The Patatas – An Education Solutions Consultancy

Education in Refugee Camps: Early childhood

Refugee camps are temporary facilities providing immediate protection to refugees. Refugees are people who are forced to flee due to violence, conflict or persecution. Hence, the word “refugee” is often associated with survival – shelter and food. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are a total of 70.8 million people being forcefully displaced, with 25.9 million of them being refugees. In Asia alone, there are 3.5 million refugees with the majority of the refugees originating from Myanmar and Afghanistan. It is a crazy number considering that 3.5 million is more than half the population of Singapore. With these staggering numbers of refugees, education in refugee camps has been an ongoing issue.

2 ladies and their children in a refugee camp
Source: NewStatesman

These days, organizations are working to provide education for these refugees, injecting purpose and practical knowledge into their lives. After all, we believe that education levels the playing field as a chance of the future, and is a key component in helping families out of poverty. Out of the 25 million refugees, 3.7 million are refugee children who are currently denied an education. Apart from denying them a basic human right, this is an acute issue as the provision of education (especially at a young age) helps to create a sense of security, hope, and normalcy. These elements are both critical and fundamental for children to be informed about health and hygiene.

UNHCR providing aid to refugee camps
Source: UNHCR

As part of the 2030 Sustainability Development Agenda, UNHCR hopes to provide new investment and engagement opportunities to prevent refugee children to be victims of their future, instead, be seen as protagonists. Early childhood education, which is, education administered to a child before the age of 7, is imperative in the pursuit of this agenda as between birth to five-years-old are the most critical developmental years, as 85 percent of the brain develops before the child reaches five. The impact of early childhood education surpasses mere physical development as it frames a child’s social skills, emotional and cognitive abilities.

With that said, there are various reasons why education is not readily available in refugee camps despite its importance:
Unsophisticated Infrastructure & Learning Resources

Whenever you think of education, if you are living in an urban city, you think of school buildings and classrooms. According to The World Bank Group, education infrastructure is quintessential as factors such as accessibility and the condition of school affect the conduciveness of a student’s learning. In addition to the poor infrastructure, the lack of learning resources such as books and writing materials increases the challenge to provide education to a refugee camp.

Living conditions of Refugee camp
Source: UNHCR

The lack of decent physical building poses a threat to students’ safety. For children of all ages, but especially for children as young as below 7, a solid infrastructure is extremely important for a child to feel safe while learning. The global awareness of prioritizing education infrastructure in refugee camps has spurred Multinational Corporations (MNCs) such as IKEA, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and more to increase their social involvement and investment in this cause. From the perspective of a refugee-camp educator, the lack of infrastructure sophistication also means the need for them to commute long distances between locations while carrying teaching materials to their students. According to one of our pilot projects: Digi-Eskwela, some of these items include mobile routers, projectors, a laptop, and up to 20 tablets. All of these pose a huge inconvenience to education provision in a refugee camp. If you are interested, you may read the full article here.

Lack of Access to Technology

For people in the cities, the pervasiveness of technology in our lives has fundamentally changed the way we live. The privilege of having everything at our fingertips (almost literally) has made us forget the basic role of technology in a refugee camp. Even the most basic technological functions provide a platform for communication with their families, a record of a displaced person’s identity, and an opportunity for education.

A child standing alone in a refugee camp
Source: Medium

Combining technology and education is definitely a solution to early childhood education in refugee camps. The use of technology in early childhood teaching helps increase engagement and support a child’s learning development. However, technology alone is a topic to address and understandably, the cost of technology may be another concern. Considering the current education climate of early childhood teachers who are unprepared to give education for young refugees, technology may be an enabling tool for them. According to the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), education is the highest priority, and technology is the lifeline to learning. Despite the increasing technological exposure in refugee camps, it seems like technology literacy is still an issue for independent learning. Given its scalability, leveraging on technology to provide education to refugee children can ease reliance on early childhood teachers.

Lack of Access to Energy Resources

About 90 percent of the people in refugee camps are faced with energy poverty with no access to electricity. The lack of electricity is one of the most crucial setbacks when it comes to education in refugee camps. This translates to refugee students being reliant on sunlight to do learn and do their homework: How is one able to truly learn with studying being limited to when the sun is up? This long-drawn challenge has captured the attention of many MNCs and start-ups with organizations coming up with creative ideas for sustainable energy solutions and monetary support. For example, Practical Action is a start-up from the United Kingdom working in partnership with UNHCR and Ikea to provide renewable energy to refugee communities, focusing on Jordan and Rwanda. However, with refugee camps in more than 134 countries, coupled with the downtime to find organizations to fund these needs – not mentioning the paperwork, requires a lot of time. In addition, these funded energy resources need to be sustainable in the cost of installation and maintenance. With more than 3.7 million children across more than 100 countries, how long will that take? Does it really require that time to provide early childhood access? Is there a way to do this without the long downtime? 

Solution: CaseStudy


At The Patatas, we know that finding a solution targeting the top three persisting problems faced in a refugee camp isn’t easy – which is why we created a cost-effective digital solution: CaseStudy.  CaseStudy is a shockproof, waterproof, and personalized teaching toolbox to cater for educational needs in refugee camps. The plastic outer case allows it to withstand high-impact while the inner sponge material ensures the technology is kept safe and dry. This ensures that the education system in refugee camps is not heavily reliant on the external environment such as the camp’s inability to withstand uncertain weather conditions. The size of CaseStudy was also designed in a manner it is highly portable and easy to carry.

Tools that CaseStudy offers
The educational materials within this toolbox have been curated according to the requirements of refugee children. With an ability to accommodate about 8GB worth of files, a Raspberry Pi is used to provide accessible and interactive content to refugee children. Compared to tablets costing over SGD $150, the Raspberry Pi is priced less than SGD $100. Understanding that not all refugee camps have direct access to electricity, early childhood educators have the autonomy to preload all contents to facilitate an offline class at the refugee camps. And hurray! The young refugees are now given the opportunity to learn any time, day or night. Your next question may probably be: How is this done? We have taken into account the importance of supporting devices and included an audio-visual component to the CaseStudy, which include a projector, a speaker and a portable charger to support the offline use of Raspberry Pi. Now, all you need is a background for projection, as CaseStudy acts as a Classroom-in-a-Box to kickstart the learning of early childhood refugees. 
Providing education to early childhood refugees may seem difficult because of the limitations of their environment. Education administered only when all these challenges have been resolved is impractical as timing would be irrelevant. By then, millions of refugee children would have been denied proper early childhood education. CaseStudy was curated as an economical solution to provide immediate and accessible education to young refugees while solving the bigger problems. By leveraging on technology to provide quality educational support for young refugees, we believe it would give them the opportunity to have a chance at a better future. CaseStudy has proven its effectiveness in a pilot project we conducted 3 years ago in Legazpi, where we worked with the Tiwala teachers to implement Project Digi-Eskwela to the Tiwali kids and communities. 
With the affordable pricing and user-centric design that delivers education to young refugees, CaseStudy is definitely a feasible solution. We are aiming to bring CaseStudy to Kenya, Myanmar, and Bangladesh in collaboration with our partners. If you are interested to be onboard this meaningful journey with The Patatas, feel free to contact us via email or Facebook, we would love to hear from you.
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