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Ed. Magazine

Q+ A: Janhvi Kanoria, Ed.M.’10

Alum pivots quickly to help Afghan refugees fleeing to Qatar continue their learning
Afghanistan map

Jahnvi Kanoria
As the director of innovation development at Education Above All (EAA) in Qatar, Janhvi Kanoria, Ed.M.’10, is used to making quick pivots to solve the problems faced by 10 million children in 60 countries around the world. So when the first Afghan refugees entered Qatar at the end of August, Kanoria and her team were already thinking about how to create free, low-tech, project-based learning resources that could support Afghan children as they transition to life in a new country. Rather than a new set of best practices and guiding principles, Kanoria wanted to create activities and lessons that could actually be used — and used by anyone, anywhere. 

Kanoria spoke with Ed. about how she and her team were able to respond quickly — in a matter of weeks — to the refugee crisis and develop learning supports for children ages four to ten that were both accessible and low-tech.  

When did you first realize there was a need for education resources to support the Afghan refugee community?
When the Afghan refugee crisis hit, it was a waking call for us. We visited the compounds and for me, the biggest shock was that almost all of them didn’t speak English. Since they’ll be going to all these different parts of the world, learning this language is critical. We realized how daunting it is for most international communities to work in the languages they speak, Dari and Pashto, because they’re not very common. 

What other skills and knowledge would these kids need to learn? 
We asked, what practical things can we give them in an emergency education program, assuming that three months out they’ll be going into a more formal structured program or a bridging program in whatever the host country is? One is learning survival English. Two is continuing to develop numeracy [the ability to work with numbers] because that can pose a big barrier to continuing in school if that learning is lost. The third thing was teaching them a little bit about the host country and that environment. And finally, working on critical life skills — focusing on financial literacy, health and hygiene during COVID, and a little bit of understanding their international rights and laws.

What about social emotional supports?
They’ve undergone so much emotional trauma — leaving behind families and full lives. We knew in the first month we couldn’t burden them with an intense and focused education program. It starts by focusing on social-emotional learning and play-based learning.  We’re teaching survival English and numeracy through games.

And do the other learning resources take a similar approach? 
It’s all project-based learning and interdisciplinary. For example, while you’re learning how to make a budget, you’re also learning the currency of the country.

You mentioned that language was a barrier. How were you able to make the curriculum accessible?
One of the reasons the first month of content is up on our website and was translated so quickly is because we had people from the refugee community record audio voice notes as voiceovers in Dari and Pashto. That’s been hugely important because we want to make sure facilitators and volunteers who conduct this program know that even if you don’t speak the language, you can play these instructions in a language the child understands.

What about access to technology? 
All the work we’ve developed can be done with paper and pencil — no other materials. 

How did you manage that?
We had been thinking about what to do for those on the other side of the digital divide when COVID hit. And we had thought about project-based learning as a solution for this. We scoured the Internet for resources that are apt for the populations we work with — and we didn’t find any. Most project-based learning resources are usually designed for facilitation with highly trained teachers, for very well-resourced classroom, or for a lot of technology to be assisting that learning and the discovery process. So my team and I wrote our own projects that were inspired by surroundings and real life to create interdisciplinary learning experiences.

And you adapted those projects?
We took this concept of the education resource bank and developed something very customized for these children from Afghanistan and made it available globally for anybody who’d like to use these resources, wherever these kids go to.

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