An online school solution for 1 million refugee children

Education is a right often denied to those who have fled their country. Nearly half of refugee children are out of school according to the United Nations, and due to recent conflicts, this number continues to rise.

To help tackle this, Dubai-based Mohammed Bin Rashid Global Initiatives has launched the Digital School, which aims to educate one million refugee and underprivileged children by 2026.

The initiative started with a pilot phase in 2020, and this year it was officially launched in five countries: Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Mauritania and Colombia. In 2022, it is expected that up to 20,000 students will be able to access it and 500 teachers will be trained. 120 learning centers will also be established that will provide educational content in Arabic, French, Spanish and English.

Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, who is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Digital School, tells us: “We choose places that have basic infrastructure, so that they have electricity and a certain level of broadband connectivity. If these places are not developed, we are at least able to provide access and service,” He explains before adding: “The content is downloadable to tablets: this is how we provide the tutorial for them.”

Partnerships for the future

The Digital School is a global alliance of more than 35 international academic, educational and research institutions such as UNESCO, UNICEF, Harvard University and Arizona State University.

The Secretary-General of the “Digital School” Walid Al-Ali explains: “We believe in partnerships and that is why this alliance for the future of digital learning is really our goal. It is our way of bringing together partners from different sectors, from education, technology, academia, government and leadership to a more complete model of the ubiquitous digital school where we reject the concept,” He says.

The initiative is also being implemented in partnership with a number of Dubai-based entities, including Dubai Cares, the Emirates Red Crescent and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority. These entities build learning centers in refugee camps and remote areas while using existing spaces. Agreements with governments and institutions have overcome challenges such as communication. Local suppliers, for example, have agreed to provide free internet access.

Adaptable content

The Digital School is adapted to the needs and educational programs of each country. Under the supervision of a teacher or coordinator, digital learning materials are uploaded and students learn at their own pace.

The approach is to help students develop resilience and adaptability so they can make the most of challenging conditions, says Leslie Snowball, director of education at The Digital School. “It gives them basic knowledge and skills for their immediate future and in the long run, it keeps them in the education system,” she insists. “Students in our digital school will feel like they belong in a larger community and know that that community truly cares about them and their potential,” She adds.

Waleed Al-Ali says that the initiators of the project were surprised by the continuing educational pace of teachers, facilitators and students. “People assume that because these are members of under-resourced societies, they will be slow to recognize them: in fact, they understand very quickly and are eager to learn,” He indicates.

Access to education can change lives

During its pilot phase, the “Digital School” took off significantly two years ago in Jordan, in the Emirati-Jordanian Marajeeb Al Fhood camp hosting Syrian refugees. Then 60 students attended. Today there are more than 750.

Fatima al-Jabawi, the refugee herself, followed the training program for six months to become a facilitator in the “digital school” located in the camp. She says this experience gave her a sense of responsibility and initiative. As for the students, the school strengthens their skills so that they can move from one level to another. Define that “digital school” “It issues them with degrees that are recognized all over the world: allowing them to later integrate high schools or universities.”

Access to education can change lives. This is the meaning of this unique international initiative. This online education brings hope for the future of these children and their communities.

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