An innovative elearning solution was launched by ITWORX Education in September for underserved and underprivileged Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. 80% of those children are not enrolled in school.
ITWORX Education is specialized in education technology solutions, adressing the needs of K12 education institutions worldwide. Its main shareholder is EuroMena, a private equity fund established in 2006 with the participation of the European Investment Bank and Proparco, which has since invested in over two dozen companies across Africa and Levant.
We asked ITWORX Education's CEO, Hatem Sallam, a few question on this specific project in Lebanon.
iloubnan.info: Practically, how does a “virtual schooling” work?
Hatem Sallam: Generally speaking, the "virtual school" describes an institution that teaches courses entirely or primarily through online methods. It basically stands for an online learning platform offered by an educational organization whereby students can earn credits in their particular area of interest which can be counted toward graduation or advancement to the next grade. However, what ITWORX Education is introducing today goes beyond the limits of this concept as it has mapped out a course of action to create “virtual schools without borders” across strategic touch points, built around extensive digital content tied into curriculums, a state of the art online learning platform (WinjiGo), and smart technology-powered learning centers whereby education would be accessible BOTH offline and online. What we aimed is to launch a non-traditional educational initiative by using technology to provide extended access to learning opportunities that don’t require significant investments like building schools and many skilled teachers.
How was the virtual schooling experience organised in Lebanon?
In September, ITWORX Education piloted a successful virtual schooling experience in coordination with the Saad Nayel School, located in a refugee camp in the Lebanese city of Shtoura, near the Syrian borders. Members of the local community extended all their help to make the pilot happen inside the camp as we secured an Internet connection and procured the tablet devices, and made the necessary arrangements to gear up and operate the learning center.
We provided access to a web-based learning platform through which students could access lessons and collaborate with their peers and teachers, and we showed volunteer teachers how to plan their lessons and create digital content such as assignments and assessments.
The outcome was really encouraging as participating students were able to work with activities, quizzes and lessons through the online system and teachers were able to extend their reach without the extra effort.
How many children did benefit from it? How many adults were there to take care of the children and what was their professional background (more about teaching, or technology?)
The program primarily targets the education of one million Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, starting the first quarter of 2016.
As for the pilot project that was executed last September in Shtoura, there were around 40 students aged from 9-14 years of age. The project saw the light after 2 weeks of training for all students, teachers, and the SME (expert). The lessons tackled Arabic literature and Mathematics, including discussions and assignments.
This group of children have been hit the hardest by the war and have missed a number of critical years in their education. We were happy to offer them this learning opportunity, and their reaction was really rewarding.
What kind of relationship did you create with the Saad Nayel school?
The support of Saad Nayel School was unconditional as we shared the same goal which is to offer learning opportunities for Syrian children no matter where they are and whether they have access to technology or not. We thank them today for all their belief in our mission and going forward, we hope to replicate this success for other Syrian refugee camps across Lebanon and the region.
Did the persons in charge of the school show real interest in the project? Were they showing “good will”?
A common feeling of excitement was seen on the faces of all those who contributed to this pilot experience. In addition to the satisfaction and commitment of all directors in charge of the school, we were happy to see all children very enthusiastic to be part of the experience and their psycho-social well-being was really enhanced. Every day, the Syrian children logged in on their own, opened and completed assignments easily, sent posts to each other’s, and gained digital points as well. On the other hand, students' parents were happy that their children were simply learning in a safe environment while the volunteer teachers were glad to help with minimal training due to the simple design of the learning platform... The collective work is the reason behind the success of this first trial. We hope to travel with this attainment across all Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon; the home of over 1.1 million refugees.
Do you have to deal with the Lebanese Education Ministry? If yes, how is it going?
Evidently, such a large-scale and critical project requires day-to-day coordination with the governments of all concerned countries in the region. In Lebanon, ITWORX Education, partnering with their Excellences, Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, and Tom Fletcher, former UK Ambassador to Lebanon and currently Director of Global Strategy for the Global Business Coalition for Education - of which ITWORX Education is a member - continues its active consultations with the Ministry of Education to ensure the adoption of the program as part of the educational system in Lebanon and seek official accreditation.
The Ministry of Education in Beirut expressed high interest in this innovative e-learning initiative and we are building on our growing relationship to answer all enquiries and meet all regulations prior to the official launch of the project which greatly reduces overall cost per student per year and aims to alleviate the load carried by the Lebanese public schools, where over 150,000 Syrian students are having free access to education during the regular shift and the afternoon sessions. The adherence to the Lebanese educational curricula and the digitalization as well as the Arabisation of the content are key elements in our mission, and we are cooperating with the concerned authorities in Lebanon to meet all guidelines.
Will the eLearning project benefit the Syrian refugee children that are not living in a camp and are living inside the Lebanese communities? For example, some Syrian refugee families settled in the Metn area. Their children were enrolled in school three years ago but they were not accepted these last two years. Could the eLearning project give them a chance? How?
One of the main challenges we wanted to avoid by this initiative is to solve transportation difficulties. With this in mind, we aim to set-up learning centers inside the refugee camps, bringing the e-learning experience to the biggest group of Syrian refugees gathered in the same place, and ensuring their safety and security.