In late 2014 UNHCR Innovation launched its fifth UNHCR Ideas challenge which asked:

“How can we support communities and educators to overcome the challenges faced by adolescent girls in accessing education?”

What is UNHCR Ideas?

It is a space for humanitarians, refugees, academics, and other partners/stakeholders to share practical experiences, sometimes first-hand knowledge, and fresh ideas to solve field-based challenges. Participants are invited to use the platform to collaborate, and to suggest ideas and solutions to challenges that are highlighted by the organization.

Why was this challenge relevant?

This challenge focused on Education, one of UNHCR’s strategic priorities. Quality education is essential to enable refugees to live healthy and productive lives. Education enhances protection by enabling displaced people to develop the skills, knowledge and tolerance necessary to support integration within host communities and rebuilding countries on return home. The participation of girls and women in reconstructing societies is of vital importance, as evidence shows that families of educated females are better off economically and socially than those who have not received an education.

Similarly, many studies have shown how girls’ education has a significant impact on other development goals and affects not only a girl’s life, but also that of her family and the wider community. Girls’ education does not only lead to higher incomes, but also to delayed marriages, lower birth rates, reduced infant mortality, less likelihood to contract HIV/AIDS and increased public health in general. An educated mother is also more likely to educate her children than a mother who has not had the chance to go to school. And girls who are educated have reduced exposure to domestic violence, since it makes girls and women less dependent on abusive partners and gives them the confidence necessary to claim their rights.

Unfortunately despite the known benefits, adolescent girls remain at a particular disadvantage when it comes to accessing and staying in school, often due to cultural, economic and social factors. Globally, only 9 refugee girls are enrolled in primary school for every 10 refugee boys. Girls’ enrollment rates are particularly low at the secondary school level. In Eastern and the Horn of Africa, twice as many refugee boys as refugee girls go to secondary school. Even where enrollment rates for boys and girls are the same, the quality of the learning experience may differ. Hence, in many displacement settings, girls score significantly lower than boys, which may be due to the fact that they are not able to attend as regularly due to household chores or that they face discrimination in school.

How was this challenge addressed in the past?

Previously UNHCR and its partners employed a variety of measures to promote girls’ enrollment and retention in school. These measures have spanned from sensitization campaigns on the value of girls’ education to providing separate latrines, and take home food rations. UNHCR has also strived to include men and boys in its efforts. While these measures have yielded certain degrees of success, the challenges to enrolling girls at a secondary level still remain.

Acknowledging these persistent challenges, this UNHCR Ideas Challenge aimed to source innovative techniques that could be tested as a means of increasing quality education access for adolescent girls. This sponsored challenge pulled together actors and leaders in girls’ education to source viable high-impact solutions to this persistent problem.

The Results of the Challenge

Overall, this challenge received over 1800 views with 30 unique ideas being summited from around the world. The challenge was also featured at the World Innovation Summit on Education (WISE) in Doha in November 2014, where a group of educational gurus embarked on an ideation process to design potential solutions.

In the end, 10 ideas were shortlisted and reviewed by educational experts from inside and outside of UNHCR. From these one idea was selected for support from UNHCR Innovation, UNHCR’s Education Team, with funding from UN Foundation (UNF) for 2015. In April 2014, TIGAR (These Inspiring Girls Are Reading) was identified as the strongest idea for research and prototyping in 2015.

Progress to Date

Since that time the Open Learning Exchange, Inc.(OLE) who put forth the idea, has been engaged in intensive research, identifying potential content and pedagogical modalities that would suit the context of Jordan refugee camps. There has also been an important match-making progress that has been led by the UNHCR team in Jordan, to identify an existing implementing part that is working with Zaatari Refugee Camp – who has established relationships with the community and complementary programming. This match-making finally came to an end in early fall when International Relief and Development (IRD) was identified as a strong match.

The project just recently reached an important milestone, when the OLE team was actually able to head to the field to meet with IRD, and the community to discuss their idea and receive suggestions and inputs directly from those living in Zaatari.

But first let’s start by hearing directly from OLE on the progress to date. To start however it is good to understand:

What exactly is the TIGER Program? 

TIGER (These Inspiring Girls Enjoy Reading) is a program for adolescent Syrian girls in the UNHCR Zaatari camp in Jordan. The camp contains 80,000 refugees. At least 10,000 of them are adolescent girls who have been uprooted from their homes and are now living in temporary and unstable conditions. They will access a wide range of open educational resources and courses on 8” color tables connected by Wi-Fi to a Raspberry Pi server.  This will enable them to experience self-paced learning as an active, engaging and sustained process that is aligned with the school assignments and directly relevant to their current and evolving needs. The Program will document its strengths and weaknesses, providing evidence that can be used to expand this approach to all of the adolescent girls living in similar conditions in Zaatari and elsewhere.

TIGER’s specific objectives include:

  1. Increase a personal sense of agency, meaning and connection among at least 1,200 adolescent Syrian refugee girls in the UNHCR Zaatari camp.
  2. Organize TIGER Teams of such girls, comprising 10-14 girls who, with assistance from Syrian women coaches, support each other in creating and fulfilling their goals in life.
  3. Provide these girls with the knowledge, skills and values resulting from working as teams on one or more projects that improve the living conditions of the Zaatari camp.
  4. Succeed in encouraging as many such girls as possible who at risk of leaving school to stay in school to complete their secondary education.
  5. Succeed in encouraging as many such girls as possible, who are not in school, to enroll in and stay in school in order to complete their secondary education.
  6. Demonstrate and document all of the above.

