Innovation: UNHCR and Vodafone bring tablet-based learning to 18,000 Somali refugees

Almost 400 teachers will be trained to provide tablet-based education programmes to some 18,000 young people at 13 instant network centres across Dadaab camp.

Michael Mutinda, a teacher in one of Dadaab's primary schools shows his pupils how a tablet computer works.   © UNHCR/D.Mwancha

DADAAB, Kenya, October 9 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency and the Vodafone Foundation have this month opened centres equipped with mobile technology that will allow thousands of young Somalis to complement, supplement and further their studies in Kenya's sprawling Dadaab refugee complex.

Ensuring a high quality education for the population of more than 350,000 refugees in Dadaab remains a challenge for a variety of reasons, including funding constraints and a shortage of trained teachers. But UNHCR and the Foundation, philanthropic arm of Britain's Vodafone telecoms company, believe the Instant Network Schools programme launched this month will help.

A total of 378 teachers will be trained to provide tablet-based education programmes to some 18,000 young people aged between seven and 20 years old in 13 instant network centres across Dadaab's camps.

The centres were opened in six existing primary schools, three secondary schools as well as four vocational skills centres and will enable students to access the Internet and other information and communications technology. There has been keen interest among young people in the days since the launch.

Many school-age children arrive at Dadaab camp with no prior education and school enrolment remains low. UNHCR has found that, of the 279,000 children living in Dadaab, 41 per cent are enrolled in primary schools and only 8.5 per cent are in secondary education.

Safaricom, Vodafone's affiliate in Kenya, is providing connectivity across all 13 solar-powered instant network schools, while Chinese telecoms equipment company Huawei has donated 235 tablet computers to the programme.

Teachers at Dadaab have been trained in a range of tablet-based education programmes, providing pupils with information they would have otherwise been unable to access because of a scarcity of education resources.

The tablets also provide pupils with a link to life outside the refugee camps. As part of their studies, pupils will use the technology to make contact with schoolchildren and professionals in other countries.

"We are happy with this partnership, which brings technology to our education system. Education is central in the lives of refugees since it is the most important thing that they can carry home. We are committed to ensure the success of the project," said UNHCR Representative in Kenya Raouf Mazou. The programme is being supported by UNHCR's innovation and education sections.

Vodafone Foundation Director Andrew Dunnett added that tablet-based learning programmes would provide many of the children in Dadaab with an "unlimited information resource that they would otherwise not have had."

The Vodafone Foundation has also opened a further three instant network schools - two at Ajuntok in South Sudan and the other in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. A further 5,000 young people will benefit from these schools.