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Connecting the World 24 March 2017

Bringing the school to kids: The importance of Internet in times of conflict

Constance Bommelaer de Leusse
By Constance Bommelaer de LeusseSenior Director, Global Internet Policy and International Organizations

Internet access is critical to support the enjoyment of Human Rights. The most commonly referenced example is freedom of expression, but its potential goes far beyond that. Day after day, it’s demonstrating its ability to support access to all sorts of opportunities – not least to support education for all children facing emergencies and crises, another fundamental Human Right. This is what’s been discussed last week at the Mobile Learning Week.

Today the world is experiencing the highest levels of displacement ever recorded. UNHCR estimates that 24 people were forced to flee their homes each minute in 2015, four times more than a decade ago. Among the world’s refugees, 51 per cent are children, many of whom are travelling alone and have stopped going to school.

In this difficult context, Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, rightly points that “It is fundamental that children who have been uprooted by war and violence are not left behind even further. We must be smart about finding solutions.” Because education ensures that a generation displaced from their homes is not also displaced from a future of opportunities.

So if you can’t bring a child to a school, can you bring the school to the child?

Internet access is a fundamental part of the solution

Providing education in refugee contexts isn’t simple. Low resources, teachers with limited training and personal security and safety issues – these are some of the challenges.  But mobile technology offers avenues to work through them and open up the world to children.

Where do we start?

Step one is to get those children online. This is where ISOC comes in because solutions can be found. And they are often coming from those in need themselves.

Take the work of our ISOC volunteers in the hours following the Nepal Earth Quake.  Babu Ram Aryal, alongside the Internet Society Chapter in Nepal, wasted no time in helping to reconnect some of Nepal’s most remote areas. They set up makeshift WiFi charging stations, locations where people could connect, and help install solar panels for charge smartphones or laptops.

Some at the time had conveyed the idea that Internet access and devices are not a primary necessity for refugees. I would challenge this idea and encourage you the read the impassioned post, Aryal wrote showing how mobile Internet becomes a lifeline for people displaced following a crisis or conflict, critical for organizing all aspects of everyday’s life including education.

I believe access to the Internet is key to helping children receive quality education – no matter where they are.  But for those who have no home or no school to go to – it is critical.

And the challenge doesn’t end there. The right to education is essential for exercising all other rights, and in the 21st century, such education includes digital literacy. Access to basic education is a start, but to ensure that those that are in pressing need today are empowered for a future requires a focus on skills and an understanding of the digital world.

The importance of digital literacy is slowly transforming education policy worldwide. There is still much to be done to ensure that those policies go beyond a focus on basic digital skills, and a wider understanding of what is needed to thrive in connected societies. This includes source criticism and a basic understanding of how the Internet and its economy work and how it’s governed. Seen from this perspective, digital literacy is vocational and civic education combined in one.

This broadened understanding places digital literacy beyond innovation strategies and towards the forefront of education as a right. As such, it should not only be a privilege of a few but recognized as a critical part of providing the children currently displaced with the opportunities of tomorrow.

But it’s going to take all of us.  Join us at Internet Society and let’s stand for all the benefits a connection can bring.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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