By Theresa Ritzer and Sybille Fleischmann
Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, the Serlo Lab School in Munich opens its doors to students from the neighborhood. There, experienced educators and teachers-in-training offer free math tutoring to high school students who need extra practice. Among these students are young refugees, who use the opportunity to catch up on topics that were not covered in their schools back home, or that they may have missed during migration. All students use Google Chromebooks, donated by Project Reconnect, and online content and exercises from the learning platform Serlo.org.
Late last year, Serlo’s learning platform received the Pedagogical Media Prize 2017 from SIN – Studio im Netz, a leading German nonprofit focused on media education for children. For 20 years, this prize has been awarded to digital products with special pedagogical value for children and teenagers. “We want to show children that learning can be fun,” says Simon Köhl, who co-founded the platform — and later, the nonprofit Serlo Education, a Project Reconnect grantee — with Aeneas Rekkas.
With the online platform, Köhl and Rekkkas — who founded Serlo as high school students — aim to make education more accessible, regardless of financial or social background. The content currently focuses on math and biology, and topics are arranged according to class levels. Anyone can edit and add to the content on Serlo.org, which the young creators describe (with a wink), as the “Wikipedia for learning.”
In Serlo Lab Schools (there are eight in the greater Munich area), students work with learning videos and practice with sample solutions from the learning platform so they can learn independently. Young refugees can easily fill gaps in their education with the available online exercises. All they need is a computer and internet access, and at the Serlo Lab Schools, every child gets a Google Chromebook to work with.
Serlo Lab content is free and accessible to everyone — including those who are not attending a Serlo Lab School. In cooperation with five public schools in and around Munich, Serlo arranged for the Lab Schools to physically be in the classroom, integrated in math lessons. It’s important that the learning group remains small, so that students can not only search the internet for answers, but help each other with questions, too. This strengthens self-confidence, teaches consideration, and cooperation.
The Serlo team has recently released a literacy app, Serlo ABC, which offers exercises to practice the alphabet and very basic reading and writing skills. The Android version of Serlo ABC is available for free from the Google Play Store, and used for independent study or to complement classes. The app was designed with the needs of refugees in mind, says Simon Köhl. “Language skills are key to integrate successfully into a society.”