[Ghana] UNHCR launches world's first satellite enabled interactive distance learning project for refugee children
20-06-2017 11:18:00 | by: Andrea Ayemoba | hits: 4767 | Tags:
A new project enabling refugee children in the Ampain camp in Western Ghana to receive high quality teaching via distance learning is now fully established and being held up as part of a UNHCR campaign to showcase concrete solutions to refugee crises around the world on World Refugee Day.
The Varkey Foundation Teach to Reach Remote Classrooms Project (TRC) funded by the UNHCR is the world’s first satellite enabled live two-way interactive distance learning programme for children living in a refugee camp.  The project makes use of satellite enabled schools, solar powered computer hardware and an interactive live feed inside the classroom, enabling high quality two-way interactive lessons to be delivered at regular intervals.
The UNHCR maintains a constant presence in the camp, but a high-level visit to the camp takes place today to mark World Refugee Day and to publicise the UNHCR’s #WithRefugees campaign, which aims to highlight solutions that are playing a part in alleviating refugee crises around the world, including helping all refugee children to get an education.
The delegation visiting the project today includes Hon. Henry Quartey, Deputy Minister for Interior, Ghana; Ms. Otiko Afisa Djaba, Minister for Gender Children and Social Protection, Ghana; Ms. Ioli Kimyaci, UNHCR Country Representative; and Mad. Christine Evans-Klock, UN Resident Coordinator, together with members of the diplomatic corps.
Established on 19 March, 2011, the Ampain Refugee Camp is located in the Ellembelle District of the Western Region of Ghana, and was the first of three camps established in 2011 to shelter displaced Ivoirians fleeing the hostilities following the November 2010 Presidential elections held in Côte d’Ivoire. The current population of the camp is 3,432.
Since April, the Varkey Foundation has been running interactive distance lessons from qualified teachers based at its studio in Accra to support around 225 school-age children at Ampain Primary School that has been specially established in the camp.  Each classroom in the school is equipped with a projector and a low-cost durable computer to receive lessons via a solar-powered satellite link.
Refugee children who are currently out-of-school or at risk of dropping-out will catch up with their basic education, allowing them to continue with their secondary education, as well as learn the language of their host country. 
The programme is for both boys and girls, and in addition to receiving high quality literacy and numeracy lessons, there are also after-school sessions to address gender specific issues and life skills in order to create a safe learning environment and empower pupils with leadership and decision-making skills.
‘Wonder Women’, aimed at girls, is an after-school girls' club engaging youth in topics such as reproductive health, preventing early pregnancy, human rights awareness and financial literacy. It also emphasizes leadership skills that develop girls’ ability to advocate for themselves, interact with leaders in their community and stand up for issues important to them. The goal is to empower girls, raise their self-esteem, enable them to catch up on lost learning and to stay in school.
Similarly, the boys-only after school club called ‘Boys Boys’ includes equivalent life-skills topics on reproductive health, human rights awareness and financial literacy. Its focus on dispelling gender stereotypes through discussions and roleplays heightens understanding of the challenges girls face and how boys can change their own behaviour to help their sisters and female peers. This also encourages boys to continue their schooling as they gain support on specific challenges faced in their communities. 
The Teach to Reach programme is based on the successful Making Ghanaian Girls Great! project (known as MGCubed), aimed at enhancing the quality of education for more than 10,000 marginalized children within two regions in Ghana (Volta and Greater Accra).  The Varkey Foundation has run MGCubed since 2014, and independent evaluation shows successes include a large and significant positive impact on numeracy and literacy skills and a positive influence on girls’ beliefs regarding gender norms, with girls in MGCubed schools more likely to disagree with statements reflecting stereotypical norms.
There are currently other interactive distance learning solutions (using the likes of smart technology or Skype) but this is the first such programme to use satellite enabled technology.
Ms. Ioli Kimyaci, UNHCR Ghana Country Representative said:
“We’re delighted to see at first hand this innovative, cost-effective project which is enabling children who would otherwise be denied a quality education now have access to a qualified teacher.
“The beauty of this project is that it allows one good teacher’s reach to extend anywhere with the use of satellite technology, solar powered computer hardware and an interactive live feed inside the classroom.
“It means that the lives of refugee children can be transformed through education, giving them the skills and grounding they desperately need for a brighter future.”
Vikas Pota, CEO of the Varkey Foundation, said:
“The project in the Ampain Refugee Camp is giving students foundational skills in reading, writing, and numeracy that will allow them
to overcome language barriers, make up
for learning loss, and access the national curriculum to integrate into their host community. 
“This project can make a real difference because it is quick to mobilise and can be scaled up, delivering lessons to more refugee settings around the globe.  Most importantly, it is a long-lasting solution which is what is required due to the length of time that children often end up staying in refugee camps.
“The overall goal is to prove that our concept in emergency education settings increases children’s attendance in school, creates professional development and capacity building opportunities for teachers and community members, and impacts pupil learning in numeracy and literacy.”
The Varkey Foundation is part of the #WithRefugees Coalition who are supporting the #WithRefugees campaign, a group of more than 100 universities, FBOs, youth groups, UN Agencies, and NGOs working with UNHCR to promote tolerance and respect for persons forced to flee.