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Bridging the digital divide: technology for refugees

Ellen Ward | 02 March 2018 | 2 Comments

So much of the technology we use today is taken for granted: the laptop provided to us by our employer, the smartphone given to us at Christmas and the tablets our children play on. But not all people have these devices available and an inequality, often called 'the Digital Divide', persists around the globe. Last year, Concern applied for a grant funded by Google which focused on putting digital devices into the hands of those who need them the most.

Some of the laptop recipients at the Irish Refugee Council Laptop Award event hosted by Accenture. Photo: Ellen Ward / Concern Worldwide

The application process

Staff from our overseas programmes and the I.T team in our head office in Dublin talked about how we might use the grant to make the most impact. We identified Syrian refugee children in our programme countries as being in need, as many have missed out on years of schooling due to fleeing conflict. A partnership with the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) was suggested to also help refugees settling in Ireland in addition to those Concern works with overseas.

The Learning Tech for Refugee Project was created and our application for the NetHope Device Challenge was successful. A grant of nearly $300,000 was awarded to enable the distribution of 1,180 laptop and tablet devices to provide educational benefit to as many as 5,000 people.

Tablets for Syrian children fleeing war

Syrian refugee children attending class. Photo: Concern Worldwide

The Concern part of the project is well underway with 1,150 tablets having been purchased locally overseas. Educational software is being loaded onto these tablets which come with a protective case and have an eight inch screen, which is ideal for children to use. Games such as Feed the Monster have been designed to teach Arabic in a fun and accessible way so that children can keep learning even when they are not in school. These tablets will be distributed in the coming months and follow up visits will monitor how they have been used as we continue to support the recipients.

Feed the Monster is one of the winners of the #EduApp4Syria competition which asked people to design a fun game to help children learn Arabic at home. It is one of a suite of tools being provided by Concern on tablets.

Laptops for refugees in Ireland

But the big success story of the grant so far has been the Irish portion of the project run by the IRC. Their Education Advisor, Charlotte Byrne, contacted refugees living in direct provision in Ireland and assessed their eligibility for receiving one of 35 laptop bundles which have been purchased using the grant. An afternoon event was also planned to get everyone together and Accenture kindly agreed to host it in their Dublin offices. They also offered to provide a range of online training in digital, language and workplace skills.  

Technology for learning AND for fun! 

On arriving at Accenture, our group was treated to a lovely hot meal inside their Dock building, and then a very cool tour of their innovative office spaces which  have been designed to encourage working creatively in groups. We were lucky enough to meet and interact with Pepper the Robot who fascinated us all with her lifelike voice and mannerisms.

Our group meets Pepper the Robot who lives at The Dock and loves taking ‘selfies’. Photo: Ellen Ward / Concern Worldwide

While up on their impressive roof level with views across Dublin city, we had a Q&A session with ‘the big boss’ Julie Spillane who shared her own insights on the future-focused projects at The Dock. After a walk over to another Accenture building in Grand Canal Square and a short orientation session, we were ready to begin the laptop awards and the important work of getting people set up on their shiny new laptops. As names were called and bags were opened, the atmosphere in the room was one of celebration. Everyone was smiling and clapping and thanking each other as Accenture volunteers helped and gave out goodie bags. We hardly noticed the RTE camera in the room, but it was great to see ourselves on the six o’clock news and on their website a few days later.

It was a wonderful event organised by Irish Refugee Council and we are delighted that they invited us to join in the fun of awards day.We even got a photo with Pepper!

Michael Doorly and Ellen Ward of Concern meeting Pepper the Robot in Accenture's Dock building in Dublin. Photo: Concern Worldwide

Working on the Learning Tech for Refugees project has been amazing and I look forward to sharing more good news stories in 2018. All people deserve the same rights, including access to technology and information and the opportunities they provide.

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