According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), 20 percent or more of Syrians between the ages of 6 and 22 cannot read or write, in part because of a high refugee drop-out rate due to bullying and violence. On December 14–15, Education in Emergencies (EiE), a student group at HGSE that promotes interdisciplinary dialogue about education in conflict areas across Harvard's graduate schools and the broader community, will be addressing that issue and more, including how local neighborhoods can be transformed into supportive environments where children learn, during a hackathon. The event is co-hosted by the Mahali Lab, a community-driven innovation lab run by the Internal Rescue Committee in Jordan, a country in which the Syrian refugee population faces numerous educational issues, and will take place concurrently in Cambridge and in Jordan. International Education Policy (IEP) master’s students Nawal Qutub and Nick Masada are two of the event’s organizers who share a passion for refugee education and education in conflict zones. Ahead of the event, they spoke about the origins of the hackathon, the way participants will engage with the problem, and the direct impact they hope it will have on the lives of refugees.
How did the event come about?
Nick Masada: Lillie Rosen, [Ed.M.’15], an IEP alumnus from a few years ago, currently works for the International Rescue Committee in Jordan. We were lucky enough to have Lillie speak to EiE a few months ago about her work and the path she took to get there. She brought the idea of this event up, asked if any of us was interested, and here we are!
How will the event be structured? What kind of activities will participants engage in?
Masada: We are working closely with IRC on the structure since we expect more than 50 participants to be present on the day. We will be modeling an outline provided by them. The challenge we will be working on is: "How Might We Transform Local Neighborhoods into Supportive Environments Where Children Learn?" Participants will work in different thematic groups, conduct Skype sessions with people on the ground in Jordan, and pitch their ideas in short videos to a panel of judges.
Nawal Qutub: Participants will arrive and receive informational training on the project we are working on: dismantling the barriers Syrian refugees face in their path to receiving an education in Jordan. They will brainstorm ideas before exchanging them with a team working on the ground in Amman, Jordan. Participants will be placed into groups based on their approach to the problem (i.e., viewing the problem and its solution from a policy lens, a public health lens, a traditional school lens). These teams will continue to workshop their solutions and receive feedback from Amman. This will continue into the next day before a panel of judges chooses the idea they believe has the best opportunity to be impactful. [There will also be] significant collaboration with Boston-area students, professors, and practitioners to identify problems and workshop solutions.
What’s the goal of the hackathon?
Qutub: We definitely hope that some of the prototypes generated from the two-day Hackathon will be formulated and implemented on the ground, and that it will directly respond to the problems faced by Syrian refugees in Jordanian schools.
Masada: While the specific goal is to identify and dismantle barriers to the quality education of Syrian refugees in Jordan, it’s important that the event be a place where the current and future leading practitioners of education in difficult circumstances make connections in order to open education to everyone everywhere — no matter the situation.
For more information on the Mahali Pop-Up Lab, visit its Facebook event page.