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IGNITE 2019 sheds light on digital learning opportunities for refugees

Students in Syria, digital skills and online learning for refugees were discussed at IGNITE 2019, a conference that explored the wider issue of jobs for young people in fragile states.

Delegates attend a talk about digital skills for refugees at the IGNITE 2019 conference

"You have to understand that learning a language can open a whole world to you"

The event was hosted by PIEoneer of the Year 2019 SPARK, a Netherlands-based charity that organises programs around the world including a Higher Education Services program in Syria and an education for employment network in Kosovo. 

SPARK has created 10,547 scholarships, trained 101,689 young people and created 26,460 jobs since its inception.

“Edtech has a tremendous role to play with refugees”

Delegates attended workshops at Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ concert hall for contemporary classical music in Amsterdam. 

The event was kicked off by Yannick du Pont, executive director of SPARK who spoke about how the organisation was originally formed as part of a student movement to highlight war crimes and atrocities taking place in the Bosnian war. 

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, du Pont told delegates, “what drives us every day is young people in fragile states”.

Other keynote speakers in the morning included CEO of IKEA Foundation Per Heggenes, who stressed the importance of supporting young entrepreneurs, and Josephine Goube, CEO of Techfugees

Goube told delegates how Techfugees was created was started in 2015 as a response to images of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned trying to reach Europe with his family. 

“Ten days later 300 people from the tech industry, NGOs and refugees themselves gathered to ask the question, ‘can tech do anything for these people?’” she said. 

Goube told The PIE News that edtech has a tremendous role to play with refugees.

“You have to understand it is a population that is limited in space and time and sometimes on the move,” she said. 

“So having a tool online that you can log on to and that remembers what you’ve learnt before and with a certificate that you can go to any country and will be recognised, is of tremendous value.

“That’s why I think for these populations it makes so much sense.”

Goube explained that Techfugees partnered with an NGO called Syria Relief and the British Council to help curate and manage an online English course. 

“Learning a language can open a whole world… because once people in Syria who are limited in their movements can access online resources in English, they can access a huge part of the internet,” she said. 

Conflict in Syria and the impact it has had on education in the country was a recurring theme at the conference, and the International Syrian Association for Education Development was officially launched alongside IGNITE.  

The association is a global network of over 120 researchers, academics, professionals, scholarship holders, that has been set up to support Syrian students and help them continue with their education. 

It’s founder and CEO, Oudai Tozan, spoke to delegates during a keynote speech about the limitations of interventions in education by organisations such as NGOs. 

He argued that, while NGOs are able to support people by helping them access education, often once they deliver programs, they provide no further support. 

Tozan suggested a support network for students should be made up of people who have been helped by NGOs to access education. 

“In Syria right now there is a huge brain drain and huge challenges, and each of these challenges, they require high-quality skills and education to try to mitigate them or to solve them, so [education] is crucial,” he told The PIE.

“Each of these challenges… require high-quality skills and education to try to mitigate them”

“Right now we have a Syrian diaspora of millions. Those millions have gained high-quality knowledge and now it is their job to transfer their skills to their sectors in Syria and to the people of Syria.” 

The complexity of the situation in Syria was discussed in a talk about jobs in the country, with speakers debating how interventions should be made given the fact that the Assad regime remains in place. 

“Yes, you want reconstruction in Syria, but not a reconstruction that rewards war criminals and not a reconstruction that contributes to the furthering of war crimes,” said Ibrahim Olabi, director of the Syrian Legal Development Programme. 

Olabi added that education may be one of the sectors that is least problematic, although he qualified this by saying: “we need to get out of the idea that we can do something fully ethically in a situation like Syria.

“It’s all relative. And so we need to do our best in sectors like education, which are clearer than other areas.” 

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