The Right to Learn

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In 1951 the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees mandated that countries treat refugees in the same way as their own citizens in several key areas — one of which was a guarantee of elementary education.

By the turn of the millennium, the volume of refugees had spread around the world but many countries still fell short on their guarantee of elementary education for the displaced. New targets were set in Dakar but by 2015 only one third of the countries that committed to the new targets reached their goals.

Malala Yousafzai — Image: By United Nations is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Again, in 2015 the United Nations set new targets for education for all as part of their sustainable development goals. But just 2 years later in a speech to the UN Malala Yousafzai delivered a damning update on the prospect of those goals being reached:

“I can not say I am proud of the progress we have seen in the last two years. We have big goals but here is the truth. None of the SDGS, not a single one, can be accomplished unless we educate all girls. 130 million girls are out of school today. They’re pushing back against poverty, war, and child marriage to go to school. The SDGs were a promise that we could fight with these girls. So far we are failing. If we don’t fight with these girls said they lose their opportunity to pursue their dreams and our world loses their potential.”

The question still remains of how to most effectively bring education — a key human right — to the displaced and those in conflict zones around the world.

In this episode we speak to women who are trying to answer that question in innovative ways — from the software companies battling it out for the $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE, to the low-tech approach to teacher training in Lebanon by a nonprofit backed by Syrian expats.

We speak to Brookings’ Rebecca Winthrop — a senior fellow and director of the Center for Universal Education — about her latest report Can Education Innovation Help us Leapfrog Progress? We then chat to Emily Musil Church from XPRIZE about their Global Learning Prize. Fathima Dada tells us about some of the frugal innovation initiative Pearson Education are running at the moment. And finally we meet Suha Tutunji director of the Jusoor Refugee Education program in Lebanon who talks about her low tech approach to teacher training.


Rebecca Winthrop

Emily Musil Church

Fathima Dada

Suha Tutunji

Eleanor Roosevelt holding a Universal Declaration of Human Rights poster: By United Nations is is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Quotes from the Episode

“There’s always a lot of creativity in how education is delivered. A school could be under a tree, could be inside someone’s home. It could be in a mosque or a church, it could be anywhere young people can gather safely with adults who can instruct them.” — Rebecca Winthrop Brookings

“So from 2014 when we launched to now we have been working very closely with people on the ground. All levels — parents, teachers, community leaders, village leaders, village council, district leaders, national leaders, the government, international bodies — making sure we’re really talking to people, explaining what the project is, and making sure people wanted us there.” — Emily Musil Church Global Learning XPRIZE

“A trend that I’ve seen developing recently is taking the kind of frugal innovation that’s taking place in places like India and Brazil and South Africa and taking it to the west as well to Italy Australia or the U.K.. So that’s really really quite exciting.” — Fathima Dada Pearson

“The teachers are the forgotten soldiers. They are refugees themselves. They’ve gone through a hard time. Some of them live in tents as well because they can’t afford to rent small apartments or you know or decent housing. And yet they still have to stand there in front of the children and put up you know a strong face and be good role models and show the children that everything’s, you know, life as usual.” — Suha Tutunji Jusoor

Malala speaking at the United Nations in September 2017
The Global Learning XPRIZE launch film
Suha Tutunji talking at the Global Education & Skills Forum

References and Further Reading

Malala Fund

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Sustainable Development Goals


Brookings Report — Can education innovations help us leapfrog progress?

Pratham’s Hybrid Learning Program

Indian Pupils Invent Their Own Lessons

Global Learning XPRIZE

Global Learning Finalist — CCI

Global Learning Finalist — Chimple

Global Learning Finalist — KitKit School

Global Learning Finalist — OneBillion

Global Learning Finalist — RoboTutor

Miss Todd and Her Wonderful Flying Machine

Save the Children and Pearson working together

PALF — Pearson’s Affordable Learning Fund

South Africa’s Spark Schools


In the next and final episode of this season we continue to look at organisations bringing education to the displaced and those in conflict zones around the world, as well as speaking to social entrepreneurs in areas with little or no connectivity that are trying to bridge the digital divide.

We’d also like to hear about the women you think have not got the credit they deserve for their remarkable achievements in education or technology. Leave your stories in the comments below.

Nevertheless is produced by Storythings and supported by Pearson Education. If you’re interested in the kind of work Pearson do read these fascinating predictions about the future of work and skills which came out of their research project with Nesta and the Oxford Martin School.

Nevertheless is a a podcast celebrating the women transforming teaching and learning through technology. Supported by Pearson. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Soundcloud, TuneIn or RadioPublic.