As the global spotlight falls on the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria and other Middle East regions, among its various impacts is the threat it poses to the future of millions of displaced students, who are at the risk of losing access to higher education. Taking up this unprecedented and urgent situation as its focus is The Refugee Learning Accelerator, an initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-led Media Lab.
With a view to bring together the engineering and tech community in the Middle East region to create solutions that improve lives of “refugee learners,” the Accelerator is organizing a six-month program -lasting from October 2017 to April 2018- to provide learning, mentorship, and funding for selected projects that benefit the status of education of refugee youth. The Accelerator’s objective is to discover and support ideas that could help refugees aged 15-24 years learn, either in a formal school system or informally. Further, the end-user of the solution could be parents, teachers, and other stakeholders too, and not just the refugee youth, says the program.
"The last few years has seen increasing interest in the potential of technology to solve problems faced by refugees. There are lots of projects using digital tools to deliver education to refugees, but only a handful of them are actually designed and delivered by people from the region," says Genevieve Barrons, Project Lead - Refugee Learning Accelerator, MIT Media Lab. "Good education must be locally contextualized--whether than means local languages, curriculum or content." She adds that the Accelerator was so designed since they "wanted to provide an opportunity for people from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine--some of the countries most affected by the current refugee crisis--to use their tech skills to support refugee learners." Accordingly, the program spells out that they are looking for innovators who share their goal of collaborating to solve the aforementioned challenge, rather than seek support to launch “the next billion dollar company.”
The Accelerator program, which will take place in Amman, Jordan, is divided into four phases- apply, ideate, prototype, and incubate. While you can already have an idea in your mind, after crossing the application stage, the selected teams are supported with workshops and other trainings to ideate a solution, post which another set of shortlisted teams, enter the prototype stage. Finally, the teams with the most promising prototypes receive further support, either in the form of funding or network connections, to help them continue work on their solution.
According to the eligibility criteria determined, interested applicants must apply in a team of 2-5 people (if you don’t have a team, the program urges you to head to their Facebook Marketplace to find like-minded individuals), and must have working knowledge of Arabic and English. “Ideal participants are the kind of people who are active on Stack Overflow, know their way around GitHub repositories, or have built things at a hackathon or two,” says the website, while making it clear that an engineering degree is not a pre-requisite to apply.
If the initiative interests you, check out the application process here for detailed information on what would qualify you to be a part of it, what you need to do, and more. Don’t take too long to apply, as the submissions close September 20, 2017!