer access to curriculum, languages and other resources.
Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya opened in 1992 when displaced Sudanese escaped to Kenya in the midst of Sudan’s second civil war. Around 200,000 refugees from 20 countries live in Kakuma today; the number of refugees grew substantially in 2013 after renewed conflict in South Sudan.
Right now there are 21 primary schools and five secondary schools in Kakuma that average 150-300 students per class, with a ratio of 10 students to one book. This makes teaching difficult, particularly because refugee students come from a variety of language backgrounds.
Teachers in Kenya are creating networks through Facebook and WhatsApp to share teaching techniques and solutions to the growing challenges of teaching in Kakuma. These networks allow teachers quick access to information and innovative solutions that are inexpensive and use existing technology, like smartphones.
One teacher in Kakuma is working with his WhatsApp network to teach men in Kenya the importance of sending girls to school. Men — fathers, husbands and brothers — attend online training sessions and discussions via a WhatsApp group to learn about girls’ education.
These are just a few success stories of smartphone education for refugees. Sustainable and inexpensive use of personal technology and mobile learning can help spread the global conversation about refugee education.
– Rachel Cooper