By Izabela Bajalska, Save the Children
Eisenhüttenstadt is a small, unassuming town on the German-Polish border and it currently hosts about 200 refugee children and their families. These children, who have been exposed to risks and dangers during their journey to Europe that no child should ever experience, have found the first semblance of peace and routine in the gray barracks of the town. Until the authorities decide where to transfer the resident families, the barracks are the next best thing to a home - or, at least, a temporary springboard from which to prepare for the future.
“When I grow up, I would like to become a doctor," says 15-year-old Jasmine. (Editor’s note: Children’s names have been changed to protect their identities.) “I know that this will be very hard for me, studying in a language I will first have to learn from scratch. But I will try my best and every schooling in German helps.” For now, Jasmine can concentrate on her German classes at the locally integrated school in the refugee accommodation.
Recently, Jasmine began taking another class on how to use a computer and how to safely browse the internet. Although smart phones are already an integral part of many children’s lives and often a lifeline along migration routes, some children like Jasmine have not yet had the opportunity to work with a computer. “I have been using my phone to access social media. But I never thought much about protecting my privacy online. In my school in Cameroon there were also computer classes in the afternoons, but I never had the time to take them, since I had to look after my younger siblings,” she recalls.
This new course, which Save the Children began offering at the refugee housing complex in June 2017, uses Google Chromebooks donated by NetHope as part of Project Reconnect. It focuses on building and improving children’s computer skills, and teaches them how to use the internet in a way that suits their needs and keeps them protected. Simultaneously, this course provides children with a child-friendly spare-time activity that is both fun and educational.
And it seems to resonate well.
“Children eagerly line up in front of the classroom door for this course,” says one of the teachers at the local school for refugee children. “It’s really such a wonderful opportunity for them. We never thought it possible that someone would just donate laptops that we get to keep in the school even after Save the Children’s project ends.” The digital media course is also open to teachers, and aims to prepare them to take over the facilitator role beyond the project to ensure the course becomes a structural part of the local school’s curriculum.
For children, learning how to work with computers means so much more than just acquiring another gadget for playing games. The program teaches kids about being digital citizens, about safely using the internet as a platform to make their voice heard, and as a gateway to information, knowledge and communication. “I have friends in Italy that I still maintain contact with,” says 12-year-old Eric from Cameroon. Eric just joined the class recently, and is eager to improve his German and to explore everything the internet has to offer about football.
No program can totally prepare children for the future. But acquiring the skills to seek and find vital information; to gain access to knowledge; to exchange experiences and views with their peers; and to make their voices heard provides an important jump start into their future in today’s digital age.