The UN Refugee Agency in partnership with Microsoft and HP, and with the support of the Innovation and Education units, has officially launched the Community Technology Access (CTA) project in Dadaab, a comprehensive initiative to harness the potential of ICT for the improvement of teaching and learning in the world’s largest refugee settlement at the Kenya-Somalia border.
Ensuring quality education for half a million refugees remains a challenge for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to funding constraints and a shortage of trained teachers. Many youths of school age arrived in Dadaab with no prior education and school enrollment remains low. Last year, of the 279,000 youths and children in the camp, 41 percent were enrolled in primary schools and only 8.5 percent in secondary education.
Luckily, an innovative partnership with giant software and hardware corporations like Microsoft and HP came in handy to help address these challenges.
A grant of US $250,000 by Microsoft helped provide vocational youth centers as well as primary and secondary schools – 43 in total – with computers and training support. HP joined the cause of quality education with an in-kind contribution of 60 additional computers.
“We warmly welcome this initiative”, said Elike Segbor, UNHCR’s Representative in Kenya. “Access to quality education is a key precondition for the economic development and self-reliance of refugees as well as the enjoyment of many other human rights.”
The CTA project, whose foundations were laid in early 2012, targets three main areas for improvement: formal education, vocational training and community e-learning.
In primary schools this year, 32 computers have been distributed to help teachers collect student attendance and performance data. These computers will also expose teachers to digital resources, including communities of practice and alternative teaching methods.
Computer labs have also been established in secondary schools and equipped with 20 workstations each to allow for the teaching of computer studies, a highly valued and demanded course within the refugee community of Dadaab. More that 145 students have enrolled in IT classes so far.
Meanwhile, each youth vocational training center received 10 additional computers to enable the development and delivery of advanced computer and technician courses to the host communities at large. Nearly 800 students enrolled this year in vocational programs, where ICT is taught as a life skill.
“Access to ICT helps populations everywhere, including those in such difficult circumstances, to obtain the skills they need to build a new future themselves” says Jeffery Avina, Microsoft’s Director of Citizenship and Community Affairs (Middle East and Africa). “This partnership has empowered youth to imagine and realize their full potential by connecting them with greater opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship.” Avina adds that this is in line with the recently launched Microsoft 4Afrika initiative through which the company will actively engage in Africa’s economic development to improve its global competitiveness.
This project is the result of extensive and well-informed cooperation with the refugee community, parent-teacher associations, partner agencies and donors aimed at addressing a need that has long-been identified. “Refugees have taken full ownership of this project in identifying challenges, suggesting solutions and sharing responsibility over its implementation”, said Segbor acknowledging that the participation from the community has been key to position this initiative well for success.
As part of the efforts to enable youths and teachers to access greater educational resources through the use of computer labs and a multi-institutional learning system, UNHCR and partners will pilot eLearning in a vocational training center and a secondary school in the coming weeks. A training of trainers in lab management for parent-teacher groups took place early in May to ensure that the centers and available ICT resources are efficiently and effectively used.