Restoring the future
ITWORX Education has worked tirelessly to ensure that children displaced by war get the education they so desperately need. Their success is built upon the award-winning WinjiGo platform
According the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the ongoing conflict in Syria has seen an estimated 11 million Syrians flee their homes, since the outset of the civil war in March 2011. Roughly 4.8 million have fled to neighbouring countries, which includes Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, while another 6.6 million remain internal displayed within Syria. Another one million have sought asylum in Europe.
Furthermore, a special report produced by Word Vision magazine, the publication of the global humanitarian organisation, highlighted the impact of the war on children. In addition to being at risk of disease, malnourishment, abuse and exploitation, roughly two to three million Syrian children have no access to proper education.
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the war has set back the progress of education for Syrian children by a decade.
One of the many organisations answering the call to the crisis is ITWORX Education, a global provider of education software solutions. A division of ITWORX that was founded back in 2003, ITWORX Education has work diligently to find ways to deliver education to Syrian refugee children displaced by war.
Their answer lies with the WinjiGo platform, a web-based course management tool, designed for the blended learning environment, and supporting of both instructor-led and non-formal learning activities.
“WinjiGo is a word that comes from the Nubian language, which loosely translated is stars and go. It reflects our belief that each and every student is a very unique personality who deserve right attention to their specific skills. WinjiGo is an implementation that helps bringing solving the problem getting access to education for the Syrian refugees,” comments Hatem Sallam, CEO, ITWORX Education.
Developed over an 18-month period, the SaaS e-learning platform comes equipped with a number tools that can aid teachers, both physical and virtual, to educate their charges. These include integration with Office 365, Outlook, YouTube, social media, and global access from anywhere, at any time.
The interface also allows teachers to design lessons, manage each student’s learning lifecycle, and even utilise WinjiGo’s community wall that connects with other educators from across the world. Furthermore, the platform supports accelerated learning, which holds great value in the case of refugee children, who may have lost several years of schooling.
To date, WinjiGo has been deployed on several projects across the Middle East, which includes schools in Turkey and Jordan, however, it with a pilot project in Lebanon, which elevated ITWORX Education into the spotlight at the ACN Arab Technology Awards in 2016. The company won both the Harnessing Innovation Award and the Education Implementation of the Year award.
Of course, as one might expect, these projects do come with their own set of trials. On the one hand is the humanitarian challenge, which primarily consists of ensuring ample accommodation and food supplies are available for the refugee community.
Though these typically take precedence over schooling, Sallam is quick to emphasise the value of education in shaping the future of war torn nations following the conclusion
He also stressed how important it is to create employment opportunities for both students and their families. Acquiring work permits for refugees after they complete vocational programmes, for example, can go a long way in helping them find legal work and dispel negative viewpoints of citizens from the host country, who fear their jobs are being given away to unskilled foreigners.
ITWORX Education’s program also provides employment opportunities for adult refugees to assist as supervisors in its schools. This helps not only to give them work, but also serves as a positive motivator to encourage children and their families from the same community, to get back into the routine of going to school and recieving an education.
From a technical standpoint, ITWORX Education had to initially tackle the frequent loss of electricity, as well as the lack of internet connectivity at the refugee camps in Lebanon. To keep the school active during a power outage, the company installed an intricate solar array to provide electricity for lighting and heating.
The lack of connectivity didn’t prove too much of an obstacle, as the Winjigo platform is designed to operate while offline, but occasionally access to the internet was necessary. To manage this issue, ITWORX Education brought on board its long-standing partner, Microsoft.
“Microsoft has a very good technology called White Space, that uses TV and satellite broadcasting — the overlap between channels and allocated bandwidth — to help generate internet with small devices and at a low cost. They are deploying these for free for most of the Syrian refugee camps all over the world and to people without access to education,” explains Sallam.
With their ongoing partnership dating all the way back to 2003, ITWORX Education previously aided in the coding and development of Microsoft Learning Gateway. Since then, the education technology specialist has helped distribute the platform to more than 170 countries.
Forging ahead, Hatem Sallam shares that ITWORX Education’s 2017 strategy will continue to focus on adding more capabilities to the WinjiGo platform and to reach over 150,000 students across the world.
In the specific case of Syrian refugees, he shares that the company has recently entered into a partnership with content provider Global Learning (GL), which is tasked with creating digitised content for a Syrian curriculum, approved by both sides of the ongoing conflict.
Additional elements to be added include gamification aspects to ensure the platform remains engaging, mobile extensions for parents to monitor progress of their children, as well as the introducing improved business intelligence capabilities.
The latter includes analytics that will look into the responses of students on standardised tests, searching for insights into their behaviour and learning styles.
Another arena that the team at ITWORX Education is focused on lies with augmented reality. The company is exploring the use of Microsoft HoloLens in vocational studies, where students can learn to manipulate and repair various machines with virtual parts. Doing away with the need of physical objects, this can dramatically save costs in training.
“Vocational learning might be the answer for some of these Syrian refugees who haven’t been to school for five years back and who now are 16 years old and over … we have a very advanced component in this arena. We believe because they are refugees, this does not mean that we give them least technological solution,” asserts Sallam.
“We put the best technology in their hands, so they feel part of the world. This is a important turning point in the relationship with these students, to bring them back to school, because it is not an easy thing to do.”
ITWORX Education is also looking into using virtual reality (VR), which is being tapped for its capabilities to deliver new experiences for young students that they would otherwise miss out on.
“Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be used to achieve better results. This is one way of imagining how technology will affect education. Think also of the possibility that each child will use virtual to ‘visit’ major landmarks all over the world. You don’t have to travel to see places,” concludes Sallam.