Connecting to education in a time of crisis

11 November 2021 | William Natta

Cover

William Natta

Blog Author | Guest contributor

Cover

William Natta, communication officer at Télécoms Sans Frontières, outlines the importance of connectivity in education – and how the NGO supports children in crisis

Digital connectivity is an aspect of our lives that we have grown to expect and rely on. Over the past 18 months, and in the face of a global pandemic, individuals worldwide have become ever-more reliant on laptops and phones to stay connected, work from home, and continue their education. But for those fleeing a crisis, this fundamental access to devices and connectivity is challenged.

In a time of crisis, children are often the most vulnerable. Amid this chaos, the continuation of education, although important, is often de-prioritised. Added to this is the difficulty many face in accessing physical devices such as laptops, and connecting to a reliable, secure, affordable network.

It’s not just the lack of resources disrupting these children’s learning, however. During humanitarian crises, children face traumas that can cause learning difficulties and low self-confidence. They also need a safe and welcoming environment and an approach to education that is adapted to the circumstances they have experienced.

But for those displaced from their homes, where schools are closed and access to resources is limited, this cannot always be achieved.

The continuation of education is a key focal point for Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF). As the world’s first NGO focused on emergency response technologies, TSF works to build rapid-response communications infrastructure during humanitarian crises. From its early days, these activities have been at the core of TSF’s identity, but over the years the NGO has adapted its solutions to support vulnerable groups in other ways. One of these is through its work in the field of education.

TSF helps to ensure that children can safely continue their education, with a focus on digital activities as a means to increase their self-confidence and help them regain the willingness to learn. The programmes are based on the concept of “learning by doing” and offer students the opportunity to develop the digital and soft skills needed to strengthen their prospects and encourage their independence and critical thinking.

Lab4Future

Building on the positive results of the mLearning activities started in 2013 in Syria, in January 2020 TSF created Lab4Future, a project that has been providing support to vulnerable Syrian refugee children in Gaziantep, Turkey, through education and digital technologies. Through a specific and innovative pedagogical approach, and building on TSF’s technical expertise, the project gives these children the possibility to regain control of their lives, by encouraging curiosity and positive interactions between peers. It is also designed to help them rebuild the foundations on which to build new perspectives for their present and future.

Since 2011, the Syrian conflict has fuelled a global refugee crisis, with 5.6 million individuals fleeing the war-torn country. The vast majority of Syrian refugees – some 3.6 million – have travelled to Turkey in search of a new life. Today, a disproportionate 50% of this displaced population are children, and around 400,000 are left without any access to education.

The Lab4Future project consists of four core digital activities: computing and internet workshops, programming and robotics workshops, electricity workshops and fabrication workshops.

Continuing education during the Covid-19 pandemic

During the Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure students could continue their classes, TSF had to find new and innovative ways to ensure that all children on the Lab4Future programme had the necessary access to resources.

Throughout this time, TSF evolved its programme and continued teaching by providing access to remote, digital learning capabilities through online platforms. TSF used WhatsApp and daily video conferences, ensuring regular follow-ups were made with the children, and designed workshops that could be easily delivered outside of a “conventional” classroom setting, meaning there was no disruption to the children’s learning.

The Lab4Future project can also help these children to more easily integrate into a new country and education system and contribute to giving them the best possible opportunities.

Providing humanitarian support to those who need it most In the aftermath of a crisis, many children are left injured and have often witnessed traumatic scenes. Many have had their homes destroyed and their families and communities uprooted. And amid this crisis and conflict, access to education is often a low priority. TSF’s work to continue these young people’s educational development is designed to help them rebuild their lives.