Today the world is experiencing the highest levels of displacement ever recorded. UNHCR estimates that 24 people were forced to flee their homes each minute in 2015, four times more than a decade ago. One out of every 113 people on Earth has been displaced due to conflict or persecution, and 51 per cent of the world’s refugees are children, many of whom have been separated from their parents or are travelling alone.
A mobile device is often one of the few possessions taken by people forced to leave their homes, and in many instances displaced people have access to a smartphone.
Increasingly, mobile technology can provide a lifeline to education binging learning to people where they are, preparing them for work, easing their integration into new communities, firing their imaginations, building resilience and illuminating routes from an uncertain present to more promising futures.
This year’s Mobile Learning Week, to be held from 20-24 March, 2017 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, will explore how technology can help meet the educational needs of refugees and other learners displaced by emergency and crisis.
Worldwide, refugees now number over 21.3 million, and UNHCR estimates that refugee children are five times more likely to be out-of-school than non-refugees. Presently only 50 percent of refugee children have access to primary school, and these deficits compound as refugees age: just 22 percent of refugees enrol in secondary school and only 1 percent go on to higher education.
Data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics show that out-of-school children increasingly live in conflict-affected countries, but education, which can help protect children and break cycles of conflict, is often not considered in the early stages of emergency and crisis response.
UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, highlighting the urgency of bringing education to the millions of children and youth whose future is jeopardized by conflicts, displacement and natural disasters, has said: “Education must be seen as part of the first response when crisis hits and an integral part of any peacebuilding strategy.”
Urgency and innovation
The event, organized by UNESCO and UNHCR in collaboration with ITU, the United Nation’s specialized agency for information and communication technologies, will bring together leaders and experts working at the intersection of education, technology and crisis to share innovative practices from around the world and showcase options available to governments and other organizations working to turn mobile technologies into educational allies.
Mark West, a specialist in ICT for education at UNESCO said: “The potential of mobile technology to facilitate learning in emergencies and crises is considerable but we are only just beginning to understand how to best leverage it and how to leverage it at scale.”
UNESCO has a dedicated programme which examines how affordable mobile technologies can further learning, especially for vulnerable populations. UNHCR is also addressing these questions. The organization has established an Innovation Unit that develops new solutions to assist refugees and has partnered with other organizations to form the Humanitarian Education Accelerator which identifies, supports and expands cutting-edge education innovations. UNHCR is also working in partnership with universities, organizations and donors in the Connected Learning Consortium for Higher Education for Refugees, which promotes and coordinates the provision of accredited, quality higher education in contexts of conflict, crisis and displacement.
“It is fundamental that children who have been uprooted by war and violence are not left behind even further,” said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “We must be smart about finding solutions.”
Jacqueline Strecker, the UNHCR Learn Lab Manager in Kenya, said: “Providing education in refugee contexts is riddled with challenges including few resources, teachers with limited training and multiple protection issues. Mobile technology offers avenues to help address these challenges and open up the world to students.”
Mobile Learning Week is UNESCO’s flagship annual ICT in education conference. Now entering its sixth year the event is attended by government representatives from over 50 UN Member States and features more than 100 speakers and presentations. Registration is open and UNESCO and UNHCR are inviting presentation and workshop proposals until Tuesday, 17 January 2017.
This year’s event will feature a Symposium on Monday and Tuesday, 20-21 March; Workshops on Wednesday, 22 March; Strategy Labs on Thursday, 23 March and a high-level Policy Forum conducted in close collaboration with ITU on Friday, 24 March.