Refugee education is in crisis. Nearly half of all refugee children are not attending school according to the latest UNHCR figures and with recent disruptions globally, the number continues to rise.
Determined to make a difference and change lives, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Global Initiatives Foundation in Dubai launched The Digital School and is aiming to enrol one million refugees and underprivileged children over the next five years.
A pilot stage of The Digital School was initiated in 2020 and the first phase was officially launched this year across five countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Mauritania and Colombia. Up to 20,000 students are set to enrol this year, along with training 500 teachers. 120 learning centres will also be rolled out, providing educational material in Arabic, French, Spanish and English.
Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama, the UAE Minister of State for Ai, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, who is also Chairman of The Digital School board, told Euronews: “We are choosing locations that do have a certain baseline of infrastructure. So they have electricity, they have some sort of broadband connectivity. If it's not high end, at the least we are able to give them access to the services. We download the content on these tablets and actually provide the tablets with the educational curriculum.”
Partnerships for the future
The Digital School has a global alliance of more than 35 international organisations, with academic, educational and research institutions, such as UNESCO, UNICEF, Harvard, and Arizona State University. The Secretary General of The Digital School, Dr Waleed Al Ali stated: “We believe in partnerships and that's why the Alliance for the future of digital learning is our aim, our method to bring partners from different sectors, like education, technology, academia, governments… to ensure we have a more rounded model for the digital school in every location.”
The initiative is also in partnership with a number of Dubai based authorities including Dubai Cares, The Emirates Red Crescent and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority. These establishments are building learning centres in refugee camps and remote areas, as well as utilising existing spaces. Agreements with different governments and international institutions have helped overcome various challenges, including connectivity – with local telecom providers supplying free internet access.
Education for change
The Digital School adapts to each country’s needs and national curriculum. With the guidance of a teacher or facilitator, digital educational material is uploaded and learning is self-paced.
The Education Director of The Digital School, Dr Lesley Snowball, revealed their approach helps students develop the resilience and adaptability needed to make the most of challenging circumstances. She told Euronews: “It gives them essential knowledge and skills for their immediate and longer-term future… we believe students will feel a sense of belonging to a wider community, and they'll understand the wider world community actually cares about them and their potential.”
Dr Waleed Al Ali the Secretary General of The Digital School added they were surprised at the learning pace of teachers, facilitators and students. He said: “People assume because they are underserved communities and less fortunate, they will be slow on getting on board … they are very smart. They get it and are hungry for more.”
The Emirati Jordanian refugee camp in Mrajeeb Al Fhood for Syrian refugees as part of the pilot phase was launched two years ago, with 60 students. Today there are more than 750 pupils enrolled.
Fatima Al Gabawy, a refugee herself, underwent the six-month training program to become a facilitator at the school. She revealed the experience gave her a sense of responsibility and initiative. For students, Fatima told Euronews, “[The Digital School] helps strengthen [them] in studying in [their] transition from one stage to another, and there are certificates provided by The Digital School that are globally recognised to qualify for universities or colleges in the future.”
Access to education and development can be a life-changer, and through this one of a kind global initiative and its potential reach, The Digital School has given a huge sense of hope for the future to these children and their communities.
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