Andrew Dunnett, Vodafone Group Director, SDGs, Sustainable Business and Foundations
This year Vodafone Foundation and their partner, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, reach milestone anniversaries, with a century of activity between them. Andrew Dunnett, Director, SDGs, Sustainable Business and Foundations at Vodafone Group, reflects on the renewed importance of the partnership through the pandemic.
Connectivity is transforming the world, yet those who have the most to gain are too often the last to benefit. The potential to redress this situation is particularly acute in the classrooms of the world’s refugee children.
Many refugees spend decades displaced. That means a child could be born, raised and do their entire schooling in a refugee camp. Classrooms in this environment are amongst the toughest in the world; teachers routinely work in under-resourced classrooms, trying to meet the needs of a large number of mixed-ability learners.
Fostering quality learning remains a constant challenge, especially when teachers lack access to dynamic, or even current, educational resources. Focused efforts to deploy connectivity and technology in refugee-hosting classrooms are absolutely fundamental to addressing these challenges and delivering long term, sustainable benefits. .
A Partnership for Change
I have experienced this first hand via Instant Network Schools (INS), which Vodafone Foundation established in 2013 in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to give young refugees, host communities and their teachers access to digital learning content and the internet, improving the quality of education in some of the most marginalised communities in Africa.
The story of 20-year-old Fugia, an INS alumni, embodies the concept of a ‘partnership for change’. An aspiring doctor, Fugia grew up in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, where many in her community saw no value in girls pursuing an education.
When we first met in 2017, Fugia told me how she had to fight for her right to learn. Her mother, worried about what others were saying, had suggested she drop out of school. It took a demonstration on a tablet, showing how the circulatory system worked, to illustrate to her the power of technology-supported learning and convince her to let her daughter remain in school.
After being supported by INS, Fugia won a scholarship to study in Mombasa. When I caught up with her last month, I was heartened to hear her say that she’d finished high school and that she credited access to technology and connectivity for showing her who she could be, instilling confidence, motivation and a feeling of genuine equality.
Today, Fugia is a passionate advocate for the power of technology to support learning. Like the Foundation and UNHCR, she believes every child, regardless of gender, background or status, deserves access to a quality education.
Building Back Better
Prior to 2020, young refugees like Fugia were already twice as likely to be out of school as a non-refugee child. The pandemic has perpetuated the problem. While students were affected worldwide, refugee learners faced particularly dire conditions and consequences to their continued safety, wellbeing, and learning. The need for INS has never been greater: we cannot allow the past year to impact the education of an entire generation, and connectivity is a tool to help bring quality education to the most marginalised children.
Together, we’re making good progress. Over 94,000 refugee and host community students have now accessed quality learning through 48 INS in Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Mozambique, whilst in Egypt centres are being prepared for school openings later this year. There is still, however, a lot of work to be done. We remain committed to working in partnership with UNHCR to roll out the programme in current and new territories to connect 500,000 young refugees and their communities to a digital education by 2025.
2021: A Milestone Moment
This year, UNHCR marks its 70th anniversary as the number of forcibly displaced has risen to over 80 million and refugees remain among the most vulnerable people in the world. 2021 also sees the Foundation reach its 30th year of giving, as COVID continues to disrupt all our lives and leaves many more people around the world in need of help.
We have always been driven by a belief that connectivity has the power to address some of the world’s most pressing problems. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated the extent to which the pandemic would test, and prove, that theory.
In this challenging context, our belief in the positive power of technology has never been stronger. We are proud to work in partnership with UNHCR to scale connected education and create a more just and sustainable society, in which no one is left behind.
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