Skills belts are helping refugee children regain control of their education

Publication date: Feb 22, 2019
“To help them want to go to school again, learn and make progresses, in a welcoming environment where they can increase their self-esteem. The classroom becomes a place of life, of exchanges, questioning, researches, points of reference and safety.” Eric, French professor, who supported Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) in the implementation of the mLearning project in Syria and Turkey, explains what the skills belts system is and why it is important in the context of the Syrian crisis.
Chlidren learning through the skills belts system

Years of conflict in Syria made thousands of children flee their homes and schools, which were either destroyed, not operational or unsafe. In a situation where war, bombs and fear took the place of education, games, and fun, a “place of life” becomes a life-changing glimmer of hope. Through the mLearning activities and the skills belts system, TSF is providing refugee children with an opportunity to receive tailored education where traditional education would be hardly possible. “Digital technologies are a tool which facilitates learning and communication and which can be adapted to each child’s situation. They are a tool among others (as much as pens and papers) but not really as any other, because they open a world of possibilities.”  

Skills belts for Syrian refugees, why are they effective?

 “I think the skills belts system is perfectly suitable for the context of TSF’s centres in Syria and Turkey. It makes the ‘willingness to learn’ meaningful again and it focuses on concepts like collaboration, cooperation and mutual aid.”

The traditional education system cannot fully respond to the difficulties faced by Syrian children. Due to the conflict, they missed months, sometimes even years, of education, not to count the psychological consequences wars have on children and their learning activities. They might have lower levels compared to their peers and their learning process is inevitably affected by the environment they’ve been living in for years. At TSF we believe beneficiaries and their needs are always the first priority, and humanitarian aid should always be adapted to these needs. To meet the specific needs of Syrian refugees we decided to contact Eric, who has been using the skills belts system in his classes for several years.

Why did you decide to support TSF?

Five years ago, after a humanitarian mission in the West Bank where I worked on educational activities for children in a refugee camp, I thought to myself that I had finally found a meaning for helping others. So, as soon as TSF contacted me, I didn’t hesitate for a second, in order to live intense humanitarian experiences and give my time to help children in need.”   

What is the skills belts system?  

Skills belts are an evaluation system organised in skill levels. Each level is marked by a colour (from white to black), similar to judo. In each level there are different skills which must be acquired by each child. The student must learn all the skills in one level to be able to move to the next one. In order to acquire the skills, different activities are possible such as experiments, practical workshops, exercises (on paper and digital), learning processes and evaluation tests.”    

Tailored and personalised learning to increase their self-esteem

Such a system, allows students to have “a real differentiation in their learning process and pace, more autonomy, speaking opportunities and exchanges with their peers.” “Children don’t learn the same skills at the same time. This system gives each individual student the possibility to learn in a tailored and personalized manner. We take students where they are in their learning process and we help them advance at their own pace.”  

This system doesn’t only allow students to learn at their own pace, but it helps them gain and improve the self-confidence needed when life is so unstable. “Risks are controlled, mistakes demythified and evaluations demystified, verbalised. Students increase their self-esteem in relation to their achievements, based on their successes and ‘failures’.

How can digital technologies enhance the skills belts system?  

In the framework of this evaluation system, digital technologies become a powerful, enhancing tool. “Indeed, the younger ones will learn the utility of taking pictures of their achievements, (allowing a valorisation and validation of their results) and the freedom of choice during the activities and exercises related to their work plan (apps and educational software and  use of QR codes, for example). The older ones will be able to use digital tools to further increase their autonomy: printing documents, creation of videos to teach to their peers, validation of their activities through interactive application and communication to their families on the results achieved.”     

Thanks to the skills belts system and the instrumental backup of digital technologies, “each student becomes responsible for their learning process and their work. They will be willing to keep digital track (audio or visual) of their achievements, to choose and look for the relevant learning tools for each activity, to ask for help to their peers and to discuss with them the results of their experiments and researches.

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