Last month, GL Assessment nominated the Xavier Project to become BESA’s Charity of the Year, based on the fantastic work that the company has been doing with the charity in Uganda and Kenya over the past few years.
Since 2008, the Xavier Project has been supporting the education of refugee children in Kenya and Uganda, as well as offering training and employment support for their parents. We had the chance to discuss with Edmund Page, CEO of the Xavier Project, about the Xavier Project’s partnership with GL Assessment and the use of EdTech in refugee settings.
Q: Based on your experience in Kenya and Uganda, would you say that the education crisis for refugee children has worsened or improved?
EP: During 10 years of working with refugee children in Uganda and Kenya, we have seen some positive changes in their access to education. For example, authorities in Kenya and Uganda have both been praised for adopting increasingly progressive policies when it comes to education for refugees within their borders. In both countries, the ministries of education have formally recognised schools being run in camps and settlements, and in some cases have co-funded their overheads.
However, refugees in Kenya and Uganda still have reduced rights when it comes to employment and making a living, and as such many refugees are unable to pay the existing school fees that are present at all levels of education. Moreover, refugees face discrimination on a local level, with too many examples of teachers and students bullying refugees for their status and nationality. On a national level, refugees face discriminatory barriers to education, such as higher exam fees and an overly complicated and expensive process for translating certificates of education received in their country of origin.
But the one challenge that has become significantly worse during the decade is the lack of resources to cover the cost of education for refugees. There are now close to two million refugees between Kenya and Uganda, which is almost double the number hosted by the same countries in 2008. In Uganda alone, 400,000 of these refugees are children who are not able to go to school, simply because the school places do not exist. So while there are more refugees in school now than there were in 2008 – and Xavier Project has played a role in this – the proportion of refugees accessing school has worsened.
Q: Your programme lays upon the development of Community Learning Hubs, run by and for the community. Can you tell us more about these?
EP: It is vital that the community members have ownership of the education of their next generation. They are well informed and know which aspects of education will be relevant for their children when they grow up. As mentioned above, the lack of resources is a major barrier to refugees accessing education, and community members are well placed to identify resources and share their own, both financial and non-financial. This, in turn, promotes the sustainability of the education interventions, and if a model can be sustainable it often means the model is scalable.
Alongside the financial barriers, many refugee children in East Africa do not attend school because of cultural reasons. Examples include girls marrying early, and children with disabilities being kept at home. With the community taking more ownership of the education of their children, fewer children are left out of the system, as the lack of inclusion can be tackled at the source.
Q: An important part of your learning programme is to use ICT to give refugee children access to education. What role do you think ICT and education technology (EdTech) has to play to help solve the refugee crisis?
EP: We are acutely aware of the value of human relationships in education, both from the perspective of achieving core learning outcomes and for the education of the whole child – including psychosocial and emotional learning. Since 2008, we have also been exposed to EdTech that uses questionable pedagogy, software and hardware. A combination of these experiences has led us to sign up to the cliché that EdTech will never fully replace teachers.
However, there are now tried and tested EdTech innovations that work. In many ways, it is easier for EdTech solutions to boast a comparative advantage in refugee settings, where traditional education models are so strained. For example, a teacher with over 200 children in a class cannot set individual assignments or mark homework – they can rarely even give individualised verbal feedback. In settings like this, there are EdTech initiatives that can play a more significant role in educating the child than the teacher can, at a cheaper cost. An example is our partnership with Enuma, which has a literacy and numeracy app called Kitkit. With all costs involved, we have calculated that each child can benefit from 30 hours of Kitkit learning for just £2.43 each – and for a quality learning experience.
EP: We have partnered with GL Assessment and GCSEPod after considering the experiences mentioned previously. Students we work with complete GL’s assessments, sometimes as often as every three months, and we are able to see improvements in their reading age and identify learning difficulties – among other insights, as it is incredible what this software can tell you. GCSEPod also ticks lots of boxes as an EdTech intervention, because on top of enhancing academic performance, the learning content is enjoyed by all participants. Crucially, they have considered elements such as social and emotional learning in their content.
Xavier Project is very fortunate that both partners have provided us with the licence to use their software with designated numbers of students for no charge. The value of this to us is immense: as well as providing holistic, proven and fun learning content for individual learners, the data we are able to obtain from the software has helped us demonstrate impact and expand our work with refugees across the region.