Western companies are donating educational technology to help Syrian children during the refugee crisis. The EduApp4Syria campaign in particular provides smartphones and software for Syrian children who can’t go to school. In addition to helping them learn to read and write, these apps also help provide some much-needed relaxation during what has to be a very traumatic time in their lives. Another effort is the a partnership between Pearson publishers and Save the Children. Together they are providing educational materials to displaced refugee children.
But NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz found recently that most charitable action aimed at educating Syrian refugee children has come in the way of educational technology donations. She writes, “for every donor funding a soccer ball there are 10 backing tablets, educational games, online courses or learning platforms.” While that might sound generous, she observes that really it seems to be a quick-fix solution that won’t pan out. Refugee camps have less than reliable access to electricity and basic amenities like sewage. Education, Kamenetz correctly argues, is a long-term commitment, and if Western charities don’t take the time to assess what is really going on, then sending a crate of iPads isn’t going to help very much.
As tragic as this entire episode is, I couldn’t help but be reminded of what happened in Los Angeles Unified a few years ago in the iPad scandal. Apart from the issue of fair bidding, there was a general consensus among educators that I knew in the area that the whole imitative was rushed. Politicians are frequently blame for “throwing money” at problems in education, but that seems to sometimes come in the form of educational technology. The assumption, I suppose, is that if students have state-of-the-art devices, they must be receiving a state-of-the-art education. Clearly that is not the case.
As we have been discussing continually throughout this doctoral program, technology should not be a driver but instead help to accelerate the shifts in pedagogical practice that best impact student learning. A systems approach would dictate that better outcomes could be leveraged in looking at everything that contributes to a student’s learning. In the case of LA Unified, that would mean looking at teacher training, a 21st century curriculum, and school policies that would empower students to be self-learners. In the case of these generous Western tech companies, that might mean considering more cost-effective donations and provided expertise that could help students continue their education and better assimilate into the national educational system of their new home.