Contributing to the education of Syrian children through digital tools: 9 years of activities in Syria and Turkey (2013-2022)

Publication date: Jul 13, 2022

In early 2012, TSF started supporting medical activities in Syria with emergency communication means. A year later, during a mission to the Alsalama camp on the Turkish-Syrian border, TSF visited the camp's school and observed the lack of resources the teachers were facing. They were doing their best to maintain an educational context for these children who had fled the war and were living in tents in very difficult conditions.
Very mindful of the situation of these children, TSF wanted to contribute to their education through digital resources: this was the first step of a set of digital education projects for Syrian children, several times stopped, restarted, modified, relocated - according to the evolution of the war in the district of Azaz, then in Gaziantep, on the other side of the border, in Turkey. Today, 9 years after the beginning of these activities, TSF transfers the management of the last activities in Gaziantep to its local partner.

2013-2015: mLearning, digital resources for traditional education

TSF's first mLearning centres were opened in 2013: in the Alsalama camp, in a school in the city of Azaz in Syria, and in Gaziantep in Turkey, within a school opened especially for refugee children. In these centres, a TSF instructor coordinated with the teachers and proposed digital activities to the children to illustrate in a playful and interactive way the subjects covered during the traditional classes. Particular importance was given to the creativity of the children, who could express themselves by making drawings or comics for example, most often in small groups using tablets.

In order to adapt to the teaching conditions in Syria, the TSF technical team developed the mLearning kit, a library of free digital resources giving access to the contents in case of unavailability of the internet network, or of electricity. This library included the Khan Academy courses.

These activities reached over a thousand children between 2013 and 2015.

2016-2017: integration into the school program

At the beginning of 2016, TSF's partner school in Gaziantep was transformed by the Turkish authorities, who wanted to harmonise teaching and integrate Syrian refugees into the Turkish education system, without the intervention of international NGOs. As a result, activities temporarily ceased in Turkey, but continued in Syria, in the Alsalama camp and in the city of Azaz.

At the end of 2016, dedicated funding allowed TSF to expand activities to two additional schools in Azaz, in partnership with the Azaz Local Council's Educational Office. The design of this project included the intervention of TSF instructors during classes, in close collaboration with the teachers. The final objective over two years was to introduce teachers to digital resources and to train them in their use in real life situations, so that they could continue to use these resources once the project was over.
If some reluctance existed among teachers at the beginning of the project, an evaluation at the end of the first year (June 2017) showed that a very large majority of teachers (89%) appreciated the use of digital tools during the class and made it more interactive. If more than half of them felt partly destabilised by the introduction of digital content, the same proportion also found that these resources remotivated students by allowing them to approach a subject seen in class in another way.

Despite this success, the partnership couldn’t be renewed for the second year of the project because the education sector in the Azaz district had to follow the same rules as in Turkey. The teaching was refocused on the traditional program and no longer allowed international NGOs to intervene.

2018-2019: culmination of the skill belts approach

Since the beginning of the project, two questions have been at the centre of the mLearning activities:
1/ how to measure the knowledge acquired by the children during the digital activities
2/ how to adapt the activities to the children's situation: psychological traumas, disparities in school programs, dropping out, etc.

During all these years of activities, these two questions have often come up and have been the subject of many reflections within the TSF team in Syria as well as at headquarters. The incorporation of a volunteer with pedagogical expertise into the project has enabled the learning program to be formalised in the form of skill belts. As mentioned, creativity and interactivity have been at the heart of the mLearning program since its launch. The skill belts have allowed the TSF instructors to slightly transform the format of the sessions, the setting of the activities, and their approach as educators, so as to make the children more aware of their progress, and thus ensure that the activities built the children's confidence.
Lastly, the individualised progression that is an integral part of the skills belts approach has enabled better monitoring of children in an unstable situation, or who have returned to the activity after a few months' absence due to their family situation.
At the end of 2018, the activities in Syria were no longer possible due to the lack of partners for the project. The mLearning program therefore continued with Syrian refugee children in Gaziantep, in partnership with the local organisation Minber Alsham.

2020-2022: COVID-19 and Lab4future

After training Minber Alsham teachers, TSF focused on digital skills from 2020 onwards, with the Lab4future project.
The Lab4future maintained the pedagogical elements and the recreational and interactive side of the mLearning activities by focusing on the introduction to digital skills: use of computer tools and awareness of their different uses, and introduction to programming thanks to Scratch and the educational robot mBot. COVID-19 disrupted the launch of the project, but the sessions were easily switched to distance learning and resumed in person as soon as the health situation allowed it. Today the activities are carried out by the same TSF-trained educators and managed by the local organisation Minber Alsham, which has been a TSF partner in the implementation of this project since 2018.

These 9 years of activities have allowed thousands of children to resume their education, to regain the desire to learn, to improve their self-confidence and to find a safe place where they could dream again. Today, TSF continues to work to improve the Lab4Future project and to be able to implement it in other humanitarian crises, to allow other young people and children victims of these crises to regain hope and their status as children.

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