Affordable “Back to School” ICT Solutions for Marginalized Students

by · September 29, 2014

Back to schoolThis month’s Tech Top 10 explores how technology can help with going “Back to School” – wherever you live and whatever age you are.

One area where technology has demonstrated a recent impact is supporting people at time of disruption. In particular, education in refugee camps and following emergencies (like earthquakes or other natural disasters) is without doubt a very difficult mission. The difficulty originates not only from the diverse population, the lack of adequate resources, infrastructure and facilities; but also from the usual lack of security, the language barriers and scarce availability of trained or qualified teachers.

This is where ICT can make a difference and be a “solution” to at least some of those obstacles.

International relief organizations and research organizations have been working in the field of using and integrating ICT in refugee-education for over a decade now. However, with the advancement in ‘solar powered classrooms’ a huge leap could be witnessed, as access to power has often been a huge challenge in these environments.

Uganda is a very good example of how ICT can solve some of the tough issues related to refugee education. Uganda, a country located in the African Great Lakes region, has suffered since the mid-1990s from civil war and political unrest, which resulted in an internally displaced population that reaches 1.4 million. Mostly due to security concerns, lack of infrastructure as well as teachers, there has been a huge school dropout rate.

Mobile Solar Classrooms in Uganda

In Uganda, and as part of the UN Millennium Villages Project, ‘Mobile Solar Computer Labs’ were installed in difficult-to-reach secondary schools. These computer labs are ‘mobile’ and are carried on the backseats of a Toyota RAV4 from one location to another to serve a widely dispersed student population.  Low-wattage netbooks, solar panels, collapsible desks, chairs and a robust tent accompanied by two teachers, were all carried on that vehicle, to reach the even remotest locations of Uganda. The portable solar classroom serves a wide range of pupils, students as well as vocational trainees. In the last month, beneficiaries have reached 200 students per day.

India, is another example of how ICT provides quality education to long-abandoned children. Although being one of the fastest growing economies, India has one third of the world’s poor. Poverty has been for decades the main reason behind very low school enrollment rates and school dropouts. Dropouts have been especially high amongst children of migrant laborers, who are counted to the most disadvantaged and marginalized part of population.  Migration leads usually to resettlement in new locations, other than the native village or city, and thereby having limited access to schools and educational facilities. In India, a solution was developed that combines the local community-radio and telephone-based systems to provide marginalized children with the basics of literacy, numeracy and hygiene.To attract listeners, the content is based on  the Indian version of Sesame Street. 1.4 million benefited from this free service to date.

Of course, usage of these technologies does not have to be confined to countries like India and Uganda. Many places in the Middle East also face challenges with large rural communities – or intermittent access to power – that could benefit from these types of ICT.

In Qatar, outside of Doha, tools like solar power help to generate our iPark in Simaisma whilst peripatetic learning tools have also been used to support digital inclusion work with Qatari women and other communities. You can find out more about that work here and see our wider examples of tech enabling Back to School technologies in the slides below.



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