Hear it from: An Education in Emergencies Challenge Advisory Panel member

At the 8th MIKTA Foreign Ministers Meeting in Sydney in November 2016, Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, alongside counterpart Foreign Ministers from Mexico, Indonesia, Korea and Turkey initiated an innovation challenge focused on increasing access to education in emergencies, particularly for girls. Currently, 75 million children are out of school in 35 countries as a result of humanitarian crises, and 5 out of every 7 are girls.

The innovationXchange partnered with external organisations; OpenIDEO and GKInitiative , and the broader Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade to deliver the challenge. The Education in Emergencies challenge received over 360 applications, which has now been narrowed down to a shortlist of 81 ideas. The Challenge Advisory Panel consisting of experts in academia, government, NGOs and the private sector has been reviewing shortlisted ideas to assist innovators to improve their ideas.

Christiana Lees is a Master’s student in Global Challenges at Monash University who has been mentored through the innovationXchange. She was a member of the Challenge Advisory Panel, and she shares her thoughts here.

Christiana Lees

Emergency situations have a devastating impact on education in affected communities, leaving millions with disrupted access to effective and formally recognised learning. Physical destruction to school infrastructure, a shortage of qualified teachers, psychosocial needs and a prevailing focus on other aspects of humanitarian response all have negative impacts on education when crisis is prevalent.

As an Honours Student in Monash University’s ‘Global Challenges’ program my research has focused on understanding business attitudes and behaviours regarding business-NGO partnerships, identifying potential barriers preventing these partnerships from occurring and suggesting approaches to facilitate partnerships in the Australian context.

As part of the Challenge Advisory Panel for the MIKTA Education in Emergencies Challenge I have applied my research in reviewing a series of applications, ranging from early stage ideas to pilot systems currently being tested in the field. This involved answering a number of questions regarding whether the idea was innovative, addressing a clear need within a community in the Indo-Pacific region, and providing a sustainable solution to education in emergencies.

For some of the untested blue-sky ideas, the innovator’s passion for solving education in crisis was really evident. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the ambitious goals they had set for themselves, especially when the author lived in the community in which their project would be piloted. I hope that through the process of the Challenge they will receive some guidance on how to best move forward and that they are then able to demonstrate the resilience to translate their excellent ideas into action.

Other applications were further progressed and well into the pilot phase, demonstrating great success so far. As a mathematics student, one project that stood out to me focused on utilising cultural artefacts from local communities to help teach basic numeracy skills in crisis-affected countries. Based on Ph.D. research and showing promise in its pilot stage, I hope it can continue to validate that learning mathematics is an opportunity that every child should be afforded, even in the midst of crisis.

The foundational idea of “Using existing cultural artefacts to illustrate the relevance of mathematics to children”, a submission that has been piloted in rural East Africa.

There were also a number of piloted technological solutions that showed great promise for improving education provision in emergencies. This demonstrated the positive impact and economic opportunity that novel technologies can have in crisis-affected countries, and not be limited to more established, stable environments. Through my research, I have seen a number of examples where a technology-based not-for-profit idea successfully partnered with a related corporation to iterate and scale the product, a model that can provide mutual benefits to both stakeholders and help to scale innovations.

New or adopted technologies have a critical role to play in advancing education in emergencies.

Through my research, I have realised the great potential that exists to improve the way we deliver education in crisis, and support those who are driving innovative solutions. The MIKTA Education in Emergencies Challenge is setting a precedent for innovation in the delivery of aid, improving the provision of education in emergency situations. I look forward to seeing the impact that these ideas will have, especially those that are successfully supported by Australian Aid.

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