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Business School Beams Real-Time Lectures into Isolated Refugee Camp

Every morning in Kakuma, an isolated complex of camps hosting 165,000 refugees in northwest Kenya, a couple of dozen accountancy students sit down at their computers for class.

In the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, some 450 miles (730 km) away, lecturers in Strathmore University, one of Kenya’s oldest private colleges and top business schools, enter a sound-proofed digital studio to deliver real-time, virtual classes to the refugees.

They taking part in a pilot project by iLab Africa, a research and innovation center at Strathmore, in partnership with refugee education charity Windle Trust Kenya and with funding from UNHCR, to provide free Certified Public Accountant (CPA) qualifications to refugees in Kenya using live-streaming and conferencing technologies.

The first CPA course started last summer in Kakuma camp, home to thousands who fled war and destitution in neighboring South Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia and beyond. Last year, Kenya vowed to close Kakuma but later restricted the threat to Dadaab, the country’s other major refugee camp and the world’s largest. Meanwhile, refugees fleeing atrocities in nearby South Sudan continue to pour into Kakuma.

Since the initial pilot, some of the students in Kakuma are now taking the second CPA course, while others are retaking the qualification exam. “The CPA was not a piece of cake, but they are pretty serious with their work and we hope to get an even better performance in CPA section two,” says Regina Nkonge, who manages the project as iLab Africa’s digital learning manager. “We’re studying the uptake of this teaching methodology with this particular group and will use what we learn to adapt or change the model in the future.”

Refugees deeply spoke to Nkonge about the pilot in Kakuma and the opportunities and limits of virtual learning for refugees.

Could you explain how the project works and who it is for?

Regina Nkonge: In both Kakuma and Dadaab, there are very few teachers, while the students are many. Sometimes the teachers at the tertiary level are not qualified or trained. So the education given to refugees is watered down. There are many students who want to continue their education, but very few organizations or schools that are offering tertiary education in the camps.

We established a CPA examination center at Kakuma camp, as the registered centers are very far from the camp. [Kenya’s national accountancy examination body] KASNEB traveled to Kakuma and approved the center.

The Windle Trust Kenya advertised the program at the camp, and many students showed interest and submitted their applications. But, because of the KASNEB requirements, we were only able to get 24 students. Of them, 23 are male and only one female, so that’s a challenge. Most female [applicants] at the camp were not able to meet the requirements.

There are some computer labs at the camp, but they’re already used for other trainings, so we constructed a dedicated computer lab for our classes and equipped it with enough computers so each student is able to have their own computer connected to the internet, with their own earphones and microphone.

The students go to the computer lab every day to attend class, while the lecturer delivers the lecture from Strathmore University. The students in Kakuma can follow the class and ask questions using their mic or write questions using a messaging application, so the lecturer is able to answer that question in real time. We eliminated the need to travel between the refugees and the teacher.

What were the main lessons that you learned during the pilot project?

Nkonge: The first lesson that we learned is the importance of an initial needs assessment when starting such a project. While some organizations that work in the camps told us that these students are tech savvy, we soon discovered that they didn’t have the ICT [Information and Communications Technology] skills to interact with a virtual environment as a learner. For almost a month, we had to go check in on them and see whether they were able to log in or access learning material online. So we offered the students basic ICT skills and trained a member of staff of Windle Trust based at the camp so that he can help them with any technical issues.

Another thing that we learned was internet connectivity was a bit low at first in the computer lab and the streaming of the classes was lagging. We approached the Kenyan mobile service provider Safaricom and asked them if they could raise the bandwidth a little bit for the purposes of this class. They agreed, so classes have been a bit smoother than they were originally.

The third thing we learned is that we need to study how to motivate the students. When lots of students do attend class, the lecturers told us that their participation is really good and the students ask really intelligent questions. But the problem is getting the students to class. For example, if it has rained in Kakuma and there are floods and the students cannot access the computer labs, they cannot come to class. Or perhaps it’s the time for distribution of food relief and they’re not able to come to class. Or maybe it’s a motivation issue – they’re feeling a bit down based on what’s happening in their lives and they don’t want to come to class.


Article by Refugees Deeply. To read more, click here.