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Technology Beyond Borders: Adult Education in Conflict Settings

Tue, March 27, 11:30am to 1:00pm, Hilton Reforma, Floor: 2nd Floor, Don Diego 4 Section A

Group Submission Type: Panel Session


Education is a human right and UNESCO’s 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report has confirmed that in order to build livelihood, health, and peace efforts in conflict contexts, education must be a priority. Similarly, the new Sustainable Development Goals focus on “inclusive and equitable quality education.” However, millions of Syrians lack access to this type of education. Advancements in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) have put a spotlight on mobile communication devices as a means of creating unique pathways for continued learning.

This panel introduces the unique approach to educational access adopted by Paper Airplanes, which works at the intersections of multiple areas of concern for CIES scholars and practitioners, including: conflict education, language issues, and information and communications technology (ICT) for development. Paper Airplanes uses widely available internet applications (Skype, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, etc.) to facilitate one-on-one and small group language and skills tutoring between Syrian students and a global corps of volunteer tutors. The organization was founded in 2014 and has four programs: English, Youth Classroom Exchange (English and intercultural dialogue), Turkish, and Women in Tech (coding). A fifth program, journalism, is being piloted in Fall 2017. These programs serve teens and adults whose educations have been interrupted, many for several years, and aims to bridge the education gap created by conflict. This young adult population is often overlooked in conflict education literature and practice. By focusing on older learners, Paper Airplanes is working to help students with disrupted educations (re)enroll in university or gain additional professional skills.

In this panel, we outline the challenges faced by internally and externally displaced Syrian learners and present two interconnected solutions: a trauma-informed English curriculum and the use of technology to reach students in or near conflict zones. We refer to the English program specifically because it is the largest and most established; however, the same principles and framework are applied across all four Paper Airplanes programs. In addressing these areas, we explain why Paper Airplanes’ work is critically important, and how the work being done by Paper Airplanes could easily be replicated in other conflict and emergency contexts as the methodology and approaches are sustainable and reflective of students’ needs

This year’s conference theme calls on us to address South-North dialogue. Paper Airplanes strives to be at the forefront of this dialogue. The organizational staff is comprised of Syrian and non-Syrian international educators. A number of the Syrian staff members are or were Paper Airplanes students, and are critical voices in strategic planning and student and staff recruitment. In addition, advanced students are beginning to serve as tutors for beginning students, thus creating a cycle of South-South collaboration. This collaboration is essential as current students can draw on the expertise and connections of former students to promote agency and indigenous knowledge as opposed to external forces implementing a removed educational program.

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