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Drawing children to school through computers in Kenya

The introduction of computers to solar-powered schools in Kenya’s Dadaab camp is bringing new ways of learning to the refugee’s children.

Dadaab, in north-eastern Kenya, is the world’s largest refugee camp and now home to an estimated 280,000 children, mostly belonging to families of Somali origin. However, school attendance is poor within the camp, with only around a quarter of youngsters taking part in classes. This low enrolment has been of major concern to agencies working at the camp, who are worried that a whole generation of unemployable youngsters will be created. These Somali young people could then be ripe for recruitment into armed groups and banditry.

However, a new computer project is offering the chance to attract more children to the camp’s schools. Run by e-learning Africa and supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the initiative has integrated solar-powered technologies into the camp’s 32 primary schools, 7 secondary and four vocational training centres. This has allowed information and communications technology learning to be offered to Dadaab’s students. Computer companies have helped to provide support, including a grant of 250,000 dollars from Microsoft.

The coordinator of the project, who works for the UNHCR, credited the initiative with boosting school attendance. Speaking to the Guardian, Erin Hayba reports that the prospect of being able to learn computer skills has meant that “teachers are saying some students are coming back to school who might have dropped out”. Officially launched last month, the project is therefore already proving a success, despite the doubts of sceptics who warned that teachers should “stick with paper and pencil and chalkboards” in a refugee camp.

Keeping the computers safe is naturally a key concern for the organisers. However, the UNHCR coordinator says that it is mainly a matter of “involv[ing] members of the community in every aspect from planning to implementation and beyond”. This has helped to create a feeling of ownership and interest within the community, who then feel involved as stakeholders in ensuring its success.

In any case, the huge advantages conferred by ICT, such as offering young refugees a more tailored education, would appear to outweigh the risks. With access to computers, refugee students have a wider choice of materials in their own language and can take advantage of free eLearning programmes. These can often be adjusted to the needs of individual students, who can also learn at their own pace.

Erin Hayba, recently spoke about the project at an eLearning conference in Namibia, where the hope was expressed that its success would encourage other African nations to explore innovative uses of ICT in education.

Learn about SOS Children's work connecting children to broadband internet in 20 Children's Villages across 12 African countries.

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