A-Academy: a digital learning platform for the refugee camp

Labour market insertion, Initial vocational education and training, Migration
According to the 2018 Kalobeyei Socioeconomic Profiling Survey, 85% of Kenyans aged 15 and older can read and write in at least one language versus 40 % of those in Turkana County, the second-largest county where the Kakuma Refugee Camp is located. Similarly, literacy levels of the refugees fall between the national and Turkana county averages.

There is a huge demand for basic literacy and numeracy skills from both the refugees and the host community in Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement. Swisscontact identified this need and carefully developed a customised e-learning platform in partnership with Avallain Foundation to fill the literacy gap.

The aim of this digital platform is to promote learning among the refugees and their host community consequently  enriching and improving their livelihoods. These skills should make it easier for them to access income-generating opportunities, venture into diverse business activities and strengthen the interaction between clients and business owners.

The platform entitled a-Academy incorporates an embedded literacy approach as the curriculum development was localised to the context and adapted to the learning conditions of both the host and refugee communities. The local adaptation is demonstrated in the platform’s use of local names and experiences relevant to the lives of the population. A variety of multimedia elements including audios, videos, animations and pictures make the content meaningful, relatable, engaging and effective. Many of the images incorporated were specifically designed to complement the diverse activities of everyday living and enhance effective learning. The animations also visualise processes and abstract concepts vividly. 

Snapshot of the a-Academy platform
In this learning activity of the literacy app, the terms are assigned to the pictures by connecting lines. 
In the numeracy app, tasks are also illustrated in the context of the topic ‘Food and Nutrition’.
Demonstration of Health and Hygiene ‘drag and drop’ activity in the numeracy app

Topics tailored to the everyday life of the learners

The a-Academy platform was designed to cover four main areas of interest for the learners, namely: Food and Nutrition, Health and Hygiene, Money and Business, and Internet and Devices. Learners are guided through thematically relevant situations in which the learning objectives are presented in direct relation to the users’ needs. The platform is available both online and offline. This way, learners can increase their knowledge even when they do not have internet access.

The platform allows learners to use various interactive options during sessions and to test and view their learning progress after each lesson.

Adult learners concentrating in class
Areas of interest for learners

Skills to improve livelihoods

In 2007, Samira Mohamed arrived at the Kakuma Refugee Camp with her husband and three children after fleeing political unrest in Sudan. Samira had not gone through formal education and could neither read nor write. She could only express herself verbally in Arabic and had no understanding of basic English. This posed as a major challenge since different local dialects are spoken in the refugee camp, and English is commonly used in everyday life.  

With time, Samira’s family grew to a household of eight. As her children enrolled in school, Samira became aware that she needed to support her husband in generating extra income to meet their family needs. They decided to open a small retail shop. Samira was responsible for managing the shop while her husband tried his luck with other casual jobs. As she was not able to communicate easily with her clients and could not keep proper records, running the shop soon became a challenge. Every evening, Samira would ask her children for their help in reconciling the accounting books. She soon realised the business was struggling to make profits due to her poor knowledge of record-keeping. She could barely remember the exact details of each purchase made during the day.

Learning never stops for Samira

One day, a friend told Samira about the literacy and numeracy training being offered by Swisscontact. Samira quickly identified this as a great opportunity to learn basic skills in reading and writing, hoping this would help her operate the shop profitably. She enrolled for the three-month training in May 2018. The blended training used both the digital learning platform and a conventional learning set-up. Samira learnt how to write her name, apply basic numeracy, note down her costs and communicate in English. 

Samira Mohamed using the e-learning platform

“I never imagined I would use a computer in my life. I loved that the training used both pictures and audio of everyday things. It was like they came to my shop and saw what I was selling and put the pictures in the lesson guide. I now know how to add up my sales and deduct my expenses. My children [needn’t help me keep records anymore and] can now enjoy their evenings in peace.” 

Before attending the training, Samira made an average of CHF 160 per month from sales in her shop. After the training, her income increased by 67% to CHF 267. 

Samira Mohamed

“I would not be where I am today without learning basic English and arithmetic. My communication skills have greatly improved and I am now able to attract more clients, attend to them professionally and maintain a cordial relationship. I have now enrolled in an intermediary adult class to further my studies.”

Technical modules included

The coronavirus pandemic necessitated the growth of the a-Academy platform. Initially, the courses were limited to literacy and numeracy. Fortunately, the Skills for Life project received additional financial support from SDC to further test, include technical training modules and promote virtual mentorship. The pilot began in July 2021 and is currently ongoing. As a start, it will focus on 3 trade modules i.e., plumbing, electrical wiring and bakery trades. It is estimated that through this platform, 240 youth (50% female and 50% refugee) will learn and 90 youth (50% female and 50% refugee) will receive mentorship support. The platform is currently being tested as an alternative to face-to-face learning. If successful, it provides an effective alternative option to the traditional learning approach.

During the pilot, the project has been collecting insights and gathering feedback on its performance to ensure optimal learning is achieved. The final version should be ready for implementation in September 2021.

Virtual mentorship

To support the beneficiaries venturing into business, the project partnered with the Mowgli online mentoring programme to capacitate 15 mentors (7 refugees, 5 female). From the group, 14 graduated (6 refugees, 5 female) and will continue receiving ongoing online support for seven and a half months. 

James Ekomwa, one of the trained mentors had this to say,

“I had only heard about virtual learning but had never experienced it.  I was excited to learn better ways to support the project beneficiaries. I now have the knowledge and skills to adequately advise them using an all-inclusive approach. I am very excited to work with my mentees and see their businesses grow to greater heights.”

The Skills for Life project is financed by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation SDC and implemented by Swisscontact in Kenya.