On March 21-23, I attended a symposium, workshops, and strategy session of the Mobile Learning Week hosted by UNESCO in Paris. The focus of the week was leveraging the power of technology, specifically low-cost mobile technology, to help provide education in emergency situations. This was a great gathering of key players in refugee education, including the UNHCR, USAID, Unicef, UNESCO,, several universities, and many, many NGOs serving refugee populations.

The opening comments were truly inspiring words, from a refugee who participated in the Connected Learning higher education program in Kenya. Ella Ininahazwe from Rwanda said,

“The worst thing for a refugee is to not have education because that means things will only get worse. The refugee loses hope.”

“The quality of education that is available to refugees is not adequate.”

“They are surrounded by negative and hopeless thoughts. They don’t want to learn in these circumstances. That is what mobile education can do, help them see beyond where they are.”

The first breakout session I attended focused on higher education opportunities and research, largely in sub-Saharan African camps. It’s occurring to me that I should be considering that area for an initial location; the need is great and long-term there, and language would not be such an issue. Tertiary education was the place to start, not only to give people hopes for jobs, but also to create an incentive for kids to continue primary and secondary education. Some of the lessons learned for higher education apply to secondary as well. Here are some key points I will consider:

  1. Safety – can students get to the learning center? (not easy to predict).
  2. Communication more important than content (because content already exists) –
    Need to be able to adapt; get rid of huge complex platform and use a simple blog for conversations.
  3. Internet is still a challenge. Blended learning cannot happen in places with unreliable internet.
  4. Immediacy is lacking in the blog, it still feels unconnected while you wait for a response – so use WhatsApp for conversations – kids will talk about hope and feel connected.
  5. Don’t do one-time workshops – need to do it over a period of time to get real outcomes.
  6. Important to build curriculum as you go – use learner contributions and feedback, too – bonus: more student buy-in.
  7. Technology is jut a piece of the puzzle, the person makes the difference.
  8. Steer away from schedules and deadlines.
  9. Need to train students and teachers who have not been exposed to computers.


The model seems to be that a company creates a platform/app/system and then they pass it on to a partner in the field who implements it. RPartners needs to find a partner, or this will not happen. This will be my primary focus for the next few weeks.

There is no one-size-fits all solution; every context is unique and requires a unique solution. That being said, we still learn from each other and share lessons learned and resources, and we should be linking our related solutions together. It could be that rPartners is an add-on to another existing program to supplement what is already in place.

Questions that arose:

What about the kids not motivated to learn, how do we reach them?

How do you make any of this sustainable? If it costs money now, it will always cost money. Can this be a crowd-sourced program?

Thanks for sticking with me this far! Your comments and suggestions are always welcome!