Using technology to address the educational needs of displaced people

OEB brings together a wide variety of individuals engaged in making technology work for educational purposes. This year, we hope to bring this expertise to bear on technology’s role in addressing the educational needs of the some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world: These are the more than 65 million displaced people, who constitute almost 1% of the global population.


Of this population, approximately 21 million are refugees seeking sanctuary outside their country, and 41 million are internally displaced. The countries hosting the most refugees today are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan. The lands with the largest number of internally displaced people are Syria, Iraq, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Central African Republic and Colombia. With the possible exceptions of Turkey and Colombia, none of these countries is in an economic position to provide more than basic life support to refugees and internally displaced people, and this only with the help of the global community through United Nations agencies, and other humanitarian and development organisations.


A conservative estimate would put the number of displaced children under 18 at 50% of the 65 million, i.e. 32.5 million, and young people between 19 and 26 at a further 6.5 million. This makes around 39 million young people who are likely to be missing out on education, as well as other opportunities for personal fulfilment and economic advancement.


These uprooted people face displacement from home, from security, from livelihoods, and from access to healthcare and education. They are often unwelcome in the communities into which they move and, although they are – in most cases – fleeing from conflict, they may cause social unrest and antipathy within the communities in which they find themselves. The loss of individual opportunity and human potential is immense.


For these populations, access to all levels of education is a major problem. Their needs are complex, as access to education for displaced people is much more likely to be interrupted, to finish at an earlier stage, and to lack the cumulative benefit of a regular education progression. UNHCR figures suggest that 50% of displaced children receive some kind of primary education, only 20% receive any secondary education, and only 1% have access to higher education.


However, even these figures have provisos: While 50% of displaced children receive some kind of primary education, a large proportion of them will probably not complete the full course.  Addressing these gaps in provision is complex and individualised, and it is rare that the host countries have capacity to deal with such issues.


For those who are successful in completing primary school, opportunities for progression into secondary schools are even more limited, and for those who do access it, the issues of interruption and dropout are similar. It is understandable, therefore, that only 1% of displaced young people partake in higher education. There is also limited provision of technical and vocational education leading to skills useful in a changing workplace, and employment opportunities in most countries with refugees and displaced populations are notoriously few, even for the native inhabitants.


Displaced young people are therefore more likely to be poorly educated, unable to find work (due to the lack of both skills and opportunities), traumatised, socially and culturally impoverished, and lacking life choices.


There are moral, social, and humanitarian imperatives to provide education and training opportunities that lead to improved life choices and sustainable livelihoods for these young people, and technology has a key role in expanding access and increasing the scale and impact of education interventions for them.


At OEB 2017, a panel session will look at some innovative approaches to using technology to provide educational opportunities to young people in countries in the proximity of conflict zones. A separate participative and collaborative ‘world café’ session will look at ways technology is being deployed in educational initiatives for refugees, including measures that


• aid displaced people in neighbouring countries

• address needs of people in transit

• provide access to local and international scholarships

• support refugees within Europe.


In the context of these examples, it is hoped that participants will contribute practical recommendations for improving and scaling up provision, as well as for drawing some broader principles that apply to the use of technology in improving the education and overall life prospects of displaced people.


 Written by Gordon Slaven

One Response

  1. Ferhana Dostmohamed

    This is a brilliant initiative. It has been on my mind for a few years now and I’m so happy to see that there is momentum on it.

    I couldn’t attend the event, but I would appreciate if there is a way to be part of the ongoing conversation. As a learning professional for over 15 years, and with experience in helping build the case and deploy technology based learning globally, I would like to do my part and help.


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