Rethinking Australia’s Approach to Education in Emergencies

From my experience as a STEM educator for children in lower socio-economic circumstances, providing a quality education gives children a strong foundation to progress in life and inspire confidence. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for students in conflict situations across the globe. I was astounded to find that nearly half of the 65 million children estimated to be out of school globally are currently living in conflict and crisis-affected areas.

The effects of providing an education to a child is profound, such that they are more able to seize economic opportunities, have better health and can assist in alleviating poverty.

Education in emergencies is complicated. Factors such as the psychological and social needs, safe spaces, acquisition of teachers, food and water, availability of learning resources and education qualifications can interplay. I really believe that a novel, multi-dimensional and innovative approach is needed to address these factors. Yet to even craft a robust solution, the problem needs to be well-defined and approachable.

At the Big Think event, creating a clear problem statement for thought leaders and innovators to tackle the issue of education in emergencies was explored.

I was impressed that the Big Think gathered stakeholders from across Australia to discuss, debate, share ideas, and iterate the problem statements. Because of this, the diversity of experts allowed the process of innovation to blossom through the synthesis of our ideas, experiences and evidence. We were able to use these insights to create unique and comprehensive problem statements.

I got involved with the education in emergencies challenge through the Global Challenges Honours program at Monash University. My research is focused on the use of technology to improve student learning outcomes. There is potential to rapidly scale education programs and improve educational access for children in emergency situations through technology. The use of technology was identified at the Big Think as an area with great potential, and I was lucky enough to examine this topic in detail among other experts.

Throughout the session, we tugged and tested the assumptions of the problem statement, explored its applicability to uncertain situations and analysed its impact on children in emergencies. What resonated with me the most was the power of connection and willingness of experts from different sectors to proactively problem-solve to build and enhance ideas.

We discussed topics such as ensuring adequate infrastructure to allow technology, context and culturally relevant technology-based education programs, improving outcomes for girls and methods of distribution using technology. This discussion resulted in a marriage of ideas from the perspectives of corporate representatives from the technology sector, education researchers and not-for-profit organisations that work on the ground during emergency situations.

This style of thinking is clearly central to the iXc, and is leading the way to solve complex challenges across the globe. The Big Think brought together novel insights from an array of experts during the early phase to craft and formulate the right questions for the EIE challenge.

I was struck by the benefits of this new approach which moves away from the traditional tender-proposal process to encompass and inspire a broader audience, such as students and refugees, to apply, share their ideas and become more informed about the urgency and complexity of the situation. Allowing this kind of diversity will bring innovation and extraordinary creation to tackle the provision education in emergencies.

Cass Clevere

About our author:

Cass Cleever is an Honours Student in Monash University’s ‘Global Challenges’ program. As part of her degree, she is affiliated with the Education in Emergencies Challenge that DFAT is running. These are her reflections from her participation in the recent multi-sectoral expert ‘Big Think’ DFAT convened to shape the focus of the Challenge.

For more information on the Education in Emergencies Challenge refer to our project page.

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