Charity turns to tech to reach Syria’s out-of-school children

A global children’s charity is turning to technology to get Syria's out-of-school children back in education

A global children’s charity is turning to technology to spur the delivery of more targeted education to Syrian refugees displaced by war, and unable to attend school.

UK-based Save the Children plans to launch a programme in 2016 that uses digital tools to gauge the level of education among refugee children who, because of the ongoing conflict in Syria, don’t have formal school records.

The approach – which will use low-level technology available in the camps or among refugees, such as mobile phones or tablets – will help the charity assess the grade level the child has reached, moving the NGO a step closer to being able to provide tailor-made lessons for youngsters.

“It could be a game-changer in how we work with children affected by conflict,” said Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, director of programme policy and quality, at Save the Children. “So when you help them with education, you are building on what they already know rather than creating a blanket solution.”

The initiative is part of a three-year programme designed to help out-of-school refugees access quality education. Launched with initial funding of £1m ($1.5m) from UK-based education publishers Pearson, the programme aims to start with young refugees in Jordan next year, according to Owusu-Gyamfi.

The UN estimates that of the 2 million Syrian refugee children in the region, just one in every two is receiving an education. Across the wider Middle East and North Africa, more than 13 million children are unable to attend school, the UN’s children’s fund said in September, leaving their hopes and futures shattered.

There are 300,000 displaced children in Jordan, the result of mass migration from Syria.  Lack of documentation was the third most common barrier – after lack of money and insufficient seats – for 12 to 17-year-olds enrolling in Jordan’s formal education system, according to a report by the UN’s refugee agency in March.

The planned programme is part of the NGO’s strategy to provide a “full spectrum solution” for Syrian refugees, said Owusu-Gyamfi, which packages up immediate relief with development opportunities. The charity encourages parents to send their children to Save the Children’s non-formal education programmes and numeracy and literacy centres when they register the families for emergency aid.

“If we don’t think about the long-term needs of these young children and young people today and we focus purely on short-term medical, food, shelter and traditional relief [needs], we are at risk of getting a whole generation back into society someday with nothing,” said Owusu-Gyamfi. “We can’t afford to lose this generation of children.”

The UN faces a huge gap in funding levels for the Syria crisis. Whereas 71 per cent of the global appeal was secured in 2015, this year it is just 51 per cent, putting even essential items such as medicine and food in jeopardy, noted Owusu-Gyamfi. There are some 5.6 million children in Syria in need of immediate aid, according to the charity, up 31 per cent from 2013.

“We’re beginning to see global pressures on the international aid architecture. But that is still not acceptable… The world is still wealthy enough to be able to afford to contribute to dealing with the needs of children in crisis,” said Owusu-Gyamfi. “[The gap in funding] means these children are at risk of falling even further behind than they already are.”