Innovation turning the tide in refugee camps

Wednesday October 27 2021

Many children are attracted to games and lessons on the internet - and, so, they have been visiting the lab regularly every time they leave school. PHOTO | JACOB MOSENDA

By Jacob Mosenda

Being forced to flee ones country for security reasons comes with numerous challenges that can lead to one missing out on basic necessities.

The challenges for an asylum seeker are said to be thrilling and frequently long-lasting and can affect multiple aspects of human life including access to education.

Children in refugee camps are also left behind in various matters, including online or digital education - and this deprives them of equal opportunities with their non-refugee peers.

However, in some of the most popular refugee camps in the country, innovations are changing the scenario. Children in these camps enjoy their education from plenty of learning materials, both physical and online.

In Nduta Camp - one of the camps for Burundian refugees in Kibondo District, Kigoma Region, Success witnessed modern learning materials, including tablets and the internet, a development that poses a lesson to the country’s education sector.

Children seem to enjoy the lessons and one cannot tell they are from refugee families.


For instance, when Ms Ntiharirizwa Evangeline, 35, arrived in Nduta Camp in 2016 with her husband and four children, she never imagined that her children would ever get the best education as their off-camp colleagues.

Before leaving her country, Evangeline believed her children would get a better education, but when she found herself running away from the place she had called home for years, she couldn’t imagine seeing her children enjoying all aspects of education.

“The camp is a big but enclosed and protected area. You can’t go out or do big business that will allow you to give your children a better education,” she explains.

However, she says her children are now enjoying the lessons due to the innovations made by some of the NGOs in the camp and she feels lucky.

“These are services that you can’t get even in our schools outside the camp. In fact, I can now see the light ahead for children even though we do not yet know our fate as refugees,” she explains.

Schools in these camps have been facing many challenges according to teachers interviewed by Success. Many were unable to prepare lessons due to lack of internet and study materials.

Leonce Nitegeka, headmaster of Juhudi Primary School, says because they have been using their home (Burundi) syllabus and subjects need to be updated regularly the absence of internet in the past made them very anxious.

He says teachers were forced to use the only available physical materials and it was very difficult for students to understand actual things, thus many lacked motivation to continue with school.

“The education that we provided did not make the student want to attend classes. Many dropped out and it was difficult for parents to persuade them to return,” explains Nitegeka.

Refug PIC

Children follow various lessons through the iPad, which is one of the learning materials available in the Ideas Box building. PHOTO | COURTESY.

What is changing the story?

Dubbed the Ideas Box, a portable toolkit that is designed to equip vulnerable populations like migrants or refugees with customised technologies and programming to access critical information, the innovation is said to be impacting education in the camps.

The toolkit features an internet connection, computers and tablets, educational resources, books, a movie theater and contents on the rights of children.

Experts say the innovation offers a safe and welcoming space for children and young people as a complement to their classroom learning as well as provides child-friendly and age-appropriate information that is stimulating for growth.

“This ideas box (laboratory) equips teachers with additional tools and resources, making them to be more innovative in the classroom while improving the overall quality of their lessons,” says Joseph Mapunda an expert with Save the Children International in Kibondo.

He tells Success that children are more attracted to the use of technology in learning compared to the normal classroom teaching.

“Through the use of technology in learning children’s attendance, teachers’ capacity in using technology, and the well-being of children and teachers has improved,” he notes.

He says the system allows students and teachers to access materials even if there is no internet thanks to the existence of a server-driven system.

According to Mapunda, a total of 18,400 children (school and out of school children), teachers and other communities in the Nyarugusu and Nduta refugee camps have enrolled to access learning, which enhances knowledge, skills and attitude.

“A total of 404 (180 girls) out of school children have returned to school due to the influence of the Ideas Box (innovation facility) in less than five months of the project,” he says.

Mr Nitegeka is grateful to Save the Children for the new innovation, which has stimulated student attendance in schools and also facilitated modern learning.

He says it is now easier for teachers to design lessons in a modern way that does not differentiate them from teachers in Burundi or outside the camp.

“First and foremost we use this Ideas Box to create teaching tools as well as bring students here to watch a variety of videos after having been taught theoretically in the classroom,” he explains.

For example, if students have been taught about the Sahara Desert, they understand better when they are brought to the Ideas Box facility where they watch the realities of the desert through video.

“We are also currently bringing our students here to learn a variety of sports including how to make a range of things like a house, a car and many more,” says Nitegeka.

Mapunda says the innovation also aims to increase children’s chances of having a better future, strengthen their resilience through psychosocial support and the involvement of teachers, parents and the entire community.

“The initiative brings together our (Save the Children) experience in refugee camps and ProFuturo’s (an organisation from Spain) track record in teacher training and the provision of educational resources and technological equipment,” says Mapunda.

Experts say that such initiatives, which increase the attendance of children in schools, improve the quality of education using a computer-based learning system and create a level of resilience for children through psychological support should be emulated.

They say because the organisations are approachable stakeholders as well as the government should take the experience in using digital education in the context of refugee camps and bring it to local schools.

“First of all, I am amazed that there is an easy way to improve education in difficult environments by using technology. We can now embrace such innovations to remove the existing digital divide,” says Dr Annastella Simboja, former Mzumbe university lecturer.

According to her, hosting refugees should also help Tanzania adopt various innovations used by humanitarian organisations so that the country can as well improve the existing social challenges.

“Save the Children professionals should be involved in organising a seminar for stakeholders in the education sector and other areas so that our rural children can also enjoy the growth of technology,” she advises.

Dr Thomas Jabir, an education analyst says with time, the use of ICT in schools will not be avoided and many students will be left behind.

“So it is better to be creative and have a political will to learn from some of these initiatives rather than waiting for the unknown to start rushing,” he notes.

He says the presence of devices like tablets and computers that help teachers and students access different learning materials through the internet will be an incentive for teachers and students especially in remote areas.

“Many rural teachers are in a very bad situation, as far as ICT use is concerned and many do not know how to use computers. I believe this is the innovation that needs to be delivered in these schools as well,” he explains.