The 16 month TIGER Program will be implemented in six Community Learning Centers that will be open after school, evenings and on weekends. It will seek to enroll at least 1,200 TIGER Girls, as members of small TIGER Teams.

How are the TIGER partners working together?

The TIGER program is supported by UNHCR and UNHCR Innovation and is being implemented in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, through an award to the Open Learning Exchange, Inc. (OLE) with IRD as the implementing partner.

IRD is providing logistic support to TIGER including the recruitment and employment of twelve TIGER Leaders, Syrian adult women who are working as Coaches and Tech Geniuses for TIGER. They have provided OLE with translation services and transportation, thus making it possible for OLE to launch TIGER rapidly, with a minimum of administrative overhead.

The Open Learning Exchange, (OLE – is a Social Benefit Organization based in Cambridge Massachusetts.  We work closely with nation-based partners to introduce major improvements in the quality and quantity of basic education.  We use low-cost and scalable technologies working off the Internet and the electric grid that can reach every child, even in the most remote locations.  We help students and teachers move from passive, distributive learning modes (“talk and chalk”) to active, student-centered learning.  Trained coaches work in classrooms to organize activities and projects aligned with their interests enabling them to pass the examinations required for them to climb their learning ladder.

OLE addresses the educational system of a nation as a whole.  We emphasize: 1) strong leadership, 2) high quality multi-media resources and 3) continuous improvement in the system.  We use technologies, not as ends in themselves but, as valuable tools for every dimension of learning.

OLE’s digital Personal Learning System uses the Raspberry Pi 2 as its server.  With a router and low cost Android tablets we create an Intranet for teachers, students and community members.  Their personal dashboard includes their books and courses calendar and intranet email.   This works off the Internet and can be powered locally.

Members rate their resources and courses, one to five star, as they exit them. These data are periodically synced to an online “National” server, uploading activity data and downloading new resources at the same time.  This enables anyone with the required authority to monitor and analyze the activities of the Members in each community.  We see the ratings of each resource broken down by gender, age, role, location. This enables us to continuously improve the learning system itself, making it more accessible and meaningful for everyone.

Since 2007 OLE has documented the effectiveness of its Personal Learning System for early education in Nepal, Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana and with Somalia refugees in Kenya.  These Inspiring Girls Enjoy Reading (TIGER), supported by the UNHCR Innovation Fund, is OLE’s most recent iteration. TIGER is demonstrating and documenting the effectiveness of an innovative and scalable community-based approach that enables adolescent girls to increase their sense of agency, meaning and connection. Small TIGER Teams support their members as they improve their literacy skills in and out of school. They use a multi-media digital library of open educational resources and a learning management system that enables them to plan, track and share their progress on their personal learning ladder.

How is TIGER being rolled out in Zaatari?

Dr. Richard Rowe, founder and CEO of OLE visited Zaatari in November 2015 to meet with the communities and begin the design of the program.  He interviewed prospective TIGER Leaders and after two days of exercises exploring program possibilities with them eleven of the twelve community leaders needed for this first phase of the program were chosen.

The TIGER Leaders elected a Chair and Rapporteur for the group and grouped themselves into six pairs, one for each of the six IRD Community Centers.  They were each given a digital camera and asked to take videos and still pictures of the Centers, the camp and girls as a part of what will be an ongoing photo-essay of life in Zaatari.  They agreed to meet weekly to share their experiences and to support each other in evolving the program. Their first tasks are to:

  1. Review the Personal Learning System digital library and suggest the additional resources they will need
  2. Form their first Tiger Teams of roughly a dozen girls and engage them in the development of their initial projects. This will enable the Tiger Leaders and the first team of Tiger Girls to experience and learn about the process of identifying an issue in Zaatari that they can address, plan a way to address that issue and then take specific steps to contribute to its resolution, or at least its improvement.  Their learnings will be useful as additional Tiger teams are grown.
  3. Form their Tiger Advisory Councils of community members who will meet on a monthly basis as advisors for their programs.

In December, Agnes Asamoah-Duodu, the lead Coach from OLE Ghana and Emily Larkin, OLE’s Program Manager from Cambridge Massachusetts will invest a week in Zaatari . This will be a time when the Leaders and their initial Tiger Girls teams can present and get feedback on their initial project designs from their Community Advisory Councils and the OLE team.  Using this feedback the Tiger Leaders will be better prepared to introduce additional girls to the program.


About the Author

Richard Rowe is is Founder, Chair and CEO of Open Learning Exchange (OLE) International. Dr. Rowe has focused his career on national and international policies and services that strengthen children, families and communities. A clinical psychologist by training, he was Director of the Test Development and Research Office of the West African Examinations Council, a former Associate Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and director of Harvard’s interfaculty doctoral program in Clinical Psychology and Public Practice; he has served on the Massachusetts State Board of Education, chairing the Board’s education reform task force, and on the MIT Press Board of Directors. 

We’re always looking for great stories, ideas, and opinions on innovations that are led by or create  impact for refugees. If you have one to share with us send us an email at [email protected]

If you’d like to repost this article on your website, please see our reposting policy.