Editor's Note: Google.org connects nonprofit innovators with Google resources to solve complex human challenges, and to ensure that everyone can participate in the digital economy. Jacqueline Strecker, Connected Education Officer from UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, shares more about the impact our grants and the programs they support have on refugee communities around the world.
I’m in a crowded classroom in Kakuma, Kenya refugee camp. The temperature outside is hovering just above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), but inside this room it feels much hotter. But I barely notice the heat, because I’m transfixed by the people around me. We’re discussing solutions to problems most people don’t fully understand, and despite the challenges, there’s a sense of optimism. My line of work has allowed me to meet and work with countless individuals with exceptional abilities and exceptional stories. Like Jayson.
Jayson came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but he was forced to flee his country and halt his pursuit of post-secondary education. He ended up in Kakuma with his only surviving family member, his younger brother. They have spent six years together in the camp. And though his dreams of working in technology are on hold, he’s pursued this passion in a different way, supporting the education of others as both a secondary school teacher and a trainer at a community youth center in the camp.
Since 2015, Google.org has donated $10 million to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Learning Equality as part of an effort to provide emergency support and access to vital information and education to refugees. The grants have gone towards supporting promising practices, the development of learning materials and adaptation of technologies that can drive the delivery of quality education for refugee and students from surrounding areas. As part of this initiative, I worked with Jayson in a design workshop, where we came up with ideas to improve on Kolibri, a free, open-source educational platform developed by Learning Equality for low-resource environments like Kakuma.
Kolibri was specially designed to provide offline access to a digital library of resources, curated from thousands of open educational content providers. With funding from Google.org, and in collaboration with Learning Equality, and Vodafone Foundation, UNHCR has committed to co-designing and testing different models for Kolibri integration in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Jordan together with a range of partners, and most importantly with refugees and the communities that host them.
The program itself aims for an increase in basic STEM skills in lower-secondary school populations, plus improvement in student confidence and motivation,digital literacy and technical skills. “I’m one part of the project, and it has become a passion for me,” Jayson tells me. “Every day, every month, we are learning and giving feedback on how to improve.”
Jayson was one of 28 passionate contributors from 10 different countries who joined the design sprint facilitated by Astrid Weber, Google UX Manager, at UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week in Paris this past March. Joining remotely, he and his fellow Kolibri coaches helped to work with educationalists, ministries and designers from across the globe to think through how AI could be used to help improve the process of aligning content to different national curricula.
The ideas that emerged are helping to shape ten new learning centers launching throughout communities in Jordan. The model has been adapted thanks to not only the vibrant contributions of both Jordanian and refugee communities throughout the country, but also the inspiration and lessons shared from this growing collaborative global community.
On World Refugee Day, the High Commissioner for Refugees will help to launch a new Connected Learning Center in the Azraq Refugee Camp, further demonstrating UNHCR’s commitment to improving the quality of education for all learners affected by crises. We all have a role to play. Our inspiring colleagues at Learning Equality continue to share and create free educational resources. Philanthropic efforts, like those of Google.org, help to bring people and resources together to test new solutions in the field. People like Jayson lend expertise and time to making sure Kenyans and refugees alike are able to contribute to and benefit from these global digital movements. And our team at UNHCR helps to promote innovation with the community at the heart and in the lead.